Whether you’re from Dayton or not, we all know that the Wright Brothers are this city’s big claim to fame. But not even Orville and Wilbur could have imagined the many feats of greatness spurred by the invention of flight.
Ahead of the Dayton Vectren Air Show, we talked to Tim Gaffney, Director of Communications for The National Aviation Heritage Area, about some of the lesser-known facts in Dayton’s Aviation history. Here’s what we discovered.
1.) Dayton is home to the first aircraft factory.
The Wright Company factory, founded in 1909, was the first factory established for the purpose of building airplanes. The first factory building was completed in 1910 and a second was added in 1911. Together these buildings make up the oldest, still-standing aircraft factory in the United States.
2.) The first use of an airplane to deliver cargo was from Dayton to Columbus.
The Wright Brothers hired Philip Parmelee to fly a Wright-B Flyer from Huffman Prairie to Rickenbacker Field outside of Columbus on November 7, 1910. The mission of the flight? To deliver 200 pounds of silk to a Columbus department store. Parmelee, who completed the first cargo flight alone, bundled up like a mummy to protect himself in near-zero degree temperatures.
3.) We are pioneers of the parachute.
The first successful Army test jump with a free-fall parachute was completed at McCook Field on April 28, 1919. Floyd Smith and Guy Ball, who were both civilian employees at McCook field, designed the parachute used in the jump. The parachute on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force remains one of the oldest relics in the museum’s collection. Just a few years later, the parachute design proved effective again when it was needed to save a life.
The first emergency parachute landing took place at McCook Field on October 20, 1922, when Lieutenant Harold R. Harris needed to jump from his Loeing PW-2A plane. The control stick malfunctioned, forcing his plane into a nosedive, and Harris jumped from 2,500 feet. He deployed his parachute at approximately 500 feet, after free-falling nearly 2,000 feet. While the pilot survived and landed safely in a grape arbor, the plane was completely destroyed.
>> RELATED: Guess who had Dayton's biggest party ever?
4.) Dayton helped develop early spy equipment, or "the first sky spy."
In the 1920s, McCook Field pilot George Goddard realized the potential in using airplanes to take photographs. Goddard created the first aerial mapping units, directed photo coverage of the 1921 warship bombings, and made mosaic maps of many cities. This was all before he made the first night aerial photographs while he worked at McCook Field in 1925. Though this technology was in its infancy during World War I, after moving to Wright Field in 1927, Goddard created specialized cameras that played a large part in aerial reconnaissance in World War II. His developments eventually led to the creation of U-2 and SR-71 spy planes, used in the Cold War, and ultimately spy satellites.
»»RELATED: Memphis Belle visited Dayton on 26th mission
5.) WPAFB has a reason to be top secret.
You might be aware of the fact that The National Air and Space Intelligence Center is a division of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but did you know that the center traces its origins to McCook field? The NASIC gathers information about other countries’ aerospace technology to assess threat risk, but also to guide future weapon development. According to WPAFB, the products and services developed in this division “play a key role in ensuring that the United States forces avoid technological surprise and can counter existing and evolving foreign air and space threats.” Of course, the specifics of what they do there are top secret.
>> RELATED: Must-see planes at the Air Force Museum
6.) The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force has a buried treasure.
Back in 2003, United States Forces recovered a Russian interceptor, the MiG-25 Foxbat, from an Iraqi Desert. A team of intelligence specialists from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center dug it up from the sand and brought it back to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for analysis.
The Foxbat was one of several combat aircrafts found in the desert, but this model is particularly notable because it was the only fighter to down a U.S. aircraft since the Vietnam War. The MiG-25 Foxbat resides in the restoration hangar of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, here in Dayton, and can only be seen on a “behind the scenes” tour.