WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio—Huffman Prairie was a quiet, pastoral place where livestock grazed until the Wright brothers showed up in 1904 with their clattering flying machines. It was abuzz again on Saturday, Sept. 9, with the whine of radio control airplanes and the hiss of model rockets as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park presented the annual Great Wright Brothers Aero Carnival.
The aero carnival featured parachute jumps, static airplane displays, radio control airplane and model rocket demonstrations, sheep herding demonstrations, antique cars, a World War I encampment and other activities. Wright-Patterson and the national park present the event jointly as both share in Huffman Prairie’s preservation and interpretation.
Huffman Prairie is where the Wright brothers completed their quest for a practical flying machine in 1904 and 1905 and opened a flying school in 1910. The site lies on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is also one of the six units that make up Dayton’s national park.
Col. Bradley W. McDonald, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing,Wright-Patterson’s host unit, praised the collaboration that has preserved the site and made it accessible to the public. “We’re able to do these kinds of events because we work together, and as we move forward we want to maintain this history and heritage,” he said.
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) plays a supporting role in the event.
Kendall Thompson, interim superintendent of the national park, quoted writer Wallace Stegner’s statement that national parks were “America’s best idea,” adding, “So how wonderful is it that we are standing today within a national park site where American sons, Orville and Wilbur Wright, developed America’s best innovation?”
Susan Richardson, vice chair of NAHA and a retired Air Force colonel, said Huffman Prairie is where some of America’s most important pioneer aviators learned to fly before going on to lay the foundations of American air power. Among them were Army and Air Force Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, considered the architect of the Air Force, and Navy Capt. Kenneth Whiting, known to the Navy as the father of the aircraft carrier. The Wrights even taught Canadian Capt. Arthur Roy Brown, later credited for shooting down Manfred von Richthofen, Germany’s “Red Baron” in World War I.
America’s entry into World War I in 1917—one hundred years ago this year—prompted the Army to establish three facilities near Dayton: Wilbur Wright Field, the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot, and McCook Field, the Army’s aviation research and development center. Eventually, the missions of all three units were rolled into what’s now Wright-Patterson, whose boundary includes Huffman Prairie. This year’s aero carnival doubled as a centennial celebration.
“How fortunate we are to have the Air Force and the National Park Service as stewards of this very special and significant place,” said Amanda Terrell, director of the Ohio History Connection’s State Historic Preservation Office. “Indeed, this place is so important that it is considered a national historic landmark and is on the World Heritage tentative list along with other Dayton aviation heritage sites.”
Huffman Prairie and other aviation heritage locations in the National Aviation Heritage Area are on a tentative list of sites to be considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage sites, joining the ranks of the Pyramids of Egypt and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for examples.
“This site is not just important in Ohio history, but as we have seen, in American and World history,” Terrell said.