OSHKOSH, Wis.—As antique warbirds and modern combat jets fill the sky this week at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture 2017, an Air Force history exhibit reminds visitors of the roots of that airpower.
AirVenture is EAA’s annual fly-in convention and air show. Its attractions and flying displays run the aviation gamut, but the daily spectacle of vintage and modern warplanes roaring overhead dominates the event.
Much more quietly, an Air Force exhibit in the EAA Federal Pavilion this year traces that war-winning capability to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. With historical roots dating to the dawn of powered flight, the base is officially celebrating its centennial anniversary this year.
“We are one of the oldest Air Force bases. We can trace our lineage back to the Wright brothers on Huffman Prairie,” Paul Woodruff, Wright-Patterson’s base historical preservation officer, said Tuesday in a forum.
Huffman Prairie is where Wilbur and Orville experimented after Kitty Hawk, flying the first circle in 1904 and demonstrating the first practical flying machine in 1905. The preserved prairie is now a part of Wright-Patterson and one of six units of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
But the sprawling base marks its official beginning with the Army’s establishment of three facilities in the Dayton area in 1917, when America entered World War I: McCook Field, Wilbur Wright Field and the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot. All three eventually merged to form Wright-Patterson.
“We are the largest base organizationally in the Air Force,” Woodruff said. “Every aircraft in the Air Force’s arsenal has ties to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
The Army established McCook Field as its aeronautical research and development center. From its research programs came the modern parachute, supercharged engines and a host of other new technologies. Wilbur Wright Field served as a training base for World War I airmen. And Fairfield was the Army’s aviation supply depot for military airfields across the Midwest.
After World War I, Wright Field took over McCook Field’s missions, and Wilbur Wright and Fairfield became Patterson Field. The new United States Air Force in 1948 merged Wright and Patterson fields to create Wright-Patterson.
Today, it’s the home of the Air Force Material Command, Air Force Research Laboratory, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Air Force Institute of Technology, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and other major missions.
Two events this year will mark Wright-Patterson’s centennial.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, the same Huffman Prairie where the Wright brothers flew will host the Great Wright Brothers Aero Carnival, a public event presented jointly by the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Wright-Patterson and the National Aviation Heritage Area. It will feature aircraft displays, parachute jumps and family activities.
On Thursday, October 5, Wright-Patterson will host a picnic for base personnel and families on the site of old McCook Field in north Dayton, culminating in a public ceremony dedicating a new historical marker for the site.