Photo of Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry and Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph unveiling the Ohio Historical Marker for McCook Field.
Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry and Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph unveil the Ohio Historical Marker for McCook Field.

Dayton, Air Force observe McCook Field centennial

In NAHA News /

DAYTON, Ohio—The Air Force and the Dayton community on Friday, Oct. 6, marked the 100th anniversary year of McCook Field and the beginning of the research, development and acquisition missions now at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

In a community ceremony along the east bank of the Great Miami River across from downtown Dayton, military and community leaders unveiled a new Ohio Historical Marker on the site where the Army Signal Corps established its aviation engineering division in 1917, when the United States was entering the First World War.

Named for a family of Civil War veterans who farmed the land, McCook Field became the site where the Army first consolidated its aviation research activities. During and after World War I, it was the source of so many aeronautical advances it became known as the “cradle of aviation.”

Photo of the dedication ceremony forof state historical marker for McCook Field.The ceremony started with a parachutist descending with an American flag onto what’s now Kettering Field, where the modern “freefall” parachute was just one of many aeronautical developments.

“A great deal of research was conducted here at McCook Field in all aspects of military aviation. Materials, fuels and lubricants, high altitude flight, aerial photography, propulsion, navigation, armament, lighter than air flight and aerodynamics” were among the many areas advanced by McCook engineers and test pilots, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. C. D. Moore, chair of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA). Moore emceed the event.

McCook field’s functions included research, development, production, inspection, testing and reporting. It quickly outgrew the capacity of the field, which acknowledged its limited size with a large sign on a hangar that proclaimed, “This Field is Small—Use it All.”

The field closed in 1927 and its missions were moved to the new Wright Field, now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. McCook Field’s name and history have faded over the decades. The site is now mainly occupied by baseball diamonds. But the neighborhood has been relearning its legacy since the 1990s, when the city of Dayton changed its designation from Old North Dayton to McCook Field.

“I proudly call McCook Field the Cradle of Aviation,” said Jerry Bowling III, president of the McCook Field Neighborhood Association.

Friday’s ceremony, he said, shined a helpful spotlight on the neighborhood’s aviation heritage. “This centennial celebration has done more to promote our name than pretty much anything to date,” he said.

Photo of the new state historical marker for McCook Field.

City Commissioner Matt Joseph, who worked at Wright-Patterson for 13 years and whose father worked for 30 years in the base laboratories, praised the farsightedness of the community leaders who drew the Army to the McCook site and later raised the money to buy the land for Wright Field, preserving the Dayton area as the seat of Air Force aeronautics and acquisition.

“They knew the value aviation would have to the military, the security of the country the country and to the city itself,” he said.

Air Force Ma. Gen. William Colley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), said the laboratory was celebrating its own centennial anniversary on Friday. “This is a big deal for AFRL, because we trace our heritage of science and technology back to this very spot,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson, noted he had recently read David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers. “I feel like I’m walking through the pages of that book, right here,” he said.

McMurry’s organization manages Air Force acquisition programs, such as the Boeing KC-46 tanker jet and the B-21 Raider, a next-generation stealth bomber. It also has its roots in McCook Field, he said: “We built thousands and thousands of aircraft based on the research that was done here.”

Several major Air Force missions based at Wright-Patterson similarly trace their history to McCook, including the Air Force Institute of Technology, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.