Ohio’s Role in Aviation History

Aviation Attractions and Museums in Ohio

Ohio features many aviation-related attractions, a testament to its role in the development of aviation. For instance, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, just outside of Dayton, Ohio, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has a vast collection that includes hundreds of aircraft. It’s the largest military aviation museum in the world, hosting exhibits on wars of the 20th century as well as multiple presidential planes, some of which you can walk through.

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is also a popular stop for people with an interest in flight. It includes multiple locations connected to the Wright brothers, such as their original bike shop and their print shop, and hosts educational events regularly.

The Wright Brothers

The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, were both from Dayton, Ohio. They were fascinated with flight from childhood, and they avidly followed the news of developments in aviation research as they grew up. In adulthood, they started a newspaper, and they followed this venture by opening a bicycle shop. But they couldn’t resist experimenting with flight themselves, working to replicate the way birds fly in the designs of their flying machines. In 1903, their efforts paid off when they became the first to successfully fly a powered aircraft. The machine stayed in the air for about a minute and traveled 852 feet. The Wrights worked on improving their designs, then brought them to Europe and sold them. Upon their return to Ohio, they started selling their own planes, both domestically and to European customers.

Myths and Legends of Flight

Long before human flight was possible, people were fascinated by the idea, dating all the way back to ancient times. Greek mythology tells us of Pegasus, a horse with wings that Bellerophon the Valiant flew into battle, and of Icarus and Daedalus, who escaped from a high tower by fashioning wings out of wax and feathers. And Iranian mythology includes the story of Kay Kavus, a shah who had a flying throne pulled by eagles. Real people were also the subjects of legends involving flight. For instance, famed Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great was said to have harnessed griffins, mythical winged beasts, to carry him into the heavens.

Early Attempts at Flight

  • The Chinese were the earliest pioneers in the field of flight, creating kites around 400 B.C.E. that they used for ceremonies, for fun, and to take a closer look at the weather conditions. While human flight was a long way off, the humble kite was the foundation upon which aircraft would someday be built.
  • Many people looked to birds as the model for human flight, trying to develop wings for people. However, the muscle structure of a human just isn’t the same as that of a bird, so none of these efforts would succeed.
  • In 1485, Leonardo da Vinci designed the ornithopter, a flying machine based on his theories about how flight could be possible. While he never built the ornithopter, the design was built upon hundreds of years later to create the helicopter.
  • The first successful attempt at putting a human up into the sky used a hot air balloon, invented by French brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier in 1783.
  • In the early 1800s, George Cayley designed gliders with wings and a tail and conducted successful test flights.

19th- and 20th-Century Efforts

  • In 1891, Otto Lilienthal, a German engineer, improved on Cayley’s work, creating a glider that could carry a person over a long distance. He also wrote a book about aerodynamics that the Wright brothers would refer to during their research.
  • That same year, Samuel Langley created a model plane with a steam engine that was tested successfully. However, when he tried to build a full-size version, it was too heavy to get into the air.
  • The Wright brothers spent years doing research in Ohio before they designed and tested their own ideas, starting with kites and balloons before moving on to gliders. Then, they worked to develop the propulsion system they would need to achieve motorized flight.

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