Like Orville Wright, I was born in Dayton, Ohio. The fact that I was born there and that Dayton is considered the birthplace of aviation somehow got intertwined in my life. I spent many enjoyable summer days lying on the grass at regional airports watching air shows. We trekked to these same airports whenever my dad had short commuter flights to Chicago, or when my dad or grandfather was actually flying a plane. In fact, my first flight was in a small plane that my grandfather flew. I looked out the window at the tiny miniature world below me and was instantly in love with flying.
Luckily, so was the city of Dayton. It is here that the National Air Force Museum was built on the grounds of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Schools all over Ohio scheduled field trips to the massive three-hangar site. It was incredibly overwhelming as a child, seeing all those old war planes, rockets, and cargo jets. It was like stepping into a different world that began with the Wright brothers.
Years later, I took my own children there, introducing them to aircraft and flight. I didn’t really think it was making much of an impact. I thought it was probably just a nice way to spend a day wandering around. The exhibits are fantastic. There is a wing devoted to early flight. Another that chronicles WWII and the fighter planes that fought in both the Pacific and Europe. I especially enjoy the section that highlights the U.S. troops and their arrival at the concentration camps. Very impactful.
My daughter loves the space wing. There is a spot where you can step behind the NASA astronaut suit and have your picture taken. There is also a room where you can peer up at rockets that have flown into space. This naturally leads to us buying space ice cream at the gift shop later.
But it wasn’t until my son was in high school and we took our German exchange student to the museum that I really learned what an impact these aircraft had on our lives.
As we toured around the museum, tracing flight through time, we finally arrived in the hangar full of more contemporary aircraft. We snapped pictures of the kids beside various planes, choosing our favorites. Then my son walked over to a black stealth SR-71 Blackbird and posed.
“This is my favorite. This is the one I want to fly.”
By that point, we knew that he planned to enter the service after high school. We weren’t sure yet whether it would be the Air Force or the Marines. Frankly, until that moment, it all just seemed like speculation to me.
But seeing Mac standing next to that plane and realizing that he actually might one day fly it, made his future suddenly real. Now I wasn’t just standing in a museum full of historical aircraft; I was standing in a hangar on an Air Force base looking at planes that real military personnel had flown in. These weren’t artifacts; they were functional planes that my son knew the names of, and might someday fly.
His future came soaring into view. It was real, and I was standing in a small part of his imminent world. I’ve never been able to look at the museum the same way again. Now I’m awed, not just by the size of the place and the number of planes, but by the world it contains.
Do you have a favorite plane or Air Force Museum?
As a fellow native Daytonian, but one whose adult life has been spent elsewhere, I’m hoping you plan to present Carillon Park as an option for visitors.
It’s grown, in all the right ways, since I became found of it as a Boy Scout, and the expanded Wright Brothers’ pavilion has a low-key, uncrowded, reverential quality you won’t encounter at the Smithsonian.
We haven’t yet toured the Wright and Dunbar sites on the West Side, which were preserved after I’d moved on, but they look intriguing. Now, to see if you agree.
So how many hours of your education did you lose as B52s roared overhead, silencing the teacher at the blackboard until they passed?
I’ll have to make a pint of visiting Carillon Park so that I can write about it. I’ve heard great things, but haven’t yet ventured there.
I have to say, I felt a little flutter of excitement when you mentioned B52’s flying overhead. My mother has talked about this, but it was a little before my time, and though I was born in Dayton, I grew up in Cincinnati. Every once in a while when I’m in Dayton for the day, they’ll do flight exercises at WBAFB and the planes will cause a booming tremble. I love it when that happens. Maybe I ought to think about moving closer? 🙂
But Cincy has so much to offer, too.
It certainly does. I never run out of things to do here.
The RAF Museum at Hendon in London is good, but my favourite is the Royal Navy Air Station Museum ay Yeovilton in Somerset. there is something I find fascinating about carrier aircraft and the men who flew them. they also have a Concorde prototype
If I’m ever that way, I’ll have to check it out. I would have loved the chance to have flown on a Concorde.
Well you’re putting Dayton on the map Juliann, it was just a dot on the map to me until now.
Here in Jersey (Channel Islands) we’re lucky to have an annual, free, top-class air show. A few years they’ve had the delta-wing Vulcan which must be the most impressive, noisy thing (not) on earth.
And I hate flying 😦
🙂 I love planes and flying. Sounds like a cool air show.
Fun story! You must be very proud. In Seattle we have the Museum of FLight, which is really a neat place. I have cousins who both taught flying in WWII, and they have the exact kind of flight simulator they trained their pilots on. I also got to talk to a WWII vet, who came in, parked at a table with his scrapbook, and shared stories, which was very cool.
My sister worked for NASA for years, and invited us to go see a shuttle launch, which was really amazing, but that’s my only connection to flight and flying.
Best wishes and blue skies to your son!
Wow! Your flight experiences/people you know sound incredible. How neat!
I wonder how much of that early exposure to the museum influenced your sons desire to join the forces! Enjoyed this very much Juliann 🙂
I wonder that, too. He’s wanted to join the Air Force since he was 5 years old.
Wonderful picture of your son. I feel proud just looking at him and can only imagine how you must feel, Juiann.
My husband wants to come down to WP and the Museum in the worst kind of way. I should probably try to make that happen this summer.
It really is a fabulous museum. I’ve been to many air force and space museums (because of my son) and think Wright-Pat is the best.
Isn’t my son gorgeous? I am so proud of him. 🙂
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