DAYTON, Ohio — The Wright Company factory showed its potential to draw international travelers Wednesday, Sept. 28, when a group of 22 students from China and their chaperones toured the West Dayton buildings that launched America’s aviation industry.
The 17 students, ages 7 to 11, and five adults walked in the footsteps of Wilbur and Orville Wright as they explored two unrestored buildings off West Third Street at Abbey Avenue. Displays of a large scale model of a Wright airplane and historical photos helped them visualize the pioneering aircraft production that took place more than a century ago in the now-vacant buildings.
The group stopped in Dayton to visit the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park as part of an educational field trip across the United States. The Wright Brothers USA, a local company that licenses and markets The Wright Brothers name and trademark worldwide in in cooperation with the Wright Brothers Family Foundation, coordinated the Dayton stop.
“The group’s intention is to immerse the kids in the rich history of the Wright brothers, so they might gain inspiration from the legacy of Dayton’s favorite sons, who changed the world forever with their invention of the airplane,” said Doug Knopp, Wright Brothers USA partner.
Wilbur and Orville Wright formed the Wright Company in 1909 and built the factory buildings in 1910 and 1911. The factory was the first in America built for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes.
Knopp said Wright Brothers USA’s late co-founder and CEO, David Lightle of Tipp City, arranged the Dayton visit just prior to his death in August while in China on a business trip for the company.
“Out of respect for Dave, we will see his vision through. We also see this as the start of aviation tourism from China to Dayton to experience our rich aviation heritage,” Knopp said.
A Chinese company, Jiabeicun Education Technology Ltd., organized the “Discovery Expedition” for the home-schooled student group, Knopp said.
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) hosted the Wright factory visit. Tony Sculimbrene, NAHA executive director, said the visit by Chinese students is the latest example of the historic airplane factory’s drawing power. In April, NAHA showed the site to actor-director Tom Hanks and David McCullough, author of the best-selling book The Wright Brothers.
“The factory is delivering on its promise as an international destination, and it’s not even open to the public. Imagine its potential once it’s restored as a unit of Dayton’s national park,” Sculimbrene said.
NAHA is negotiating to buy the factory buildings and the surrounding 54-acre site from the current property owner, Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC. Its goal is to make the historic buildings a unit of Dayton’s national park, as authorized by Congress in 2009.
NAHA’s plan for the remaining property is to guide its redevelopment in ways that will complement its aviation history while creating economic activity in the neighborhood. Dayton Metro Library has committed to buy approximately seven acres of the site for its new West Branch library.
NAHA conducts tours of the Wright factory with the permission of the property owner to raise awareness of its history and the need to preserve it. Free public tours are scheduled at 10 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month from April through November. The next tour is scheduled for Oct. 20.