A longtime local aviation writer is telling the story of America’s first airplane factory — here in Dayton — just as the aviation community is deciding that factory’s fate.
The History Press is publishing The Dayton Flight Factory, The Wright Brothers & the Birth of Aviation, written by Timothy Gaffney, spokesman for the National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) and the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
The book tells the story of the Wright Co., America’s first aircraft manufacturing site, found between U.S. 35 and West Third Street east of Abbey Avenue. It’s also a good chunk of the story of how two men from Dayton changed the world.
“They really created the aviation industry, here in Dayton,” Gaffney said.
The book started with a cold solicitation from the Charleston, S.C.-based History Press to the NAHA, seeking a history writer in the Dayton area. “It was a just a blind e-mail to NAHA. It wasn’t even addressed to anybody in particular,” Gaffney said.
As the author of 14 books, Gaffney stepped forward. A book outline was the first step.
This was last summer, about a year after the private Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC took control of both the Wright facory site and a large former Delphi/Inland Division plant nearby. Since at least 2008, when Delphi closed its Home Avenue plant, local aviation advocates have wondered how best to redevelop the area while preserving a little known corner of history.
Greg Dumais, a commissioning editor with The History Press, warmed to the idea.
“The Wright Co. factory buildings featured and profiled in the book are currently undergoing a multimillion–dollar preservation and restoration project,” Dumais said in an email. “The timing of this publication coincides perfectly with the community efforts to preserve these buildings.”
Gaffney, a Miamisburg resident and a former writer for the Dayton Daily News, knew the story well. Brothers Wilbur and Orville started the company in 1909 and built the factory’s first two buildings — still easily visible from Third Street — in 1910 and 1911.
Orville Wright suffered tremendously from his brother’s death in 1912 and his own physical injuries in a 1908 airplane crash. By 1919, General Motors had acquired the site.
This spring, on the heels of $250,000 from the state, NAHA trustees agreed to explore raising funds for developing and preserving the site.
While aviation enthusiasts try to protect the site, North Carolina, Connecticut, Germany and other locales have tried to lay claim to their own supposed aviation pioneers.
Gaffney is a staunch advocate for Dayton, with his book noting that while test flights happened in North Carolina, the first planes were invented and perfected in Dayton.
“I think there’s real good opportunity here to tell a story about the Wright Brothers, with a focus on what they did here in Dayton,” Gaffney said.
It’s uncertain who the 20-acre site’s ultimate owner will be. There will likely be a mix of private and public funding to protect the area, with perhaps a mix of owners, said Tony Sculimbrene, NAHA executive director.
”Over the next 12 to 15 months, I hope we can resolve all issues related to ownership,” Sculimbrene said.
The book will be released Tuesday. A launch event at Books & Co. in Beavercreek, The Greene, is set for 7 p.m. July 2.
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