OSHKOSH, Wis—The Dayton region’s aviation heritage is on display this week at the world’s largest fly-in, thanks to the National Park Service, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and others.
The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, which operates an aviation heritage exhibit every year at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture fly-in convention, teamed up with Wright-Patterson this year to promote the base’s centennial anniversary.
The Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau also staffed a booth in the exhibit area to invite AirVenture visitors to make their next trip to Dayton.
Outside, the Champaign Aviation Museum’s World War II-era B-25 bomber Champaign Gal was on display with other warbirds after flying two hours from Grimes Field Airport in Urbana.
Paul Woodruff, Wright-Patterson’s base historical preservation officer, described the base’s historical roots in the Wright brothers’ experiments on Huffman Prairie in 1904 and 1905 and its century of growth since the Army established McCook Field, Wilbur Wright Field and the Fairfield Aviation Supply Depot in Dayton and Greene County in 1917, when America entered World War I.
“We are one of the oldest Air Force bases. We are the largest base organizationally in the Air Force,” he said in a Tuesday morning forum in EAA’s Federal Pavilion. As a variety of civilian and military aircraft buzzed or roared outside, he said, “Every aircraft in the Air Force’s arsenal has ties to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
At the national park exhibit, National Park Service rangers and volunteers tell visitors about the aviation heritage the park preserves—not only at the Wright Brothers National Monument in North Carolina, but in Dayton, where the Wright brothers unlocked the secrets of flight in their bicycle shop and built the gliders and flyers they tested at Kitty Hawk.
It also displays its own aviation history: a 1928 Fairchild, now privately own and restored, that was the first National Park Service airplane. It’s on display with other airplanes that serve federal agencies.
Dan Panebaker of Steamboat Springs, Colo., is a retired National Park Service employee who started volunteering at the exhibit last year after stumbling onto it during a visit to AirVenture.
“I saw this park service display and I saw these airplanes, and I said, ‘I want to work here.’ “
Panebaker, a private pilot himself, said he think the exhibit is a positive experience for the agency and visitors alike. “I haven’t had a negative contact since I’ve been here,” he said.
Out on a grassy field near the main runway, the twin-engine “Champaign Gal” stood in a line of B-25s, here to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid, much as they did in April at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The commemoration is scheduled for Wednesday and is to include Richard E. “Dick” Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Champaign Gal made its aerial debut at Oshkosh, joining dozens of warbirds in passes over the field with thunderous simulated bomb blasts on the ground.
Dave Shiffer, executive director of the Champaign Aviation Museum and one of B-25 pilots, said EAA invited the museum to participate in the commemoration.
“It’s an honor to be invited,” he said.
Each airplane drew its share of gawkers.
Matt Totzke of Minneapolis watched from outside as his sons Fritz and Archer peered out the plexiglass of the nose gunner’s station and took turns aiming the machine gun.
“I’ve been coming here as a child,” said Totzke, who grew up near Oshkosh.
He said he appreciated the work of volunteers who preserve aviation history by restoring, maintaining and flying aircraft like Champaign Gal.
“It’s impressive how these groups can do this,” he said.
This story was submitted by Tim Gaffney on behalf of the Champaign Aviation Museum.