From its astronauts to world-class athletes, Ohio has been the humble home of dreamers who dared to aim high. For one pair of Ohio brothers, it took a little ingenuity, passion, and determination to turn their dream of flight into reality.
It all began just about 50 miles north of Cincinnati in the city of Dayton, a place known today as the birthplace of aviation. It was here that Wilbur and Orville Wright ran a modest bicycle shop and printing press in a brick corner building that still stands downtown today.
From their work on bicycles, they already knew control and balance would be critical, so they tested their ideas with unmanned gliders. Although the Wrights had managed to lift off on the beach of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they hadn't found a way to stay in the air for more than a minute. But that was about to change. After many attempts, the brothers' dreams finally took off in October 1905. Orville lifted up into the skies in their handmade airplane for their longest flight to date. He managed to circle the field 29 times before finally running out of fuel after staying in the air for a record 39 minutes.
Five years later, the Wright brothers were building the world's first mass-produced airplane, which they named the Model B Flyer. Costing $5,000 in 1910, it was released at about the same time as Henry Ford's Model T. It's believed that 100 of these planes were mass-produced and sold, including some to the US Army and even one, some say, to the Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.
Today, aviation buffs fly high over Dayton in this replica of the Model B, nicknamed the Brown Bird. It's been soaring the skies since 1982. Only a few pilots in the world are qualified to fly it. It's like riding a motorcycle in the sky, except there's almost unlimited visibility. It's built to the exact specifications of the original Model T as a two-seater with separate controls that allow the pilots to maneuver the plane's pitch, yaw, and roll. But not everything's the same. The Model B Flyer's original spruce frame has been replaced with sturdy but lightweight steel, and instead of landing on wooden skids like the original, this plane touches down on Harley-Davidson tires.
After their astounding success, Wilbur and Orville traveled the world, but always came home to Dayton. Orville later lived here at Hawthorne Hill, a mansion with the Wrights' endless flair for clever DIY gadgetry, including a toaster that could slice bread and what was called a circular shower bath. But the Wright brothers knew that success required much more than just new gadgets and technology. As Wilbur reported, "what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery."
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