The Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois

Footnote on the Role of Prairies in the History of Aviation

Recently, I learned that the tallgrass prairie played an important role in the history of aviation. As we learn in history classes, the first sustained powered flight by a heaver-than-air machine took place about 10:35 am on 17 December 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Their earlier glider flights took place from the 90-foot tall Kill Devil Hill at Kitty Hawk. The aircraft was built by the Wright brothers, and the pilot on that first flight was Wilbur. Orville piloted this first Wright Flyer later the same day. The photo on the left is of the first flight and is in photographic collection of the Library of Congress.

The first Wright Flyer had been built by the Wright brothers at their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. After the flights in 1903, they returned to Dayton to build and fly other aircraft. The site near Dayton that they selected for their flights in 1904 and 1905 was Huffman Prairie. Below are quotes from two web sites related to this prairie cum airfield. Later, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was established at this site. The famous Air Force Museum is located at this base.

From the History of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base: The Wright brothers called Dayton, Ohio home, and Daytonians have long since called their city the "Birthplace of Aviation." It was here in 1904 and 1905 on Huffman Prairie where the Wright brothers (in their own words) "really learned to fly." Today, just off the end of runway 23, a marker, sign, and a replica of the Wright brothers' first hangar commemorate the exact location of the Wright brothers' early aviation accomplishments. Huffman Prairie has recently become part of the Aviation Heritage National Historic Park and is open to the public.

From Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park: Huffman Prairie Flying Field is located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and managed by the U.S. Air Force. Following their first free, controlled, and sustained power-driven, heavier-than-air flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright brothers selected Huffman Prairie Flying Field as the site where they would continue flying and perfecting both the machine and their piloting skills. In 1904 and 1905 they conducted their flights in virtual secrecy. In 1910 The Wright Company School of Aviation established a flying school on the site. The flying field is located on Huffman Prairie, the largest prairie remnant in Ohio.

Below are photos of some flights made at Hoffman Prairie by the Wright brothers in 1904 and 1905. These are from the U.S. Library of Congress via the The Wright brothers photographs page.


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