Experience the Aviation Trail with the Wright Brothers!
We had 2 goals when we set out to visit Dayton, OH: First was to visit my cousins who live there, and second was to earn some Junior Ranger badges (duh!). Dayton, Ohio is the birthplace of aviation. It was the working headquarters for Orville and Wilbur Wright as they built the first airplane. There are 3 Junior Ranger badges related to the Wright Brothers that can be earned in the area. We also discovered we could earn something else while we were there that was even cooler: We could earn WillBEAR Wright as well! My kids were hooked when they learned they could earn a teddy bear and not just some boring badges.
The requirements for earning WillBear include visiting 7 of the 16 of the Aviation Trail sites listed in and around Dayton. We were already planning to visit 3 of the sites, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for us to visit a few more for the prize. There are a couple of the sites that are housed together. At these you can visit one place and receive 2 stamps on your Aviation Trail Passport! We got a great tip when we started the trail, and that was to make the Huffman Prairie Flying Field our final stop because they have the bears on hand, otherwise you have to mail in your passport and wait for WillBear to be shipped to you.
The sites we visited in Dayton OH are as follows:
Paul Lawrence Dunbar State Memorial
This was our first planned Junior Ranger stop. I would recommend this site for ages 8 and up, only my oldest got much out of it. The non-reader was very bored. The site is a partnership between the National Park Service and the state of Ohio. Paul Dunbar was one of the first successful African American Poets. He was also a classmate and peer to Orville Wright. This site includes a small visitor center adjacent to his adult home which is available for guided tours. The home passed from the Dunbar family to the state of Ohio for preservation which is very rare for historical locations.
Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Wright Cycle Shop
Junior Ranger stop #2 for us. The interpretive center is next to the Wright Brother’s 4th Bike Shop, which is located on the grounds. This facility is multi-story and also houses the Parachute museum which we didn’t visit. There are prototypes the brothers built as well, along side the science they discovered throughout the museum. The center also includes other inventions created in the Dayton area around the same time. All my kids enjoyed the hands-on exhibits here, with touch screens to watch and experiments you could recreate.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
This might have been the boys favorite site. They walked away with a new love of planes including the B-2 Stealth Bomber. We added this site after Dad learned it was here. He was like a kid in a candy store and enjoyed showing his boys all the cool planes he enjoyed learning about as a kid. Four attached airplane hangers make up the museum. The planes are arranged chronologically, the first hanger being The Wright Brothers and WWI and the 4th hanger including modern stealth planes and Space Travel. We only spent 2 hours here which wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything.
National Aviation Hall of Fame
This is one of the 2 for 1 stops on the Aviation Trail, its tucked inside the National Air Force Museum. It includes some small science exhibits and stories of the various advancements in Aviation History. We spent a bit of time here, they do have a mock air control tower you can play in. For my sensory-sensitive kid, this space was a respite from the large open hangers.
Historic Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum
We added this easy stop to complete the Aviation Trail. At the gate you can get a map of significant tombstone and markers located on the property. We visited the grave sites of the Wright family and Paul Dunbar which are located in the same plot. Also we some took time to visit their Veteran’s plot and talk about the cost of freedom and war. Visiting the famous graves made for some big juicy conversations with our kids, without the emotions of a loved one dying. The Wright Brothers and Paul Dunbar are both buried with their parents. We had some great conversations about the importance family and how they supported each of these men in their success.
Wright State University Special Collections and Archives
It was hard to find a place to park on the campus near the library so Dad stayed in the car for this one. The Archives are located on the 4th floor of the University library. Many of the awards and medals the Wrights and Dunbar earned for their accomplishments are in display cases to view. We appreciated the time the student worker took to explain things to the kids and make sure they saw the best ones. Our stop here ended abruptly and we received an added lesson in fire safety, when we evacuated as part of a fire drill!
Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center
We made this the last stop intentionally so we could receive our bears in person and not by mail. This site is the practice field that the Wright Brother used to continue developing early aviation technology and to develop their own flying school. Models of all of the airplanes designed in Dayton are hanging from the ceiling and are part of the Junior Ranger Badge activities here, our 3rd one of the trip. If the weather is agreeable it’s a great spot for a picnic as well!
Working for WillBear Wright was a great motivator for my kids to see the sights and learn about the history of Aviation. We spent 2 nights in Dayton and visited all these sites without getting worn out. It would be a great weekend trip or short getaway. Just be sure to check the hours of each place as some are only open certain days of the week.