Wright-Patterson AFB, OH Image 1
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    Wright-Patterson AFB, OH History

    Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the oldest flying field in the world, being the site of most of Wilbur and Orville Wright's early flight experiments and tests - the Kill Devil Hills at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is where they flew for the first time, but that site is not an airfield. In 1904 and 1905 the Wright Brothers used Huffman Prairie to develop the Flyer II and Flyer III, making this the site of the world's first successful heavier-than-air development field. The Flyer III, first flight 1905, was considered by the Wrights as the first practical airplane. From that point on, Huffman Prairie Field was not a pasture, but the first flying field.

    The Brothers bought the field and used it as their official test field and the location of their flying school from 1910 to 1916. Pilots graduating from the Wright Flying School included 1st Lt. "Hap" Arnold, later Five-Star General, commander U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, first General of the U.S. Air Force; Calbraith Perry Rodgers, who made the first coast-to-coast flight of the US, and was the first owner of a private airplane (other than the Wrights); 1st Lt. Thomas D. Milling, the first rated military pilot; Walter Brookings, the first exhibition pilot and first pilot to reach a one mile altitude; and Phillip Orin Parmalee, the first practical military flier, who established several records, and dropped the first test bomb, flew the first reconnaissance mission, all without actually being a military member, and was the first commercial pilot (delivered a bolt of silk).

    In 1917 the USA entered World War One, and the US Army purchased Huffman Field, Wright Field, and another nearby field, McCook Field. The local Dayton community had become the USA's greatest concentration of flying experience, engineering, and supply, and the military secured it. The Army's main interest in aeroplanes in this period was as a spotters, photo-reconnaissance platforms, and fast message carriers, but as the war in Europe developed, the military applications of aircraft developed. In short, an aerial observer took a handgun up with him in the fall of 1914 and shot at the enemy. Soon machine guns were mounted on a canvas biplanes and the first air-to-air combat occurred. The goal of fighter planes of the war was to prevent spotters from observing behind the lines, but soon the concept of bombing enemy airfields developed, and with it more sophisticated air-to-ground attacks. Naturally, the French, British, and German air services, having more practical experience and dedicated military air services, were well ahead of the US Army Aviation Section, which was technically part of the Signal Corps. The US was playing catch-up, despite their historical advantages.

    Next to Wright Field the Army established the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot, the general supply distribution hub for the three local fields. Wright Field became a combat training center, with a school for armorers and aviation mechanics. Unfortunately, this was a very rough period in American aircraft production, and the best available airplanes were European, particularly French. The Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force went to war in French SPADs, Breguets, Nieuports, and Salmsons, and British DeHavillands, and various other European 'aeroplanes,' but brought American mechanics and armorers, who acquired a great deal of practical experience in military aviation support in the war.

    After the end of the Great War, World War One, the three fields - Wright, Huffman, and McCook - was the pooling base for much of the US Army's knowledge of military aviation. In 1918, the Army reorganized its aviation arm, adapting the Aviation Section along the lines and lessons of the Great War. The US Army Air Service was established by President Woodrow Wilson and soon backed by Congress, and organized by General Patrick Mason.

    Prior to the war neither Wright nor Curtiss airplanes were adequate for commercial or military aviation. After the war Curtiss and other airplane manufacturers, having had a lot of practical experience knocked into them, began producing acceptable aircraft. Evaluation of these airplanes was partially performed at Wright Field, the premier military airfield of the USA.

    In the mid-1920s McCook Field was shut down as it was too small for the more powerful airplanes of the time, some of which could exceed one hundred miles per hour, and had a range of hundreds of miles. Also in the 1920s, the original Wright Field and the Fairfield Depot merged, becoming the Fairfield Air Depot, and the entire military installation was renamed Wright Field, to honor the Brothers, not just to be confusing.

    Between the wars Wright Field became known as the center of military and general aviation development, involved in all areas of practical research and development, from engine improvements to airskin material improvements, the shift from biplane to monoplane wings, and many more developments were all touched by Wright Army Air Base, center of the Air Corps. Wright Field also renamed one of its fields to honor a local hero, Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson, who died due to wing failure, at Wright, in 1918.

    World War Two greatly expanded Wright Field, increasing the base's population from under 4,000 to over 50,000 in only a few years. All sorts of facilities were slammed up as fast as possible, from personnel housing to aircraft housing; administration buildings, recreation centers, runway improvements, and test facility expansion. Around Wright, aircraft and support factories worked constantly, staffed by civilian contractors, especially Riveter Rosies, women working in war support fields. By war's end, Wright was a lot bigger and more powerful.

    1947 saw the separation of the Air Force from the Army, and the Cold War created a need for increased Air Force preparedness. Wright Air Force Base continued to be the heart of the US Air Force technical development, particularly in new jet engine development. In the later 1940s, Wright AFB was also the home of Project Blue Book, the investigation into unidentified flying objects; the Project concluded UFOs were no threat, not technological, and not from space. A more serious threat in this period was the Soviet Union, and most of the base's efforts were dedicated to keeping the USA secure. In 1948, Wright AFB was renamed Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

    The missions of Wright-Patterson AFB remain essentially the same as when it was founded: supply and logistics; research and development; and education. The base is the center of Air Force engineering, graduate education, and is a center of USAF administration and deployment.