Road Trip! Destination: Dayton, Ohio
If you were born after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, you missed the heyday of airline travel. When people dressed up to fly and stewardesses (not flight attendants) served hot meals on china and free drinks in real glassware.
When you could stretch your legs out in front of your seat. When you felt like a millionaire as you boarded, because hefty ticket prices made airline travel a rare treat for most people.
Nowadays, you can get a cheap flight, but it comes complete with cattle-call boarding and jockeying for seats with people dressed in sweats or worse and carrying greasy bags of fast food.
The thrill is gone.
Still, air travel is an amazing feat of human ingenuity and engineering worth exploring. It remains one of the safest forms of transportation. This, despite the fact that you're streaking through the atmosphere at 35,000 feet above the earth, at 500-plus miles an hour, in a 250-foot-long aluminum tube.
Paying homage to the fascinating history of aviation is as simple as crossing the border into Ohio, which Congress has affirmed as the birthplace of aviation.
Although Wilbur and Orville Wright started it all with a 1903 test flight at Kitty Hawk hill on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Dayton is the Wright brothers' hometown. They made their flight plans in Dayton and constructed the plane in their bicycle shop there. The city contains 14 aviation attractions and sites.
Bringing air travel into the space age, NASA's website lists 29 Ohio astronauts, including John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Guion Bluford Jr., the first African American in space.
Many aviation-theme attractions are just a few hours' drive from the Western Pennsylvania border. For a full list throughout Ohio, visit discoverohio.com.
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is said to be the oldest and largest military-aviation museum in the world. It includes more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles, presidential aircraft and a B-2 Stealth Bomber exhibit. An art exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm is running through Labor Day. Set to open June 8 is a building housing four new galleries with more than 70 aircraft including the only remaining XB-70 Valkyrie, missiles and space vehicles.
Details: 937-255-3286 or www.nationalmuseum.af.mil
While there, check out the National Aviation Hall of Fame, where you'll learn about many larger-than-life figures from air-travel history, including the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. NASA's first flight director Christopher Craft and Robert Crippen, pilot of the first Space Shuttle mission, will be among those enshrined in the class of 2016.
Details: 888-383-1903 or nationalaviation.org
Carillon Historical Park
Continue your Wright-themed journey at Carillon Historical Park, which includes 30 historic buildings on a 65-acre campus just south of downtown Dayton. There, you'll see the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world's first practical airplane. Nearby is Hawthorn Hill, Orville Wright's home and a National Historic Landmark, which still has original furnishings and his study.
Details: 937-392-2841 or daytonhistory.org
In Dayton, you might start out with the Aviation Trail, a driving tour that takes you to several stops with flight-theme attractions.
On the trail, you can make stops at the Wright Cycle Co., where it all started, and the Wright Memorial — erected in 1940 and re-dedicated in 1998 after a reconstruction. The memorial, at Dayton's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, honors the flight pioneers and overlooks the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright brothers conducted tests of their early airplanes. Many of the world's first pilots were trained at this field, where you can see a replica of the 1905 airplane hangar and a replica catapult system.
The Waco Air Museum and Aviation Learning Center, in nearby Troy, tells the story of the Waco Aircraft Co., a major manufacturer of civilian airplanes in the 1920s and '30s.
Another site along the drive is the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum, which chronicles the development of the free-fall parachute through original artifacts, photographs and interactive exhibits, including a display of Joe Kittinger's 1960 world record-setting 102,800-foot jump from a balloon gondola. The Parachute Museum is at the Aviation Trail Visitor Center & Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center. Download an Aviation Trail brochure at aviationtrailinc.org
Some sites on the trail are part of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, a collaboration between the National Park Service and the region's most valuable historic sites.
Details: 937-225-7705 or nps.gov/daav/index.htm
Tri-State Warbird Museum
South of Dayton, in the greater Cincinnati area, visit the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Batavia. Here, you'll learn about aviation history by exploring restored and fully operational vintage aircraft, many used in war battles. The museum includes exhibits such as a replica of World War II barracks used by members of the 353rd Fighter Group of the Eighth Air Force while stationed in England.
Details: 513-735-4500 or tri-statewarbirdmuseum.org
International Women's Air & Space Museum
Closer to Pittsburgh, in Cleveland, is the International Women's Air & Space Museum, which focuses on the roles females have played in aviation. Featured are prominent female pilots and other aerospace workers, like Amelia Earhart, Jackie Cochran and the WASPs — Women Airforce Service Pilots — and even flight attendants. Other exhibits commemorate the Challenger and Columbia space-shuttle disasters.
Details: 216-623-1111 or iwasm.org
Shirley McMarlin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5750 or email@example.com.