Air show legend Patty Wagstaff made her mark on aviation history by breaking gender barriers in aerobatic contests. Now, Wagstaff has added her voice to those urging the restoration of America’s first airplane factory—the Wright Company factory in Dayton.“I’m completely honored to be standing here,” Wagstaff says in a new video filmed inside the historic but unrestored factory. “I want to know what it was really like, and I think the only way you can do that is to make this place as real as it was, and bring it back to its original space.”
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) announced the video on Tuesday, Oct. 11, as part of its continuing campaign to save the historic buildings for use as a national park. Wagstaff toured the factory in June when she was in town to fly in the annual Vectren Dayton Air Show Presented by Kroger. The video is available on NAHA’s YouTube channel. Wagstaff’s video message follows one by David McCullough, author of the best-selling book The Wright Brothers, in which he declares the factory “important to the world” after touring it in April.
Wilbur and Orville Wright formed the Wright Company in 1909 and built the first of two factory buildings near their West Dayton bicycle shop in 1910. They added a matching building in 1911. The factory was the first in America built for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes. Besides the Wright brothers themselves, famous visitors to the factory have included such pioneer aviators as Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, later to become the first general of the Air Force, and Calbraith Perry “Cal” Rodgers, who made the first U.S. coast-to-coast flight in a Wright airplane dubbed the “Vin Fiz.”
First woman to win the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship in 1991, Wagstaff has garnered many aerobatic, air show and other awards in her flying career. The airplane she flew to win her first national is in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. In 2004, she joined the company of Arnold, Rodgers and the Wright brothers as an enshrinee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Restored to its original state, the Wright factory could spark new interest in aviation, Wagstaff says in the video. “Of course these buildings are worth saving. I really feel that aviation is under appreciated, and anything that we can do to highlight it, and (show) how important it is, and get people to understand it, and think about it, and appreciate it, is really, really important.”
NAHA is negotiating to buy the factory, several attached buildings and surrounding acreage from the current property owner. The property is the site of the former Delphi Home Avenue Plant, a 54-acre auto manufacturing complex that began with the original two Wright buildings. The site has been razed except for the row of buildings that includes the factory.
“I want to walk in and have a feeling for the way things were.… Who were these people that actually built the airplanes, and how were they the same as people today, and how were they different than people today?” Wagstaff says.
NAHA has raised approximately $2 million toward a goal of $4 million in public funds and private donations to acquire the site and begin restoration. Its plan is for the factory to become the Wright Factory Unit of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and to guide the redevelopment of the surrounding property in ways that complement the factory. Dayton Metro Library has committed to buy approximately seven acres of the site for its new West Branch library.