Celebrating Wright State’s 50th: WSU’s Founding Faculty

In 1964, a small group of young faculty, some from Ohio State and some from Miami University, were recruited to come help establish a new branch campus for their respective schools. Known simply at the time as the “Dayton Campus Project”,  each school entered into a joint venture to establish a new branch campus in Dayton, that ultimately was to become a new state university. This was an exciting opportunity for the young faculty, to help develop a new university in a quickly growing metropolitan area. It was also a tremendous leap of faith, to commit their futures to a new, yet-to-be-built university, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We are pleased to honor these 54 members of the founding faculty of Wright State, and those that followed in the early formative years of the university. Many of their memories have been captured in the Wright State Retiree’s Association’s Oral History Project. In the coming weeks we will highlight many of these individuals and their stories as captured in the project.  In our first post we are spotlighting Dr. Gary Barlow, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Teacher Education in the College of Education and Human Services. In this clip, Gary reflects on his first visit to the “farmland” that was to become the site of the Dayton Branch Campus:

Posted in SC&A, University Archives, WSU History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When the Brickyard was an Airfield: Flying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1910

MS-355: Charles Wald Collection
The photograph is of two Wright Model A/B Flyers flying above the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. The photograph is taken from the grandstands looking over the speedway and several small buildings are located in the center of the image. Two signs near the stands read, “In case of accidents please keep your seats” and “Speedway Prices.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of one of the country’s first aviation meets, June 12 – 18, 1910. Instead of cars racing around the track, aviators risked their necks flying machines they were still learning how to master, thrilling the public with their record setting antics. Following on the heels of the first American air meet, held in Los Angeles in January of 1910, the Indianapolis meet drew enormous crowds and it wasn’t long before aviators were introducing the American public to flight all across the country. Wilbur and Orville Wright were not anxious to get into the exhibition flying business, but soon realized that if they hoped to sell airplanes, they would have to do so. There were numerous other aviators flying a variety of machines by 1910. The Wright Company Exhibition Team made its debut before the general public at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
Frank Coffyn, Ralph Johnstone, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Walter Brookins seated on the ground near a Wright Flyer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wright aviators, such as Walter Brookins, Arch Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone, and A.L. Welch broke numerous records. Brookins garnered the most attention with his record setting high altitude flight of 4,384 feet. Brookins also earned the longest duration flight record by staying aloft for 1 hour and 4 minutes.

R.E. Scott wrote the following for the aviation journal Aeronautics, August 1910 issue:

“So far as the flying itself was concerned, the meet proved pretty conclusively that the Wright aeroplane is a very steady and dependable machine. There were about sixty flights during the six days of the exhibition, and there was no suggestion of an accident. In the tranquility of the performances – the invariably successful starts, and quiet, uneventful landings – lay the chief beauty, from the writer’s standpoint of the meet. But in just that same tranquility lay its chief drawback from the standpoint of the box-office. Peace and quiet are all very well in their way, but after a man has loafed around a railroad station thirty-eight minutes waiting for transportation to the field, has quietly sat on a plank upholstered bleacher divan at a temperature of 120 Fahr. for three hours waiting for something to happen, and with equal peace of mind finally watched – at a distance of half a mile or more – these great white birds rise gently into the air and sail placidly around the track until fancy moved them to descend, that man is apt to lean toward something more stirring than the prospect of quietly walking two or three miles along a country road to where he can find a suburban trolley to take him back to town.”

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
A Curtiss “pusher” biplane in flight over the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with several race cars below on the track.

The aviation journal Aeronautics reported the results of the Indianapolis meet in its August 1910 issue.

The accumulated duration of the flights made:
W.R. Brookins 7 hr. 59 min.
A.L. Welsh 1 hr. 51 min.
Arch Hoxsey 1 hr. 25 min.
F.T. Coffyn 20 min.
D. La Chappelle 1 ½ min.

Longest duration single flight:
W.R. Brookins 1 hr. 4 min.

High altitude flights:
W.R. Brookins June 13 (world’s record) 4,384 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 13 2,093 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 14 2,083 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 16 3,876 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 17 (world’s record) 4,939 ft.
Ralph Johnstone June 14 920 ft.

Flights of which official record was taken: 55

For more photographs of the Wright Exhibition Team visit:

To learn more about the aviation meets of the early twentieth century, visit Special Collections and Archives on the fourth floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library.


Posted in Aviation, Collections, SC&A, Wright Brothers | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Flying Boats, Part I: “The Spruce Goose”

By Kyle Thede, former SC&A intern and recent graduate of the WSU Public History program

Box 90, file 2, Jefferies Aviation Collection (MS-344)

Seventy years ago this fall, on November 2, 1947, the residents of Long Beach, California who cared to glance out over the harbor were witness to a profoundly unfamiliar sight; a giant white airplane, vaguely shaped like a winged ocean liner and seemingly rivaling one in size, lumbering back and forth across the choppy surface. The roar of eight mighty engines rolled across the waves as the huge craft cut a churning trail of foam in its wake from one end of the harbor to the other, before slowly wheeling around and doing it again. And again. A curious spectacle, to be sure, but when it came to the doings of multi-millionaire/film mogul/playboy/record-setting aviator Howard Hughes, a certain degree of peculiarity had to be expected. This was demonstrated most memorably by the now-legendary first-and-only flight of the H-4 Hercules – better known to history as the “Spruce Goose” – perhaps the most celebrated short hop in aviation history since the Wright brothers’ Flyer lifted off a rail into the chilly Kitty Hawk breeze in December of 1903.

For how ostensibly bizarre the flight of Hughes’ flying boat appeared, the enormous vehicle was no mere indulgence of an eccentric with more money than he knew what to do with. It was the culmination of years of work, delays, negotiations, and even investigations by the United States Senate, all for the purposes of fulfilling a military requirement identified nearly half a decade prior. The American entry into the European theatre of World War II naturally enhanced the need to protect U.S. shipping of supplies and personnel across the Atlantic from the German Kriegsmarine’s U-boats intent on sinking them. Developing a transport capable of simply flying over the danger was a clearly logical pursuit. Less ostensibly logical, but just as critical to the project, was the condition that such an aircraft be constructed entirely of non-wartime-critical material – wood.

Box 31, file 14, Williams Aviation Collection (MS-376)

Best known for his prominent involvement in building Liberty ships, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser took the initiative in meeting the government’s 1942 request, envisioning a massive flying boat capable of carrying hundreds of troops, or alternatively, two Sherman tanks. To devise such an unconventional craft, Kaiser partnered with Howard Hughes, already well established within the aviation community as an extraordinarily capable aircraft designer and aviator with more than one record under his belt. Drawing up blueprints for the airplane, Hughes and co-designer Glenn Odekirk crafted plans for a 218-foot-long flying boat with a 321-foot-long wingspan (still a world record to this day) and powered by eight radial engines, each capable of 3,000 horsepower. As the plane was primarily constructed of birch, the appellation “Spruce Goose” – a concoction of a derisive press – would become a continued source of annoyance for Hughes in the years ahead. He would always insist on the plane’s proper nickname: “Hercules.”

As the development and construction process for the flying boat’s prototype – initially designated HK-1 (for Hughes-Kaiser) – stretched on to torturous lengths, enthusiasm for the project waned among nearly all involved parties except for the notoriously obsessive Hughes himself. By 1944, he had re-negotiated his government contract – this time without Kaiser, dictating the re-designation “H-4” – to require the delivery of only a single aircraft. The construction itself continued on well past the conclusion of the war, and although Hughes’ out-of-pocket financial contributions to the project were significant, the extravagance of the “monumental undertaking” led to the Senate’s 1947 investigation into whether the government funding for the craft had been appropriately used. The resulting hearing became best known, however, for Hughes’ bold claim that if the Hercules failed to fly, “I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.”

Box 90, file 2, Jefferies Aviation Collection (MS-344)

Though Hughes’ achievement at Long Beach on November 2 allowed him to continue his residency in the United States, it signaled a conclusion in another sense; the flying boat was on its way out. In the years immediately following World War II, the prominence of these unique aircraft swiftly waned, owing in part to the proliferation of runways which had accompanied the air war and in part to the increasing performance of (often jet-powered) land-based airplanes. Primarily relegated in the current age to niche roles such as fire-fighting or air/sea rescue, the story of flying boats stretches back decades from the legendary flight of the Hercules – all the way, believe it or not, to a certain pair of brothers from Dayton.


“H-4 Hercules Flying Boat.” Boeing: A Historical Snapshot. http://www.boeing.com/history/products/h-4-flying-boat.page

Odekirk, Glenn E. Spruce Goose: HK-1 Hercules, A Pictorial History of the Fantastic Hughes Flying Boat. Published by the author, 1982.

Posted in Aviation, Collections | Tagged , | Leave a comment