Canton Repository

December 18, 2002

Glenn, aviation dignitaries help Ohio celebrate flight role 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent 

WASHINGTON — Aviation legends and admirers, including astronaut John Glenn and a relative of the Wright brothers, came together Tuesday to launch a yearlong celebration of the invention of flying.

Recounting the dizzying advances of 20th-century aviation, they noted that Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon little more than three generations after the Wright brothers flew a plane successfully for the first time.

The future of aviation and space travel could be as impressive as the past if the youth of today are passionate about flight, they said.

“The idea is that the next 100 years will be as great as the last 100 years have been,” said Glenn, a former Ohio senator who became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962.

Dozens of events are planned across the nation next year under the sponsorship of various government agencies and private groups to commemorate the Wrights’ historic flight Dec. 17, 1903.

“The common theme here is kids — kids are the future,” said Erik Lindbergh, a flight instructor and grandson of Charles Lindbergh.

He and others spoke in the shadow of epic aircraft, including the Wright brothers’ biplane and Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, hanging from the ceiling of the National Air and Space Museum. Glenn’s Mercury Friendship 7 capsule was on display nearby.

Some of the biggest events are planned in Ohio and North Carolina, which have vied against each other to be considered the birthplace of flight. The Wright brothers lived in Dayton, Ohio, and designed and built their aircraft there. But they chose Kitty Hawk, N.C., for their historic flight because of its ideal conditions.

“We’re going to have a wrestling match out on the Mall to settle it once and for all,” said a joking J. Bradford Tillson, chairman of Inventing Flight: Dayton 2003, an Ohio state commission sponsoring the flight commemoration.

“There are some elements of rivalry, sure,” he said. But Tillson added that he plans to be at Kitty Hawk for the re-enactment of the Wright brothers’ flight next Dec. 17. That flight will take place in an authentic reproduction of the Wright Flyer, which subsequently will be displayed at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. “We’re really trying to work together,” Tillson said of the Ohio and North Carolina celebrations.

Among those attending the kickoff Tuesday were Neil Armstrong, World War II fighter ace Gen. David Lee “Tex” Hill, Amelia Earhart niece Amy Kleppner and Col. Edward McGee, who was with the all-black Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of the Wright brothers, said her uncles would have been thrilled but also embarrassed by the glamorous event.

The men she called Uncles Or and Wilbur would gladly talk with anyone about anything, but “large crowds and ceremony were not their cup of tea,” said Lane, a Cincinnati resident who has taken the role of unofficial ambassador for the family.

Born five years after Orville Wright died, Lane said she learned about her famous uncles through stories told around the dinner table.

“They were warm, incredibly funny, smart people,” she said.

Actor John Travolta, who served as master of ceremonies, said he may have been chosen “to bridge the gap somehow to inspire young people” who are interested in flying.

Captivated by flight since he was a youngster, Travolta has logged 5,000 hours of flying and earned eight jet licenses, including one that allows him to fly a 747.

Travolta and others paid tribute to the freedom and opportunity in the United States.

“I was not particularly a great student,” he recalled. But in this country, he added, he was able to pursue his dream and passion for flight.

Travolta said the celebration of flight has a meaning that is broader than aviation alone.

“It can all be attributed to passion,” he said of flying and space travel. “Our passions are born from our dreams.” While not everyone is passionate about flying, everyone can be passionate about something, he said. “This year is the year to regain our passion.”

Of several major events planned in Dayton, the biggest is the Centennial Celebration July 3-20. Featuring an air show, balloon festival, international air and space meeting and other events, it is expected to draw half a million visitors.

“They’ve gone all-out to make this the biggest and the best Wright brothers celebration in the world,” Glenn said.

Virtually every aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory will be on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton for another event May 10 and 11.

The Inventing Flight state commission has raised more than $20 million of its share of the $32 million that will be spent on the commemoration in Ohio, Tillson said.

As part of a Wright brothers exhibit next October, the National Air and Space Museum will bring the Wrights’ plane down to the floor for the first time since the museum acquired it in 1948. Museum officials call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see many details of the plane.

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