Alabama site considering Wright brothers museum

The self-described experimental archaeologist and director of the Dayton-based Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co. met in recent days with leaders in Montgomery, Ala., about a museum there, but he said the talks are in the early stages and no one has committed to the project.

Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co. builds early Wright brothers-era glider and airplane replicas and showcases them across the country teaching visitors — air show attendees to students — about the earliest era of aviation. Among other venues, the exhibit was an attraction at the Dayton Air Show between 2003 to 2005.

“We’ve been touring our airplanes for about 10 years and we’d like to come to a rest,” he said. “Both the airplanes and myself are getting a little road rash.”

Engler said he has had an offer to set up a virtual Web TV studio in an old Dayton area lumber yard, which he intends to pursue in the weeks ahead, but he hopes to have a permanent location to display the planes “in an appreciative community.” Today, they are stored in three warehouses around Dayton.

“I would love to find a home for these airplanes,” Engler said. “We’ve been talking to people from California to Israel about it right now. We are looking to find an appreciative community who sees the historic value of what we’ve got and can make use of it to increase tourism, public relations and education in their community.”

Brady Kress, president and chief executive officer of Dayton History and Carillon Historic Park, questioned if modern audiences would be drawn to a display of a reproduction of Wright brothers aircraft without an additional attraction. Carillon Historic Park is home to the historic Wright Flyer III.

“If he can get people down there excited about the history maybe that will encourage them to take a trip to Dayton, Ohio where everything is truly from,” he said.

Timothy Gaffney, a National Aviation Heritage Alliance spokesman, said the collection Engler has assembled is unique.

“There is no place anywhere that has a museum like what Nick would like to have,” Gaffney said.

In June 2006, Engler hoped to open a $500,000 permanent home for the array of replicated early aviation artifacts at the Dahio Trotwood Airport. A lack of money and the loss of key players in the organization, among other setbacks, stopped the plan before it got airborne, he said.

“The Dayton aviation communities are extremely political,” he said. “We haven’t been able to navigate those politics successfully.”

Dayton has so much aviation history, heading to a place like Montgomery could make the collection standout and improve the chance to land funding, he said.

Mike Watson, an architect with 2WR in Montgomery, set up meetings between Engler and local leaders in the Alabama city.

“We certainly need someone to take the bull by the horns and establish a Wright brothers museum here in Montgomery because of our very rich history which really started with the Wright brothers,” Watson said. “I know the Wright brothers are very special to Dayton and Kitty Hawk and we think they are for Montgomery.”

The Montgomery flying field where the Wrights trained aviators in 1910 later became Maxwell Air Force Base.

For years, Montgomery has considered an aviation museum that would include the Wright brothers history but the idea hasn’t taken flight, Watson said.

“There’s no discussion really to open a museum other than it would be my desire to push to have that happen as a magnet for tourism and economic development dollars,” Watson said. In the interim, he has hired Wright Brothers Aeroplane Co. to build artifacts for a new Montgomery business, the Aviator Bar, which he said was a cross between a museum and entertainment establishment.

A tough economy has made it difficult to find money to launch a museum, Engler said.

“Now and then we get somebody that calls us up and they explore it,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a nibble, sometimes it’s an actual bite.” He’s had three “bites,” or serious looks, in the past three years, he said.

“It’s an extremely hard thing to get going in this economic environment,” he said.

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