Aviation Hall of Fame ceremony moving to Texas from Dayton

In a break with decades of Dayton tradition, the National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony that brought astronauts, aviation pioneers and legends to the birthplace of aviation will move to Fort Worth, Texas in 2017.

No decision has been made for future years.

With little time, Dayton backers say they pulled together aid guarantees that included “significant” financial commitments from private donors and other help in a bid to ensure the “Oscar night of Aviation” be kept a black-tie enshrinement ceremony in Dayton, where it has stayed every year since since it began in 1962.

But in what was described as an impassioned closed-door meeting Thursday, the board voted to move the event to Texas after postponing a decision Dec. 1. NAHF officials did not disclose the vote tally.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” said Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance in Dayton. “I think that the community made a very strong case for keeping it here.”

The ceremony has drawn hundreds to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in recent years. NAHF events have brought aerospace notables such as Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, Mercury 7 astronaut John Glenn and Hollywood stars such as John Travolta and Harrison Ford to Dayton.

Texas enshrinement

NAHF organizers will take the event to the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show next October, said Amy Spowart, NAHF executive director.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for this national organization to have our brand elsewhere,” she said after the decision. “Dayton has been great. It’s just a one-off event. We need to get our brand out there to help with our capital campaign” to raise $5 million.

The Hall of Fame headquarters will remain inside the Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson.

The enshrinement ceremony has lost money in recent years and organizers had weighed relocating the event out of state, officials have said.

The package local organizers put together would have guaranteed a profit for the event, according to state Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, who had called — along with a personal appeal two weeks ago to board members from Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger — for the enshrinement to stay in Dayton. “We did what we could and we gave it our best,” Perales said.

Officials did not disclose how much was offered nor the donors identities, but “significant in my mind is more than tens of thousands of dollars,” Perales said. “It was a clear indication this was important to the region and important to the state.”

NAHF officials refused to comment on any potential incentives from organizers in Fort Worth, Texas or Ohio.

But several Dayton officials familiar with the situation said no written commitments or guarantees had been reached with Fort Worth as of the Dec. 1 NAHF board meeting in Dayton. Messages were left with a Fort Worth Alliance Air Show spokesman Thursday for comment.

In a brief interview Dec. 1 with this newspaper, air show spokesman Randy E. Pruett said “it’s all very early, very preliminary and nothing is confirmed at all” to bring the ceremony to Texas.

Even so, NAHF officials indicated the enshrinement would move at least for one year to Fort Worth.

“It’s a significant opportunity for the Hall of Fame and now we can turn our focus on making it happen,” Ron Kaplan, NAHF enshrinement director, said Thursday.

Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said organizers had 15 days from the Dec. 1 NAHF meeting to come up with a plan and had “made some really good strides” to meet the non-profit organization’s needs.

Regional business, development and tourism leaders and lawmakers banded together to make the financial commitment and other aid, from billboard and radio advertising to tours of historic aviation sites and travel arrangements for enshrinees, they said.

Now, Parker said, NAHF is “out on their own starting in a new city with this and it’s very disappointing that they don’t want it to remain in Dayton.”

Parker led a local drive to prevent the enshrinement leaving for North Carolina in 2012.

Dayton Development Coalition President and CEO Jeff Hoagland said in a statement he hoped the community could work with the Hall of Fame to bring the enshrinement back to Dayton in the future.

U.S.Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he had worked with the National Aviation Hall of Fame for three years to resolve financial issues.

“The Dayton community has supported the Hall of Fame and given millions of dollars over the years,” Turner said in the statement. “We put together a plan to resolve their short term fundraising issues and their long term viability problems as well. Despite all of our efforts, the decision to move the enshrinement ceremony is a failure of leadership by the board and is greatly disappointing.”

Long-term commitment

NAHF board member Phil Roberts said the issue of long-term support was key in the decision to move the enshrinement to Texas next year.

“There’s a lot of support in this community and I don’t think there’s a board member that doesn’t believe the right place for the headquarters of the National Aviation Hall of Fame is here,” he said. “The real issue has to be how can we support it and support it on a strategic basis (is) the first duty, the fiduciary duty of the trustees.

“In my personal opinion, I think an awful lot of weight came to that because of our inability to get that kind of resource commitment here,” the retired Air Force colonel said. “We know that in other venues there’s significant potential commitment that can’t be done here. It was almost a very frustrating vote for everyone.”

Most of the ceremony’s financial support has been outside Dayton, NAHF officials said.

Vincent Russo, a NAHF board member who said he voted to keep the enshrinement in Dayton, was disappointed in the board’s decision, but “very proud” of the region’s attempt to keep the ceremony.

“I think the Dayton community rallied, including the state of Ohio, did everything they could but it wasn’t enough,” said Russo, a retired executive director of the former Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “I think we answered all the questions and provided all the data necessary but you take a vote and you either win or lose.

“Everybody in the community who could help stepped up to try to help,” he said.

Amanda Wright Lane, a great-grandniece of airplane inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright, had urged NAHF at its prior session to make Dayton the place for the enshrinement.

“More than our community, and even more than for the Hall of Fame board, I’m sad” for enshrinees who will not have the chance to be inducted into aviation’s birthplace and in one of the top museums in the world or see their plaque hung “in a place of honor” at the hall, she said.

“Coming to Dayton for many of them was a pilgrimage,” she said.


This newspaper has closely tracked efforts to keep a decades-old ensrhinement of aerospace notables in Dayton. We are committed to keeping you informed on the latest developments.


See some of the celebrities and famous aviation heroes who’ve visited Dayton for the ceremony at MyDaytonDailyNews.com.

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