Ohio may be the birthplace of aviation, but it doesn’t have what California, Kansas, North Carolina and New Jersey all have: a state-oriented aviation hall of fame.
A number of aviation enthusiasts in the area want to change that, but money remains a big hurdle.
Backers envision an Ohio Aviation Hall of Fame as part of a proposed $21 million Triumph of Flight monument on eight acres at the southwest corner of Interstate 75 and I-70.
State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, has introduced a bill establishing a nine-member board to oversee the Hall of Fame and a 2022 deadline for construction.
It’s about “tagging our state as one of if not the number one state in aerospace in the country,” said Perales, an Air Force veteran.
In all, 34 states have their own state-specific aviation halls of fame honoring natives who have made significant contributions to the field, a University of Dayton volunteer student-led study found. Ohio is not one of them.
The National Aviation Hall of Fame, which is tucked inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, honors legendary Ohio aviation and space pioneers, such as Dayton airplane inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright, and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. But backers say there are plenty of noteworthy contributors who otherwise wouldn’t get their due without a state hall.
“There are a lot of people here in Ohio, a lot of Ohioans, who deserve recognition for their accomplishments who will just never rise to the level of the National Aviation Hall of Fame but are still worthy of some recognition,” said Timothy Gaffney, a local author who wrote the book, “The Dayton Flight Factory: The Wright Brothers & the Birth of Aviation.”
Paying for the monument
Backers have attempted to raise money for more than a decade for the Triumph of Flight. They envision a 270-foot monument with a massive stainless steel replica of the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the world’s first practical airplane, at the top of the arching tower.
The Hall of Fame would be inside a $2.6 million, 10,000-square-foot learning center at the base of the monument, said Curt Nelson, executive director of the Wright Image Group campaign and a retired Air Force pilot.
So far, the group has gathered about $2.1 million or 10 percent of the goal. Nelson said the group hopes to land a major donor in the months ahead, someone who would give half the money in return for having their name as part of the monument’s identity. The site itself would be a combination of donated and purchased land, he said.
“We’d like to be in a position later this summer with a significant amount of construction pledges in hand,” he said. “We’re active on that front. We’re talking to lots of folks. We’re very actively looking for that donor and maybe it happens this summer.”
Public money unlikely
Finding funding for the Triumph of Flight concept is the biggest challenge of the project, said National Aviation Heritage Alliance Executive Director Tony Sculimbrene.
He researched the history of two world-renowned places — the St. Louis Arch in Missouri and the Sydney Opera House in Australia — and discovered both relied on “substantial” government support to get off the ground, he said.
“I think the Triumph of Flight will require significant government support and that’s tough to do in today’s environment,” Sculimbrene said.
With state lawmakers working to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget in an effort to eliminate a projected shortfall, Perales does not anticipate having state money available.
Likewise, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who once spoke on the House floor to support the monument, indicated that federal funding would not be available.
“Funding for projects like the Triumph of Flight monument would be considered an earmark, which are currently prohibited under House rules,” the congressman said in an emailed statement Friday.
Raising money for the Triumph of Flight monument has evolved into a years-long quest.
“Fundraising is difficult inherently and fundraising for things like monuments is a factor of 10 more difficult,” Nelson said.
The project received a $250,000 earmark in last year’s state capital budget, he said.
Gaffney acknowledged the fundraising challenge, but said, “I definitely think it would be a good thing for the Dayton region and the state of Ohio and why not have something on the scale of the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty because this is the birthplace of aviation?
“The St. Louis Arch marks the gateway to the west, but the Triumph of Flight marks the gateway to the universe.”
The monument would attract more tourists to the National Aviation Heritage Area and give boost to local tourism, organizers say.
TourismOhio Director Mary Cusick said she had not heard of the hall of fame proposal but noted the popularity of similar tourist sites in Ohio.
“I can tell you the National Football Hall of Fame (in Canton) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in Cleveland), those seem to get a lot of traction and they’re good for tourism in Ohio,” she said.