McCook Field had large influence on U.S. aviation history

McCook Field was a small place with an outsized influence on the fledgling art of flying.

The Dayton airfield of Army engineers and airmen marked historical milestones of the first free fall parachute jump, and was the force behind the first non-stop flight across the continent in 1923, the first around-the-world flight in 1924, and the first non-stop flight from California to Hawaii in 1927, among notable milestones.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Dayton leaders will mark the experimental field’s 100th anniversary at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in a public ceremony at 444 N. Bend Blvd. in Dayton near the Kettering Field Softball Complex where the old airfield pushed the frontiers of early flight.

RELATED: Wright-Patterson reaches a century of innovation

What was once the “Cradle of Aviation” is today filled with athletic fields and an apartment complex on the east side of the Great Miami River just north of downtown Dayton. Long gone on the 254-acre airfield were World War I biplane bombers and buildings like the main hangar emblazoned with the words: “This Field Is Small — Use It All.”

“Kind of in the spirit of the Wright brothers, McCook Field is the birthplace of aerospace innovation in Dayton,” said Rebecca L. Westlake, an event organizer and vice director of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson.

Three early Army aviation installations brought the military to Dayton.

While nearby Wilbur Wright Field trained military pilots and mechanics and the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot supplied parts and equipment, McCook was home to the Army’s airplane engineering department, according to 2003 book “Home Field Advantage,” written by Wright-Patterson historians.

“What stands out to me regarding McCook Field is a good portion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s current missions trace our mission back to McCook Field itself,” Col. Bradley McDonald, Wright-Patterson installation commander, said. “As a consequence, with this being the Air Force’s center of innovation, that’s very noteworthy.”

RELATED: Stealth bombers, UFO rumors, test pilots among Wright Patterson’s past 100 years

McCook engineers and researchers designed airplanes, engines, propellers, instruments, bomb racks, bomb sights, aerial spraying, launched wind tunnel and high-altitude flight testing, advanced aerial photography, and spun out aviators’ clothing, documents show. McCook’s workforce also modified and produced British, French and Italian warplanes in World War I, according to Wright Patt historians.

Similar work today happens at the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at the Miami Valley base that has grown into Ohio's largest single-site employer with more than 27,000 employees and a $4.3 billion regional economic impact.

McCook Field was named after Union Army Gen. Alexander M. McCook, who fought in the Civil War and once owned part of the property.

When McCook Field became too small for expanding engineering operations, Dayton residents and city officials donated property that would become the more than 4,500-acre Wright Field to keep the workforce in the area. McCook Field was shuttered in 1927; its buildings were demolished by the next year. Wright and Patterson Fields merged in 1948 to become Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

RELATED: Wright-Patterson marks 100 years at Huffman Prairie celebration 

Wright-Patt expects up to 3,000 people to show up for the anniversary Thursday.

“… We wanted to bring our employees down to see where aerospace innovation got its start and we wanted to celebrate with the city because it’s through them that we are here,” Westlake said. “If it wasn’t for the city spirit to keep us here, we wouldn’t be here.”

About the Author