By Peter Wine
“Hallowed ground.” More than once, this description of Huffman Prairie Flying Field was used by those speaking at the rededication of this Historic Aerospace Site on July 16, 2003.
This is where the Wright Brothers perfected powered flight; taking it from a successful experiment to a successful flying school, where the likes of Henry H. “Hap” Arnold learned to fly. Arnold would go on to become a five-star General of the Army; (the only air commander to do so,) and commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.
Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, introduced keynote speaker NASA shuttle astronaut Jerry Ross (Colonel, USAF, Retired), another relative of the Wright Brothers. She got the call from Col. Ross, who explained his distant relationship to the Wright family, after a call from a person who spoke of their association with, as Amanda related it, “the Wright’s older brother Roger.” He had a bit of work to do, but finally convinced her he was legitimate.
After prepared remarks at the podium, Amanda Wright Lane and Col. Ross met with many from the crowd.
Col. Ross talked of his “deep down satisfaction,” at being even remotely connected with the Wright family. He explained, he would “not be able to do the kind of things I’ve been able to do,” if not for what the Wrights accomplished. As the astronaut with the most space walks, (he says he was “outside 9 times,”) that goes a long way.
One older visitor brought him a picture of what appears to be a Wright flyer to sign, that he
said he carries with him everywhere. Col. Ross was happy to sign it. A request for an autograph from a teen-ager shows how the admiration for flight spans generations.
The major difference between the Huffman Prairie in 1904-05, and today? Cows. Or rather, the lack of cows. Back then, it was a pasture, and in addition to being somewhat isolated, it was also located next to a trolley stop, which enabled the Wrights to get back and forth on a regular basis. Banker Torrence Huffman owned the field, and allowed the Wrights to use it at no charge, but did request that they move the cows and horses outside the fence during their use of the field.
Originally designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, the rededication brings back the original plaque (removed during restoration of the area to return the Flying Field to a more historic appearance,) an additional plaque from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and a large historical marker from the Ohio Bicentennial Commission.
After the ceremony, Col. Ross walked over to a replica of the Wright flyer with Jim Adams, a Perdue University alum, where they shared a semi-private moment or two.