Dayton, Ohio, is the aviation history mecca of the world. It contains two extraordinary aviation historical attractions: The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), and the mammoth and superb National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.  Additionally, the National Aviation Hall of Fame is adjacent to the U.S. Air Force national museum.

Dayton's national aviation historical park features the first “practical” airplane and Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where mankind first conquered the skies and often considered the cradle of aviation. The Wrights trained several famed aviators at Huffman Prairie, including Hap Arnold, commander of the U.S. air forces in WWII; Griffith Brewer, the first Englishman to fly a plane; and a trio of women.

There is no admission charge to the USAF National Museum or to Huffman Prairie Flying Field, located on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  "America the Beautiful" and other NPS passes can be used to access other sites in Dayton's national historical park. 

The USAF National Museum contains billions of dollars worth of historical aircraft, mostly American and some famous foreign military aircraft, a collection of historic Presidential aircraft available for visitors to walk through, and excellent exhibits documenting the experiences and achievements of the American airmen who flew and maintained the machines.  It also includes space and missile exhibits, including an exhibit that allows visitors to actually explore inside a space shuttle payload bay. 

The U.S. Air Force national museum is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world.

NOTE:  From October 1, 2015, until a date early in 2016, the Presidential and experimental aircraft galleries will be closed completely, pending their relocation to the museum's new fourth hangar building.

The Space Shuttle and STEM Learning Node also will close Aug. 3, 2015, for relocation to the new building.  Aircraft and exhibits located near the current exhibit in the Cold War Gallery, including the AC-130, EF-111A, F-111F and F-117A, will be unavailable starting Aug. 3 for approximately three months as the work to dismantle the Space Shuttle Exhibit takes place. 

Other exhibit interruptions may take place as preparations continue to open the fourth hangar building.

Among the many famous aircraft in the USAF National Museum is the U.S. Air Force Boeing VC-137C aircraft (civilian designation 707-320B), the first jet made specifically for use by the President of the United States and widely used by President John F. Kennedy. This plane carried President Kennedy to Dallas, where he was assassinated on November 22, 1963.  President Lyndon B. Johnson famously took his oath of office on this plane, which returned to Washington with both the new president and the body of the slain president.  Visitors can walk through this aircraft, which has carried eight presidents, famous Secretaries of State, and even Queen Elizabeth II.

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park contains several sites that collectively celebrate the lives and times of Orville and Wilbur Wright, and explains the genius, daredevil courage and persistence that they exhibited in developing the first powered airplane capable of reliably controlled, elevated, sustained and repeatable flight.  That first airplane, the Wright Flyer III, isn’t housed at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., but in the Wright Brothers Aviation Center of the very good Carillon Historical Park in Dayton.

Carillon Historical Park is an excellent local history museum that also includes Carillon Brewing Co., which utilizes mid-19th century brewing methods, including charcoal fires, to brew its beers.  The Deeds Carillon there is the largest in Ohio with free concerts on Sunday afternoons, May through October.

Huffman Prairie Flying Field is where Wright brothers’ test flights in the two years after their pioneering flight at Kitty Hawk resulted in the development of the Wright Flyer III.  It arguably is one of the most historic locations in the world, although not well known in Ohio let alone in the rest of the U.S. or the world.  On October 5, 1905, the Wright Flyer III circled well off the ground above Huffman Prairie Flying Field until its gas tank was empty, covering 24 miles, a greater distance than the combined total of all Wright test flights in 1903 and 1904, and landing safely. The Age of Flight was born.

In 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 378-3, declared Dayton was the birthplace of aviation.  The U.S. Senate concurred with a voice vote.

The Wright Flyer III is an ASME historic mechanical engineering landmark and the only fixed wing aircraft that is a National Historic Landmark.  Dayton's Wright-associated aviation sites also are included on the U.S. tentative list of World Heritage Sites.

While the Wright Flyer I housed at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, generally is called the world's first airplane, in reality it actually was a very poor powered glider, with severe control problems and an unproven ability to perform reliably extended flights.  The Wright Flyer I "first airplane" myth likely results from a contractual obligation between Orville Wright and the Smithsonian, as well as the Smithsonian using the Wright Flyer I as a featured attraction for decades. For a long period, before Orville Wright agreed to terms that would allow the Wright Flyer I to be sent to the Smithsonian, the Smithsonian actually didn't recognize the Wright Flyer I as the world's first powered flying machine.

The reality is that if Wilbur and Orville Wright hadn't returned to Dayton, Ohio, and there perfected over two years the Wright Flyer III, they likely would have been mere footnotes to history and the Wright Flyer I would have been a marginal attraction at the Smithsonian, perhaps not even displayed.  And likely some other aircraft would be deemed the world's first airplane.

Consider that the Wright Flyer III was the first Wright plane with a separate rudder control.

Until the Wrights in 1908 displayed their now patented invention in Europe and the U.S., many in Europe and the U.S., even in their home town of Dayton, considered them charlatans. Once their perfected invention and their unequaled piloting skills were displayed, the Wrights were instantly deemed the fathers of flight.

<<In years to come Dayton newspapers would proudly celebrate the hometown Wright brothers as national heroes, but the local reporters somehow missed one of the most important stories in history as it was happening a few miles from their doorstep. James M. Cox, publisher at that time of the Dayton Daily News (later governor of Ohio and Democratic presidential nominee in 1920), expressed the attitude of newspapermen—and the public—in those days when he admitted years later, "Frankly, none of us believed it.">>

Visitors to the Wright Flyer III at Carillon Historical Park can view another historical object that well evidences the Wrights' willingness to take calculated risks.  It is a canoe, the first heavy object other than a person ever carried on an airplane, and likely the only canoe ever to fly around the Statue of Liberty in an event that amazed hundreds of thousands of spectators.  Knowlegeable visitors who know the story of this canoe can imagine a time when powered flight was almost an unimaginable novelty, and when the Wrights had opened the doors to new vistas.  Flying around the Statue of Liberty in late September 1909 wasn't only a stunt, it was a demonstration of the Wrights' competitive spirit, and a financial endeavor, as Wilbur Wright was paid $15,000 (over $350,000 in 2014 dollars) for a series of flights as a 300-year celebration of Henry Hudson's exploration of the Hudson River.  In the process, Wilbur Wright decisively bested Glenn Curtiss, the Wrights' great American rival, and Wilbur's Hudson River flights were also the first over American waters.


Wilbur's canoe hangs from the ceiling of the display room featuring the Wright Flyer III.

Reading a Wright brothers biography, such as Tom Crouch's "The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright," is an excellent idea to prepare for a visit to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

Two days are needed to visit both the national aviation park's many sites and the USAF national museum.  In fact, it would be easy for aviation history enthusiasts to spend two days or longer just in the USAF national museum. 

Visitors with only one night in Dayton should try to visit at least the Carillon Historical Park on a separate day to see the Wright Flyer III, then visit the USAF National Museum and the nearby Huffman Prairie Flying Field on the same day.  

Early arrival at the Air Force museum is advisable to sign up immediately for the shuttle bus slots for the presidential and experimental aircraft hangar.  Visitors to the current Presidential aircraft gallery of the USAF National Museum must bring an approved ID (such as U.S. driver's license, passport for foreign visitors) if over age 18.  This is because the current presidential and experimental aircraft hangar is actually inside the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  Shuttle bus slots are limited and the available slots fill up rapidly, especially during the summer and other peak periods for visitors.  Currently, through Sept. 30, only eight shuttle bus slots are available daily providing a visitor capacity of less than 500 persons each day.

The USAF national museum also has an outdoor Air Park, which features a WWII 8th Air Force Control Tower and a Nissen Hut exhibit, as well as additional aircraft, mostly large Air Force cargo and transport aircraft, and a playground for young children.

Most of the aviation history attractions in Dayton close at 5 p.m., including the USAF national museum.  Huffman Prairie Flying Field is open until 6 p.m., but is closed on Wednesdays.

The U.S. Air Force National Museum currently has more than twice the indoor exhibition space of the better known Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  The USAF national museum has over 17 acres (740,000 square feet; 68,750 square meters) of indoor exhibition space and additional open air exhibits and memorial areas. The museum plans soon to open another 240,000 square foot hangar.  Udvar-Hazy currently has 347,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space with plans to eventually expand it to 760,000 square feet.

Udvar-Hazy has top-notch commercial, military and spacecraft artifacts.  The USAF National Museum by contrast possesses a comprehensive collection of USAF machines as well as a small selection of famous enemy aircraft.  The USAF national museum emphasis on the experiences of U.S. airmen, from uniforms, living condtitions, POWs, even a Bob Hope USO exhibit, and on specific wars and theaters of operation also separates it from Udvar-Hazy.  The USAF national museum offers much general aviation history, especially in its early years gallery, but remains overwhelmingly a magnificent military aviation museum.

The U.S. Air Force National Museum has very few naval aircraft. The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL, is the world's largest naval aviation museum with 300,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The adventurous, while in Dayton, also could take an orientation flight on a modified replica of the Wright Flyer "B," the world's first production airplane.

Here's a useful forum thread: