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COMMENTARY: Investment in Ohio industry mirrors the early days of aviation

During the State of the Union address, President Biden help up Ohio as a beacon of hope fir a resurgence in American manufacturing because of Intel's announcement that it will invent at least $20 billion in a new facility east of Columbus to make microchips.

Aviation commentator Dan Patterson has a historical perspective on this news.

The monumental news from Intel solidifies Ohio's leadership in our future. I want to be sure that we recall the historic precedent a century ago which set the course for the establishment of advanced technology and manufacturing in Ohio.

Orville Wright (center) with McCook Field test pilots John McReady and “Shorty” Schroder.
Dan Patterson archival collection
Orville Wright (center) with McCook Field test pilots John McReady and “Shorty” Schroder.

100 years ago Dayton was benefitting from the Army's Aviation Engineering Headquarters at McCook Field. The airfield opened in 1917 once the U.S. has entered WWI.

But a lot of folks in the Dayton area today aren't even sure where McCook Field was.

You can see exactly where that airfield was located along I-75, just north of downtown and the Great Miami River. It's the green space now covered with baseball fields.

After WWI ended in November of 1918, the country reduced the military forces that had been mobilized to fight the war, but one segment of the Army that saw growth was the Air Service Engineering Division Headquarters, centered in Dayton. New businesses in our area were supplying talent and fulfilling the growing aviation industry's evolving needs.

By the early 1920s, the airfield was too small and the Army started looking for a new home. There were strong rumors that the army and politicians wanted to move the entire operation to Langley Field in Virginia. The economic impact of McCook Field on Dayton was already apparent, and there was alarm among the community leaders.

They did not sit quietly.

NCR President John H. Patterson was determined to not let the Army take it away, and he began a local campaign to raise money and purchase more than enough land for an airbase and give it to the Army.

And so the Dayton Air Service Committee was formed. More than 600 businesses and individuals raised $425,000 in two days to secure nearly 5,000 acres which became Wright Field. In 2022 funds, that is over $6 billion. "The Field," as it was known, instantly became the largest military airbase in the world.

The Army Air Forces became the United States Air Force, and Wright Field became Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is the largest single employer in Ohio. The visionary leadership in 1924 made an investment that forever changed the Southwest Ohio economy.

The history of American aviation haas flown through Dayton ever since.

Global aviation resources are now spread across the state, and Southwest Ohio is an air shipping sweet spot. Just about 65 percent of the U.S. is within a 90 minute flight from Dayton; that's why the big air freight companies are there. And that's why automotive companies like General Motors started shipping auto parts made here to their final assembly plants around the U.S. and Canada.

Microchips are much smaller and lighter than automotive parts, which means smaller and more efficient aircraft can move huge numbers of the Intel products anywhere and quickly. The supply chain issues of the last couple of years will be shortened dramatically. Ohio is much closer to the American companies who depend on the Intel products than from across the Pacific Ocean.

It seems to me that Governor DeWine and JobsOhio has the same vision in attracting Intel to Ohio that the Dayton investors had a century ago, to once again secure the future by building on past success.

Ongoing aircrew survivability research at WPAFB
Dan Patterson
Ongoing aircrew survivability research at WPAFB

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com

Dan Patterson is an aviation historian and photographer. You can see more of his photos at his website, www.flyinghistory.com