Ohio is known as the birthplace of aviation, and for good reasons. The state has a rich history of contributions to flight and space travel, dating back to the early 20th century. Here are some of the people who were pioneers in the field:
- The Wright brothers: Orville and Wilbur Wright were two bicycle mechanics from Dayton who invented and flew the first successful airplane in 1903. They also built the first practical fixed-wing aircraft and developed the principles of aerodynamics and flight control. They are widely regarded as the fathers of modern aviation.
- John Glenn: John Glenn was a decorated military pilot, astronaut, and senator from Ohio. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft. He also became the oldest person to fly in space in 1998, at age 77, as part of the Discovery shuttle mission. He was a national hero and a symbol of the space age.
- Neil Armstrong: Neil Armstrong was a naval aviator, test pilot, engineer, and astronaut from Wapakoneta. He was the commander of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon in 1969. He became the first human to walk on the lunar surface, uttering the famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He was a humble and inspiring leader.
- Judith Resnik: Judith Resnik was an electrical engineer, software developer, and astronaut from Akron. She was one of the six women selected for NASA’s astronaut program in 1978, and the second American woman to fly in space in 1984, aboard the Challenger shuttle. She was also part of the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986, which exploded shortly after launch, killing all seven crew members. She was a trailblazer for women in science and technology.
These are just some of the examples of Ohio’s contribution to flight and space travel. The state has also been home to many other notable aviators and astronauts, such as Eddie Rickenbacker, Jim Lovell, Kathryn Sullivan, and Sunita Williams. Ohio has also hosted many museums and facilities related to aerospace, such as the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, and the NASA Glenn Research Center. Ohio has truly played a vital role in advancing humanity’s exploration of the skies and beyond.
The Wright Brothers
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are widely regarded as the inventors of the first successful airplane. But before they achieved their historic flight in 1903, they were bicycle mechanics in Dayton, Ohio. They ran a small shop where they sold and repaired bicycles, and also experimented with their own designs. One of the innovations they introduced was the use of ball bearings in the hubs of their wheels, which reduced friction and increased speed. This gave them an insight into how to control the movement of a flying machine. They realized that they could use a similar mechanism to change the angle of the wings and stabilize the aircraft in the air. They called this technique “wing warping” and it was one of the key features of their gliders and later their powered airplane. The Wright brothers applied their knowledge and skills from bicycle making to aviation, and thus changed the course of history.
Grissom Airforce Base
Grissom Airforce base is a historical site that has a strong connection to the early Gemini space missions and the astronaut who gave it its name.
The base was originally opened by the U.S. Navy in 1942 as Bunker Hill Naval Air Station and served as a training base for thousands of Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard pilots during World War II. One of its most famous alumni was Ted Williams, the baseball legend and hall of famer. After the war, the base was closed and returned to farmland until the Korean conflict prompted its reopening by the Air Force in 1954.
The base was under the direction of the Tactical Air Command and hosted various fighter and bomber units until 1957, when it was transferred to the Strategic Air Command. The base became home to the 305th Bomb Group and its B-47 and later B-58 bombers, as well as KC-135 tankers. The base also supported the Air Defense Command’s 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
In 1965, the base witnessed a historic event when two of its pilots, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom and John W. Young, participated in the first crewed Gemini flight, Gemini III . Grissom was one of America’s original seven astronauts and had flown in space before on Mercury-Redstone 4 in 1961. Young was a rookie astronaut who would later become the first commander of the space shuttle program. The Gemini III mission tested the new maneuverable Gemini spacecraft and performed the first orbital trajectory modifications and the first lifting reentry of a manned spacecraft . The mission was also memorable for the appearance of a smuggled corned beef sandwich that Young offered to Grissom during orbit .
Grissom was a native of Mitchell, Indiana, and had a distinguished career as a pilot and an astronaut. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1944 and enrolled at Purdue University after his initial military service. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1950 and rejoined the Air Force as a pilot. He flew 100 combat missions during the Korean War and became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in 1956. He was selected as one of the Mercury Seven astronauts in 1959 and became the second American to fly in space on July 21, 1961. He was also selected as the command pilot for Gemini III and Apollo 1 missions.
Unfortunately, Grissom’s life was cut short on January 27, 1967, when he and his Apollo 1 crewmates, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, were killed in a fire during a pre-launch test at Cape Kennedy, Florida . Grissom was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 for his contributions to the space program.
In honor of Grissom’s achievements and sacrifices, Bunker Hill Air Force Base was renamed Grissom Air Force Base on May 12, 1968 . The base continued to host active duty and reserve units until 1994, when it was realigned as an Air Force Reserve Command facility. Today, the base is home to the 434th Air Refueling Wing and its KC-135 tankers, as well as units from other branches of the armed forces .
Grissom Airforce base is not only a vital part of America’s defense, but also a proud reminder of its space exploration history. The base celebrates its golden anniversary in 2018 and continues to honor the memory of its namesake, Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, a Hoosier hero and an American legend.
Neil Armstrong in Cincinnati, Ohio
Neil Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was the eldest of three children of Stephen and Viola Armstrong, who worked as a state auditor and a homemaker respectively. Neil developed a passion for aviation at an early age, when he took his first airplane ride at age 6. He also became an active Boy Scout and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Neil attended Blume High School in Wapakoneta, where he excelled in math and science. He also learned to fly at a nearby airport and obtained his pilot’s license on his 16th birthday. He enrolled in Purdue University in 1947 to study aeronautical engineering under a scholarship from the U.S. Navy. However, his studies were interrupted by the Korean War, in which he served as a naval aviator and flew 78 combat missions.
After the war, Neil returned to Purdue and completed his degree in 1955. He then joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later renamed as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as a civilian research pilot. He flew various experimental aircraft, including the X-15 rocket plane, and logged more than 1,100 hours of flight time.
In 1962, Neil was selected as one of the second group of astronauts for NASA’s space program. He made his first spaceflight in 1966 as the command pilot of Gemini 8, along with David R. Scott. They performed the first manual docking of two spacecraft in orbit, but had to abort the mission due to a thruster malfunction that sent their capsule into a spin. Neil managed to regain control and make an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Neil’s second and last spaceflight was the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969, which aimed to land humans on the Moon for the first time. Neil was the commander of the mission, along with Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., who served as the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot respectively. On July 20, 1969, Neil and Aldrin descended to the lunar surface in the Eagle module, while Collins remained in orbit in the Columbia module. Neil became the first person to step onto the Moon at 10:56 pm EDT, followed by Aldrin 19 minutes later. They spent about two hours outside the module, collecting samples, planting a U.S. flag, and talking to President Richard Nixon via radio. They then rejoined Collins and returned to Earth on July 24, 1969.
Neil Armstrong became a global hero and an icon of human achievement after his historic lunar landing. He received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal. He also received honorary degrees from several universities and had many places and institutions named after him.
However, Neil was a modest and private person who avoided publicity and fame. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and became a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) from 1971 to 1979 . He also served on various boards and commissions related to aviation and space exploration. He married Janet Shearon in 1956 and had three children: Eric, Karen, and Mark. Karen died of a brain tumor at age two in 1962. Neil and Janet divorced in 1994 and he remarried Carol Knight in 1999.
Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at age 82, after undergoing heart surgery in Cincinnati (Ohio) . He was buried at sea by the U.S. Navy on September 14, 2012. His family released a statement that said:
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
Ohio and the Midwest have played a pivotal role in the history of aviation and spaceflight, from the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 to the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The region has been home to many pioneers, innovators, and explorers who have pushed the boundaries of flight and space exploration. Ohio alone has produced 25 astronauts, more than any other state. The Midwest has also been a hub for aerospace research and development, hosting institutions such as NASA Glenn Research Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and the National Museum of the United States Air Force. These achievements have not only advanced science and technology, but also inspired generations of dreamers and doers who aspire to reach for the stars. As we celebrate the past, present, and future of aviation and spaceflight, we can proudly say that Ohio and the Midwest have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of this remarkable human endeavor.