GE Aviation’s group of 100 Flights participants had just stepped off the bus in front of the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, in Dayton, Ohio, when a group of cyclists kitted out in high-tech gear set off on their next ride. Standing just a few feet away from the only remaining Wright Cycle Company shop, the symbolism could not be overlooked.
Here was the spot where Wilbur and Orville Wright took their know-how with a newfangled device—the bike—and turned it into an even more ungainly vehicle—an airworthy bi-plane.
Over the course of two days at the end of June, 20 GE Aviation employees got the chance to see how far the aviation industry has come in 100 years, from the Wright’s first bike shop to the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Base to the cutting-edge technology inside the EPISCenter on the University of Dayton campus.
If you’re traveling through time, it helps to have a guide. Enter Rick Kennedy. With over 30 years of experience as GE Aviation’s spokesperson and a deep knowledge of aviation history, the crew couldn’t have asked for a better Virgil. Everyone received a fresh copy of 100 Years of Reimagining Flight, Kennedy’s new book tracing the history of GE Aviation. In one of those art-imitates-life moments, Walker Elder, an assembly and test technician at the Lafayette, Indiana, plant, quickly discovered his own photo in the book. This immediately elevated him to superstar status; by the end of the trip, he’d signed a lot of autographs.
Once “geared up,” the group was shuttled to the Wright-Dunbar Center downtown Dayton. Along the way, Kennedy offered gems of aviation history. “Dayton was the patent capital of the world at the turn of the century,” he said as we entered a red brick paved street. “It had the highest patent submission rate per capita. Wilbur and Orville hired Harry A. Toulmin as their lawyer to help them submit their patents. This was one of their most inspired decisions since the three-axis control and wing warping systems patented by the Wright brothers are still in use today.”
After watching On Great White Wings, a short documentary about the Wright brothers’ life, we toured the neighborhood where they lived and worked on their first “Flyer.”
Seeing their parental home, the five bike shops, and the family-owned printing press standing within a few short city blocks, makes you realize how compact Wilbur and Orville’s world was. Dayton, and the aviation community at large, is lucky to have it. The Wright’s workshops would have been lost to history, but with efforts of Aviation Trail Inc, a non-profit collaboration with the National Park Service, in 1989 the Wright Cycle Company area became a National Historic Landmark
For a busload of #AvGeeks, the next stop was a showstopper. From space items and pilotless aircraft to the B17 Memphis Belle, the Air Force Museum, located on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has enough artifacts of aerospace history to fill four very large hangars. “Don’t even try to read the plaques, you won’t have enough time,” Kennedy advised us. “Just walk around and enjoy.”
The tour took us on a historical trail from Model A, the first plane the government purchased from the Wright brothers in 1908 for $25,000 to a life-size mock-up of the Space Shuttle and the only XB-70 Valkyrie Mach 3 strategic bomber powered by six GE YJ93 engines in existence.
Kennedy didn’t hesitate to fire off facts about displays we passed by. To our group’s delight, and our tour guide’s disapproval, he stopped us at each aircraft with a GE Aviation connection. It was hard not to feel a personal sense of pride in the long line of aircraft that GE Aviation has been directly involved in powering. After four hours inside, there was only one way to describe the experience: Minds blown.
Day two started with a short drive to the Electrical Power Integrated Systems Center (EPISCenter) on the campus of the University of Dayton, where our hosts gave us a tour of their state-of-the-art test facility where they test complete electric systems for aircraft. In the drive to engineer lighter aircraft, the trick is to reimagine the entire power distribution nervous system of the plane. The research and testing of the Boeing 777X generator systems, the power distribution systems, and the new hybrid propulsion systems that the EPISCenter team is working on are the leading edge of next generation tech.
Michael Terzo, a 100 Flights recipient from Norwich NY who himself works in manufacturing of power generation and control systems for aviation was highly impressed by the facility. “The EPISCenter tour was particularly valuable to me,” he said, “I run the vibration lab at the Unison facility in Norwich. The EPIScenter has the largest shaker made by Unholtz-Dickie, same company that makes the four shakers that I run in my lab and that was impressive to me. I was also impressed to see the EPISCenter’s Highly Accelerated Life Test chamber. This chamber can vibration test parts in all 3-axis, at elevated temperatures, all while the test specimen is operating or energized. This type of test is ideal to prove out design flaws in a unit BEFORE it gets out in the actual environment it was designed for.”
The final leg of our Dayton Experience brought us to the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, where the Wright family is buried. As we took the time to pay our respects, a small propeller-powered plane buzzed across the sky. It was lost on no one that the only noise to disturb the peace of the Wright family was the sound of a passing plane.
It is easy to get siloed and forget about how your job contributes to the greater mission of GE Aviation – inventing the future of flight, lifting people up and bringing them home safely. The 100 Flight Employee Recognition Dayton Experience allowed us to connect the dots. Colin Vogt, a Technical Product Manager from Evendale, summed up the group’s experience nicely.
“Aviation is an industry driven to bring people together and allow them the freedom to travel,” Vogt said. “From the simple origins of the bicycle to the complexity of heavier-than-air travel, we stand on the shoulders of inventors, risk-takers and leaders. I am privileged to have had this experience. I feel inspired and energized to contribute in some small way to this industry that so many are passionate about.”
The 100 Flights Employee Recognition Program was developed as part of GE Aviation’s 100 Year Anniversary. 100 employees were randomly selected to share our history at key sites and shows around the world. They will have the opportunity to see what we do, how we do it, and why we do it, creating an experience that inspires a connection to our Purpose. Employees will see how their work directly impacts our business and the world first-hand while experiencing our rich culture and history.