A century ago, two Ohio bicycle manufacturers were the symbols of American genius. The Brothers Wright of Dayton had leveraged three-axis control and a spruce glider frame into the first machine-powered airplane. Incremental success proved intoxicating as Wilbur and Orville worked to perfect their flying machines in an Ohio cow pasture pretentiously named Huffman Prairie. In 1908, Orville demonstrated the Wright Flyer for the U.S. Army and completed the first hour-long light.
For the Wright Brothers, today's progress was the foundation of tomorrow's breakthrough. "To work intelligently," they wrote in Century magazine, "one needs to know the effects of a multitude of variations that could be incorporated in the surfaces of flying machines."
Little has really changed at the core of aerospace manufacturing in Ohio--with the exception that Huffman Prairie is a segment of historical park rather than a makeshift airfield. Today, the Wrights' ceaseless drive for excellence is replicated at such places as the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center (COATC).
In 1996, the Newark Air Force Base was privatized and rechristened as the COATC. Managed by the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, the 57-acre operation boasts Fortune 100 companies as well as small businesses. Five of the Defense Department's top-20 contractors can be found on what the locals still call "The Base."
State government has caught some of the Wright spirit as of late. It dug into the public coffers to help launch The Boeing Company's Virtual Manufacturing Center (VMC). According to the nonprofit Ohio Business Development Coalition, "Boeing's Virtual Manufacturing Center demonstrates Ohio's commitment to the aerospace industry and its standing as a world leader in manufacturing."
"The virtual-reality tool is seen as a quantum leap into a brighter future for the Central Ohio Aerospace and Technology Center," says port authority director Rick Platt. "Boeing does more than $4 billion a year in...