Taking Flight

 Taking Flight

Walter Ohlmann and the Wright Image Group work to bring the Triumph of Flight monument to life.

Eric Spangler

The Statue of Liberty in New York City and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis are two of the most famous monuments in the country.

But could Dayton be the next city to have a nationally recognized iconic symbol?

If a group of business people, managers, engineers, architects, pilots, lawyers and aviation enthusiasts has its way the answer is a resounding yes.

The Wright Image Group is in the process of raising $18 million to build a steel replica of the Wright Flyer III airplane with a wingspan of 144 feet on a pedestal 270 feet above the intersection of Interstate 70 and Interstate 75.

The proposed monument would commemorate the October day in 1905 when Wilbur Wright piloted a Wright Flyer III airplane above Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, for nearly 40 minutes. The flight proved the Wright Flyer III was the world’s first practical airplane capable of sustained and controlled flight.

The proposed monument, known as the Triumph of Flight, would also be a symbol of Ohio’s historic role in the aviation and aerospace industries.

Raising the $18 million needed for the monument is a daunting task, but the money will be raised and the monument built if Walter Ohlmann has anything to do with it—and he does.

Ohlmann is president of the Wright Image Group and owner of the Ohlmann Group, a marketing agency.

Ohlmann became involved in the project to build the monument in 1994 when he answered a phone call from Walt Hoy. It was Hoy’s idea to build the monument and he wanted to know if Ohlmann could help develop a pro bono marketing plan for the project.

Ohlmann told Hoy, “Well, we do a lot of stuff pro bono, and your plan does have some merit to it.”

Ohlmann did, however, have some concerns.

The first concern was whether or not the airport would allow it because the monument would be relatively close. The second concern was what the Ohio State Highway Patrol would say, since it might be considered a distraction to the 53 million drivers per year along the interstates.

But Ohlmann says both entities gave their approval for the project. “And away we went,” he says.

Ohlmann crafted the marketing plan and sent it to Hoy. It was several years later before Ohlmann heard anything about the plans for the monument.

“It went 10 years without anything really happening,” Ohlmann says. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s either do it or not do it. Let’s get on with it. That’s when it got organized and we put together a board and officers and really got down to business.”

Ohlmann realized the importance of incorporating the organization as a nonprofit to raise the necessary funds, and he submitted the paperwork for tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service’s section 501(c)(3).

Ohlmann then saw the need to realign the organization’s board to begin the serious work of raising money. So in 2010 Ohlmann became president of the Wright Image Group, Hoy became chairman and the vice president position was split into three, with one each responsible for development, engineering and public information.

The group has now raised about $1.5 million for the Triumph of Flight monument, says Ohlmann. A recent fundraiser brought in more than $200,000, he says.

The donations have come in both large and small amounts, he says. “I’ve gotten some donations as small as $20 and I’ve gotten some donations as high as $25,000. So it’s across the board, which is good. That’s the way it should be.”

Ohlmann is a veteran of fundraising campaigns, but there is something special about raising $18 million for the proposed Triumph of Flight monument. 

“The other ones will come and go,” he says about the previous causes for which he has raised funds. “But they don’t have a 200-year time span. This will become a world-class monument. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

The design of the grounds surrounding the base of the proposed monument’s pedestal may just help propel the proposed Triumph of Flight monument to that world-class status.

In the group’s promotional video, Dan Patterson, the project’s design consultant, says, “This will be a sculptural space. The architectural features of the walls that will surround this reflecting pond will be covered with the history of aviation, not only Ohio but internationally.”

Curved walls at the entrance to the plaza will greet visitors with the mythological aviator Icarus on one wall and a bronze statue of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon on another wall.

“Sitting on the steps will be life-size bronze sculptures of Orville and Wilbur Wright,” says Patterson. “People will be able to sit on Orville’s lap and get their pictures taken. So it will be a friendly, welcoming environment.”

Amanda Wright Lane, the great grandniece of Orville and Wilbur Wright and a member of the Wright Image Group, says in the video that the proposed monument will commemorate both the invention of the airplane and the birth of an industry in aviation and aerospace. “There are other monuments to that, but this is the site where it all began and, frankly, it was world-changing,” says Lane. 

“Today, Ohio is still changing the world,” she says. “We are leaders in the aerospace industry in business, in research and development, and also our universities … have magnificent programs for engineering, aerospace and aviation.”

Ohlmann says the proposed Triumph of Flight monument will help people understand that Dayton is the home of the Wright brothers and the place where aviation was born.

“I think, first of all, it would identify Dayton as the place where the Wright Brothers really worked and lived and played and died,” Ohlmann says. “We want to establish Ohio as the home of aerospace and aviation. It wasn’t that one flight out of North Carolina, as the history teams have taken ahold of.”

Ohlmann says the proposed Triumph of Flight monument will symbolize another important fact. 

“It will point out that Ohio is a hell of state for aerospace and aviation.”