Mackensie Wittmer is the Executive Director of the National Aviation Heritage Area (NAHA) based in Dayton, Ohio, USA, where the 117th FAI General Conference will take place on 26 and 27 October 2023. She has served in the role for five years and has been with the organisation for nine years.
In this interview, she kindly agreed to provide us with insights into the NAHA and shed light on what makes the Dayton region so captivating for air sports enthusiasts.
What lies at the heart of the National Aviation Heritage Area’s mission?
In the United States, a national heritage area is designated by Congress for its unique nationally significant qualities and resources. In southwest Ohio, we tell the nationally significant story of aviation starting with the Wright brothers. There 62 heritage areas across the United States and US territories, and the program is administered by the National Park Service. The goals are to serve as an economic catalyst in a region. The National Aviation Heritage Area works to develop and promote the wide variety of aviation heritage assets in the region. Our work also helps those assets work together in cooperation and collaboration.
What makes Dayton special for air sports enthusiasts compared to other places?
Air Sport enthusiasts can both demonstrate their craft and visit a wide range of aviation heritage sites while in Dayton, Ohio. These sites range from the Aviation Trail Inc. Parachute Museum in Dayton learning about the first jumps to visiting the Wright B. Flyer in Miamisburg where the group constructs Wright Flyer look-a-likes, a no-cockpit experience.
What kind of experiences can international visitors and aviation enthusiasts expect when they visit Dayton for the FAI General Conference?
There are two heritage area sites that visitors can walk to from the conference hotel: Carillon Historical Park which is home of the Wright Brothers National Museum and Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum which is the burial place for the Wright brothers and other early aviators. There is also a regular and electric bike rental system and an electric scooter service similar to systems found in many international cities. Lyft and Uber are readily available as well. To reach other sites further away, visitors can simply rent a car to efficiently move around the heritage area separate from the conference and the conference-provided transportation.
Also, international visitors should expect the midwestern hospitality the region is known for. Each heritage area site welcomes international visitors. There may not be language assistance onsite. Credit cards are widely accepted for admission fees, food, and souvenirs.
What are the key attractions for foreign visitors, like the Delegates to the FAI General Conference, during a trip to Dayton?
I would suggest the National Museum of the United States Air Force which is the largest and oldest aviation military museum in the world. The scope of the museum moves from early aviation to the space age and houses artefacts and stories that will resonate with international visitors.
To what extent does Dayton’s illustrious aviation heritage continue to impact the city’s present and future? For instance, the Sinclair Community College offers a program focused on Unmanned Aerial Systems.
Dayton’s aviation heritage continues to impact the City and region’s present and future because aviation is intertwined with our community identity in the same way it is for Farnborough, England; Paris, France; and other aviation hubs around the world. Our heritage also led to the creation of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base which is the State of Ohio’s largest single-site employer with more than 33,000 people working there. Ohio remains the number one supplier to Boeing and Airbus, has seven universities leading unmanned aerial system research and development, and Ohio is home to more than 550 aviation and aerospace companies. And it all started in Dayton, Ohio, home of the 2023 General Conference for the FAI.