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Hoosier History Live

Nov 20, 2020

The Wright Brothers are so identified with Dayton, Ohio, where they lived for most of their adult lives, that even aviation buffs often are surprised to learn that one of the legendary siblings was a native Hoosier.


Not only was Wilbur, the eldest brother, born in the small town of Millville in eastern Indiana in 1867, other Indiana connections occurred as the family moved several times in both Indiana and Ohio during their youth. Wilbur Wright even attended high school for a few years in Richmond.

Those connections explain why Wilbur Wright is among the historic and contemporary aviation trail-blazers with links to the Hoosier state who have been inducted into a newly launched hall of fame, the Indiana Aviation Hall of Fame.

During our show, we will explore the lives as well as the national - and, in some cases, international - impact of several of these pioneers. They will include flamboyant aviation promoter and record-breaking racing pilot Roscoe Turner (1895-1970) of Indianapolis and entrepreneur James Allison, who usually is associated with his impact on early auto heritage and his partnership with Carl Fisher and others as founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Allison (1872-1928) also had a significant impact on aviation beginning at the onset of World War I, when a company he formed built the first two Liberty V-12 aircraft motors. His plant's engineers developed early pistons, gear boxes and other components that became widely used throughout the aviation industry.

Others in our spotlight will include retired astronaut and Gary, Ind., native Frank Borman, now 92, who also was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, an aeronautical engineer and a test pilot. We won't be exploring several other notables with Indiana connections, including astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom; World War I aviation hero Weir Cook and Amelia Earhart, who developed a deep bond with Purdue University, because they have been the focus of previous Hoosier History Live shows. 

For this show, Nelson's guests will be two board members of the Indiana Aviation Hall of Fame who are licensed pilots:

  • A replica of the house where Wilbur Wright was born in the small town of Millville in eastern Indiana in 1867.David Newill of Zionsville, past president of the Allison branch of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. David, who oversaw the team that collected and restored artifacts on public display about the Indianapolis legacy of Rolls-Royce (and its predecessor, Allison, which operated under various names), is a popular speaker about aerospace history.
  • And Bruce Montigney of Fishers, a former Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector who retired as the agency's manager of the Indianapolis district office for flight standards. During a 28-year career with the FAA, Bruce held numerous positions and is a certified flight instructor.

Earlier this year, David, Bruce and other aviation history enthusiasts launched the hall of fame, which currently exists as an online, website-based resource while organizers search for a physical site.

Chuck Yeager poses with the Bell X-1 aircraft in which he broke the sound barrier in 1947. Some museums devoted to individual aviation pioneers have been open for several years. They include the Wilbur Wright Memorial Birthplace near Millville, which honors the achievements of the trail-blazing brother who died in 1912. (His younger brother Orville, who was born in Dayton in 1871, died in 1948.)

A museum in northern Indiana honors the achievements of aircraft industry executive Lawrence Bell, founder of Bell Aircraft Corp., which built jet-powered fighter aircraft for the U.S. military during World War II. The Bell Aircraft Museum is located in the town of Mentone in northern Indiana, where Lawrence Bell was born in 1894. Bell and his company made international headlines in 1947 when pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier while flying a Bell aircraft. Lawrence Bell died in 1956.

Frank Borman, the astronaut from Gary, also made international headlines. In 1968, he commanded Apollo 8, a space mission in which Borman and two fellow astronauts became the first human beings to leave the Earth's gravity and orbit the moon.

In addition to exploring the lives and impact of Borman, Bell, Wilbur Wright and other aviation pioneers, our show will spotlight Noblesville native William "Pete" Knight (1929-2004), an astronaut, aeronautical engineer, Vietnam War combat pilot and test pilot. Among a trove of honors, Knight was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.