I was at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, when news came from NASA about the locations sites chosen for the shuttle exhibits. When the cities were announced, and Dayton excluded, the disappointment in the air was palpable. From volunteers to veterans, the only talk heard was about this great snub, and how hard it was to believe this facility could be ignored. It’s hard to argue against them.

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina may be First in Flight, but Dayton, Ohio is in rightfully the Birthplace of Aviation. Only by necessity of wind and sand (for gentle flight, and soft crashes) did Dayton natives Orville and Wilbur Wright choose Kitty Hawk over their hometown. But it was in this town where they first envisioned taking to the skies, from inside the walls of their bicycle shop, marrying the ideas of balance and patience; the very things that would be needed for the first ever machine to lift off the ground in extended flight.

Huffman Prairie, where the Wright brothers perfected flight, is situated adjacent to the facilities. The Air Force Museum itself is on the Air Force base that is named after them. It is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Their collection boasts hundreds of aircraft and historical military memorabilia, spanning the years of the brother’s work, to the moon landing, and beyond. Among the collection for display: one of the first planes developed by the brothers; the Air Force One used by President Kennedy to fly to Dallas in November, 1963; and the Apollo 15 moon capsule. From flight’s humble beginnings to its ultimate triumphs, this museum is a comprehensive study of man’s journey in the sky, and into space.

One volunteer, clearly a veteran who had been at the museum since his retirement from service, could barely hold back his tears as he stuttered, trying to comprehend how this location, and its importance in history, could have been overlooked.

At over a million and a half visitors a year, he imagined that the shuttle would have increased interest by at least another million, and all this for a museum to which admission is absolutely free.

Over the course of two days, I spent 6 hours slowly making my way around the seemingly endless array of aircraft, missiles, and history. I still feel as though I did not see enough.

New York and Los Angeles may be more glamorous venues for tourists looking for a quick passing glance at a piece of aviation hardware. But Dayton, Ohio and its Air Force museum is the history behind that hardware. And still it is so much more. It is the culmination of man’s determination and will to succeed.