The College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world, is celebrating its centennial this year.
The airport and the College Park Aviation Museum on its grounds are offering dozens of special programs, running throughout the centennial year. They include tours of the restoration workshop in Wilbur Wright’s hangar, classic motion pictures about aviation (with lemonade and popcorn), an art contest and numerous other programs for schoolchildren, lectures on the early days of aviation at the airport, and outstanding photographs taken by two airport neighbors who documented its activities from its Wright era through the 1930s.
Located at College Park, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., it was founded in 1909 when Wilbur Wright set up shop there to give flight instruction to the first military aviators. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of the most significant airfields in aviation history, particularly so for the well-known aviators and aviation inventors who played roles in the airfield’s long history.
In 1909, Wilbur Wright taught Lieutenants Frederic Humphreys, Frank Lahm, and Benjamin Foulois to fly there. Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane. In 1911, our nation’s first military aviation school was opened at College Park, with newly trained Lieutenants Hap Arnold and Tommy Milling as Wright pilot instructors and Capt. Paul Beck as the Curtiss instructor. The military aviation school saw numerous aviation firsts.
In 1918, after a three-month trial with the War Department, the Post Office Department inaugurated the first Postal Airmail Service from College Park, serving Philadelphia and Belmont Park, New York. Airmail flights from College Park continued until 1921. The compass rose and original airmail hangar remain at the airport, witnesses to history.
From 1927 until 1933, the Bureau of Standards developed and tested the first radio navigation aids for use in blind, or bad weather, flying. It was the forerunner of the Instrument Landing System used today.
George Brinckerhoff took over management of the Airfield and ran it from 1927 until 1959, bringing in numerous airshows and teaching hundreds of pilots to fly.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission bought the airport in 1973 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today it is run both as a historic site and as an operating airport.
In the museum, many unique aircraft and artifacts tell the story of the airport’s many “firsts” in flight. It contains historic and reproduction aircraft associated with the airfield, as well as hands-on activities and interpretive areas for children and adults. The airport runway is just outside the glass windows of the museum.
The College Park Airport and the Aviation Museum – an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution – are owned and operated by The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The Field of Firsts Foundation supports the museum through donations.
For information: www.collegeparkaviationmuseum.com