Maryland's College Park Airfield is Site of Many Aviation Firsts

The College Park Airport in Maryland is the oldest, continuously operated, airfield in the world. Many aviation firsts occurred at College Park. From the first steps toward the new world of flight by the U.S. Army to the advent of instrument flying, the little airport at College Park was making headline news on a regular basis.

The spectacular history of this small airfield began in 1909 with its selection as the site for the training of the first military officers to fly the newly accepted government plane. "Wright Machine Reaches College Park by Mule Power" proclaimed an October 6, 1909, article in The Washington Evening Star, which went on to say that lessons to both Lieutenants Frederick Humphreys and Frank Lahm would begin as soon as the plane was assembled.

Operations at the airfield, which was previously a farm, were simple. There was a small shed that was constructed to house the Wright "aeroplane," and this ultimately became the quarters of the corporal and ten privates who were to assist with the activities at the field. There was a cooking tent behind the shed where they took their meals.


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Frederick E. Humphreys, the first U.S. military pilot. Humphreys made his historic flight at College Park Airfield.

A few of the aviations firsts at College Park Airfield, MD:

The first:
woman passenger in the United States (1909), military officer to fly a government airplane (1911), test of a bomb dropping device from an airplane (1911), test of a machine gun from an aircraft (1911), mile high flight by a military aviator pilot (Lt., later General, Hap Arnold-1912), U.S. Air Mail Service (1918), controlled helicopter flight (1924), radio navigational aids developed and tested by Bureau of Standards (1927).

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Immediately after Humphreys, Lahm made a similar solo flight of seven minutes with another beautiful landing. Wilbur must have been buoyed up by the success of these flights, because the following day he made front page headlines by offering to take a friend of his sister Katherine and of Lt. Lahm for a flight. What made this flight so unique was that the friend was a woman, Mrs. Van Deman, and it seemed unlike the extremely cautious Wilbur to make such a flight.

Although the government has discontinued its use of the College Park field, it was to forever be associated with aeronautical activities of one form or another.

Significant firsts in aviation-the first machine gun shot from an aeroplane, the testing of the first bomb-dropping device, the first Postal Service Airmail flights, the first experiments with vertical flight, and the first radio navigational aids for blind flying-are all part of the history of this wonderful field.

The most significant names in aviation history-from the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss to "Hap" Arnold, Thomas DeWitt Milling, Charles Chandler, Al Welch, Tony Janus, and even Paul Garber-live on there.

Contributor Catherine Wallace Allen is the Director of the College Park Aviation Museum.