This airport, only four miles outside of Washington, D.C., is the world’s oldest continuously operating airport, established in 1909 as a site for Wilbur to train military pilots.
The airport was the site of many aviation firsts:
1909—Wilbur Wright helps select the field—near “College Park,” a new housing development named for a nearby college—where he’ll train Army lieutenants Frederick Humphreys and Frank Lahm. Humphreys becomes the first officer to solo a military airplane. Sarah Van Deman takes to the air with Wilbur to become the first woman to fly in an airplane in the United States.
1911—Civilian aircraft start flying at College Park, making it the world’s oldest continuously operating airport, now 108 years old. The U.S. Army establishes the first military aviation school with Wilbur’s newly trained Army pilots as instructors.
1918—The first airmail operated by the U.S. Postal Service begins, flying from College Park to Philadelphia and New York City.
1927-1933—The National Bureau of Standards tests early radio navigational aids for “blind flying.”
1937—The Engineering & Research Corporation tests an airplane designed to be spin-proof, the Ercoupe.
1977—The airfield is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1981—The College Park Aviation Museum opens; affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum displays antique and reproduction aircraft, and artifacts related to the airfield.
Today, the historic airfield continues to operate as a general aviation airport, with about 30 aircraft based there. It’s a different time from when Wilbur flew over College Park. Twenty-first century pilots must complete the TSA screening for flying in the Flight Restricted Zone surrounding (above) Washington, D.C., before landing there.
After arrival, by aircraft or automobile, you can walk the field where Wilbur trained America’s first military pilots and tour the museum to discover the history of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport.
Dennis K. Johnson is an aviation writer living in New York.