Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation
College Park Airport

History

Founded in 1909 for the Wright Brothers' instruction of the first military aviators, College Park Airport is one of the most significant airfields in aviation history.

College Park Airport is home to many "firsts" in aviation, and is particularly significant for the well-known aviators and aviation inventors who played a part in this field's long history. In 1909 Wilbur Wright taught Lieutenants Frederic Humphreys, Frank Lahm, and Benjamin Foulois to fly here. Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane.

Civilian aviation began at College Park with Rex Smith, an inventor and patent attorney, who operated the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company. Paul Peck and Tony Jannus were associates of his.

In 1911, our nation's first military aviation school was opened at College Park, with newly trained pilots Lt. Hap Arnold and Lt. 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 New York (Belmont Park). Flights from College Park continued until 1921. The compass rose and original airmail hangar remain at the modern airport as a witness to this history.

In 1920, Emile and Henry Berliner (father and son) brought their theories of vertical flight to the field and in 1924 made the first controlled helicopter flight.

From 1927 until 1933, the Bureau of Standards developed and tested the first radio navigational aids for use in "blind" or bad weather flying. This was the forerunner of the modern Instrument Landing System used today by aircraft.

George Brinckerhoff took over management of the Airfield and ran it from 1927 until 1959, hosting numerous airshows and teaching hundreds of pilots to fly during his tenure.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) purchased the Airport in 1973 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today it is run as both a historic site and operating airport whose history is depicted in the 27,000 sq. ft. College Park Aviation Museum.