MHT File Photo
College Park Airport
1909, , Corporal Frank Scott Drive, , College Park, , Prince Georges County
The College Park Airport consists of a complex of structures including one maintenance hangar which is built on the foundation of one of the airport's seven original hangars, an operations building which houses ground-to-air communications gear, and an aviation lounge, appropriately known as the "Tail Spin Lounge." Also present is the carefully preserved compass rose which was installed there just prior to 1918. Originally, a wind sock was placed at the center of the compass rose to give incoming pilots, who had no modern instruments to aid them, a visual indication of the compass quadrant in which the wind was blowing, as well as the direction in which they were flying. Although the compass rose is no longer needed from a functional standpoint, with the advent of sophisticated navigational aids, it serves as a reminder of an age when "seat of the pants" flying was standard procedure. In addition to the compass rose, several other remainders still exist of the airport's formative days, including the foundations of five original hangars which have been uncovered, one of which now serves as the foundation of the maintenance hangar. Additionally, the site of the water tower, built in 1912, still contains the remains of the steel legs that supported the structure. These were cut off at ground level when the tower was removed.
The College Park Airport is the oldest continuously used airport in the United States. The original leasing agreement for the U.S. Army dates from August 1909, and by the spring of 1911, four temporary wooden hangars stood at the site. Two more hangars were built in the fall of that year, and an earlier hangar was moved from its original situation to the edge of the field. The foundations of five of these original hangars have been uncovered, one of which serves as the foundation of the present maintenance hangar. Located in this structure is a mini-museum which houses artifacts from the airport's past. Flight instruction for Signal Corps officers began at College Park Airport on October 6, 1909, with Wilbur Wright being the first instructor. His first flight from this site took place two days later and was enthusiastically reported in the press. The Signal Corps training school was closed in 1913, but civilian aviation continued. College Park was also one of the termini of the first commercial airmail service, and was the site for testing of the first helicopter with maneuvering capabilities. By the early 1960s, the airport was in deteriorating condition and a movement towards preservation was begun. In 1973 the airport was purchased by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.