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Founding of the College Park Airport


plane on rail
Photo Courtesy of the National Archives and Record Administration

After four years of courting, negotiating, building, and testing, the US Army agreed to purchase a Wright aeroplane in August 1909. An addition to selling the machine, the Wrights also had to train two U.S. Army officers to fly it. 

The original test site at the Ft. Myer, VA, parade ground was deemed too small to safely instruct the Army officers, so the search began for another location. During a balloon ascent, Lt. Frank Lahm spotted a large level field in College Park near the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland) and adjacent to the B&O railroad tracks. The field was far enough away from the city that officials hoped to discourage the large crowds (of up to 7000 people!) that witnessed the Ft. Myer trials. However, the lure of these new activities continued to draw spectators out to College Park.

wright standing in the field looking

Photo Courtesy of Wright State University, Special Collections

A small, temporary hangar was erected at the newly leased College Park field and the field cleared of brush and other obstacles. On October 8, 1909, Wilbur Wright began the flight instruction of Lahm and Lt. Frederic Humphreys. After returning from the International Congress of Aeronautics in Nancy, France, Lt. Benjamin Foulois began flight instruction under Wilbur and Lt. Humphreys in late October. In November 1909, the Wright contract was fulfilled when both Humphreys and Lahm flew solo after little more than three hours of instruction. Though Foulois had nearly the same amount of instruction, the plane was damaged before he had a chance to solo. By 1912, Signal Corps officials decided to transfer the flying operations to a warmer climate. Lt. Foulois, the aeroplane, and a detachment of enlisted mechanics transferred to Ft. Sam Houston, TX. Humphreys and Lahm both returned to their original military units, leaving Foulois as the only military pilot.