Recent HistoryIn 1959, College Park Airport owner George Brinckerhoff became ill, and his son Jeff took over the Brinckerhoff Flying Service, which operated out of the old Air Mail hangar. Executive Aviation Service Inc. took over the general management of the airport. Loving Helicopter was also a popular operation on the field.
With the airfield in deteriorating condition, and the knowledge that the owner of the property was looking to sell the airport, groups began to rally around the idea of "saving" the historic airport. Fred Knauer and other local aviation enthusiasts led the charge. They cleaned up the field, refurbished the hangar and operations buildings, and set about informing the public about this small airfield's significant contribution to aviation history.
In 1966 Ken Lewis, president of the newly formed "Save the Airport" campaign and the National Educational Memorial Center, a group focused on creating a lasting memorial and museum at this historic field, joined the movement. They enlisted the help of The Early Birds, and some of the airport's legendary figures: Generals Frank Lahm and Benjamin Foulois; Paul Garber, who by then was curator of the National Air Museum (forerunner of the National Air and Space Museum) and who had worked for the Air Mail Service here in 1919-20 and learned to fly here at that time; and Henry Berliner. Making appearances and proclaiming College Park Airfield as one of our nation's most important aviation historic sites, they educated the public and heightened enthusiasm for the airport.
Focused on garnering political support to keep the airport operating and in safe hands, these groups were rewarded when on December 1, 1973, The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission purchased the airport to keep it as an operating airfield and preserve it as an historic site. In 1977 the airport was added to the National Register of Historic Places, officially acknowledging its significance in aviation history as the World's Oldest Continually Operating Airport.
In 1981 the Friends of College Park Airport approached the Commission with an offer of some financial support to start a museum in two buildings they had recently acquired from the school board. In September 1981, and with a more formal opening the following September, the College Park Airport Museum opened to the public. With its increasing popularity, the museum continued to expand its regular hours, added changing exhibits and programs, and easily outgrew its space in the two temporary buildings.
With the help of the newly formed Field of Firsts organization and its founder Jim Schultz, then a councilman from the town of College Park, funds were raised from the State of Maryland, matched by Prince George's County through the Commission, and federal Inter-State Transportation Enhancement Act funds for the design and construction of a new museum. The new College Park Aviation Museum opened to the public on September 12, 1998.
Today's 27,000 sq. ft. building was designed by the firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, designers of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, and built by PEC Construction. ExPlus of Dulles, VA designed the exhibits. Visitors enter a soaring hall with the Prop Shop gift shop on the left. Museum offices are located directly behind the entrance desk. To the right are restrooms and water fountains. In the curved entry hall are photo murals and text panels detailing the events leading up to the founding of the College Park Airfield in 1909. Near the end of the hallway, to the right, are entrances to the 90-seat auditorium and non-circulating library. Through a scaled-down replica of the 1909 hangar and past an animatronic Wilbur Wright is the main gallery, which features aircraft and exhibits detailing the history of the College Park Airport.