Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation
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Early Civilian Aviation


Bleriot Outside Hanger
Blériot monoplane outside the National Aeroplane Company hangar, College Park, 1912. CPAM Photograph
Although College Park Airport's origins are firmly tied to early military aviation, it was the field's association with numerous creative and often renowned civilian aviators and inventors that ensured its continued operation. Immediately following Wilbur Wright's attention-getting military instruction here in 1909, several civilian aviation companies came to College Park, bringing commercial enterprise and new technology to the airfield.

The first of these companies was the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company, established by well-known inventor and patent attorney Rexford Smith. With an aero of his own design, Rex Smith made many noteworthy flights over the Washington area. When the Army returned to the airfield in 1911 to establish the first Army Aviation School, Smith was requested to move his hangar to be in line with the new Army hangars that were parallel to the railroad tracks. With their well-publicized flights around the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company became the center of media activity and the focus of the Washington social elite. They were frequently in the news for entertaining and flying politicians and other well-connected individuals, garnering them much support and publicity.

Two of Smith's most popular test pilots later became famous in their own right: Paul Peck, who became a well-known exhibition flyer, and Tony Jannus. Jannus made history in 1914 as the pilot of the world's first commercial airline, after being hired by the Benoist Company in 1912. The Rex Smith Aeroplane Company worked with the field's other civilian aviation companies on several collaborative ventures. As a result, the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company hangar grew from one to two large buildings and several smaller sheds by late 1911.

Rex Smith Aeroplane Company Exhibit
 
Rex Smith Aeroplane Company exhibit in the museum's gallery.
Others soon followed Smith in establishing companies on the field, including the National Aviation Company, which was formed to give instruction in Curtiss, Bleriot, and Wright aeroplanes and provide repairs for these machines. The National Aviation Company was the sole agent for Curtiss aeroplanes in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area. In 1912, the Washington Aeroplane Company came to the field, staying until late 1917. They were the designer and manufacturer of the "Columbia" bi-plane and monoplane and other successful aircraft. It is interesting to note that Emile Berliner, who in 1920 brought his experiments with vertical flight to the field, was one of the original sponsors of the Washington Aeroplane Company and its activities.

In 1927, a new era of aviation was ushered onto the airfield when George Brinckerhoff took over its management. He ran a successful flying school here until 1959. Aviation was in its hey-day when "Brinck" took over, and, as a result of his air shows, air circuses, and air races, College Park Airport was often in the news. It has been said that Brinckerhoff taught more people to fly in the Washington area than anyone else.

In the 1960s, several aviation companies operating at the field, as well as a group formed to "save" the airport, began to restore the airfield and its buildings.

The airport, owned and operated by The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, continues its operation today for general aviation and civilian activities.