The Aviation Museum here was the scene of several events in the history of flying. The Wright Brothers founded this airfield in 1909, and did much of their pioneering work here. They built a catapult system for launching airplanes, using it to develop new and improved models. A replica of their Model B airplane is on display here.
In 1918, right after World War I, the US Post Office initiated the first airmail service here. A Curtiss JN-4 Jenny trainer made the trip. It's on display here.
In 1924, Emile Berliner invented the first helicopter. Using the airframe of a French World War I Nieuport fighter plane, he modified the engine so that it would drive two rotors mounted on top of the wings. This gave the contraption upward thrust, instead of propelling it forward. Its performance was rather unimpressive, but it paved the way for Igor Sigorsky's invention of more advance helicopters later. Berliner's best-known invention was the gramophone (or phonograph), along with the vinyl records that soon replaced Edison's metal recording cylinders.
Gus McLeod flew the Stearman N8NP biplane trainer (formerly designated the PT-17) over the North Pole in 2000. This was the first flight over the Pole in an open-cockpit aircraft.
George Brinckerhoff took over this airfield in 1927, and managed it until 1959. He oversaw day-to-day operations and big events like airshows. Today, the airfield in on the National Register of Historic Places. It has several other interesting historic planes, a gift shop, and small cafe.
I only had a couple of hours before I had to leave for BWI on my last morning in College Park. There are many famous things to see along the Washington-Baltimore Parkway but I decided to try the local aviation museum since it was close to my hotel and the University of Maryland. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision for me. Both my mom and dad had been pilots and we owned an Ercoupe in the late 1940's and early 1950's. My dad was the Ercoupe distributor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at that time. Before I went to the College Park Aviation Museum, I had no idea that Ercoupes had been manufactured in College Park. The museum is located at the historically significant College Park Airport and is excellent on its own merits; however, it also brought back many fond memories for me personally.
Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for kids. Your admission fee will also get you 10% off on a meal at the historic 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant. Kids will love this museum with its flight simulator, prop to spin, wind tunnel, flight jackets to wear and toy aircraft to ride. The museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM daily except for major holidays. Parking is free. The next several tips have more detailed information on and pictures of the museum, much of which came from their excellent website.
The College Park Airport has remained operational since 1909 and is certified as "the world's oldest continuously operating airport." It's call letters are CGS. The airport's runway is 2600 ft long. Even though Kitty Hawk was the birthplace of powered aviation in 1903, many aviation historians consider the "cradle of aviation" to be the College Park Airport. It was established in 1909 on 160 acres near an agricultural college about 7 miles from Washington, DC. This airport is renowned as the site of many of aviation's early achievements. From the Aviation Museum website (but edited/augmented)...
In 1909, Wilbur Wright taught Lts. Fred Humphreys and Frank Lahm to fly here. Humphreys became the first military pilot to solo in a government aeroplane. Also in 1909, it was the site where the first woman passenger flew in the United States.
In 1911, the first military aviation school was opened at College Park, with newly trained pilots Lt. Hap Arnold, Lt. Tommy Milling and Capt. Paul Beck serving as instructors. Also in 1911, the first bomb dropping device was tested.
In 1912, the first aeroplane machine gun was tested, Hap Arnold set altitude records, and the first enlisted man, Cpl. Frank Scott, died in an aviation accident.
In 1913, 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 1918, after a 3-month trial with the War Dept., the Post Office Dept. inaugurated the first airmail service from College Park. Flights continued until 1921. The "compass rose" and original airmail hangar remain at the modern airport.
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 exhibit has items about the founding of ERCO and the creation of the Ercoupe, the first tricycle aircraft. The display chronicles Fred Weick's work as an engineer for the company and the designer of the Ercoupe. The original ERCO Ercoupe had a distinctive twin-tail design and "coordinated controls," where the rudder was connected to the yoke, and yaw correction was automatic, i.e., there were no rudder pedals. The steerable nose wheel was connected directly to the yoke, so you taxied exactly like you drive your car. This design along with limited elevator travel, made the Ercoupe "characteristically incapable of spinning." Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) was first tested in 1941 with an Ercoupe. ERCO made 112 Ercoupes in 1940-41, then ERCO/Sanders made 5028 from 1945-1952 but most of them in 1946 (4261) before the small aircraft market slumped. Between 1956 and 1970, Forney, Alon and Mooney manufactured another 657 "Aircoupes" that were variations of the original Ercoupe.
This display really brought back memories. It is hard to believe that my middle brother and I used to ride in jump seats facing each other behind the two main seats where our parents were flying. I remember going to many fly-in breakfasts and other places that way. One jump seat must have been over the battery. Now I even look big compared to the whole airplane.
Both of my parents were pilots. It was really unusual for a woman to be a pilot in those days. After WWII my dad started an Ercoupe business with Ted Law in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was called Tulairco and was located at Harvey Young Airport. My mom was the bookkeeper. However, the bottom of the Ercoupe market fell out after one year. We also lost the Ercoupe when my dad loaned it to a friend who crashlanded it in southern Oklahoma.
Emile Berliner was an amazing, if not well-known, inventer. He invented the gramophone (1895), the telephone transmitter (mouthpiece) and other devices. He was also interested in aviation, especially controlled vertical flight (CVF). He began working on CVF as early as 1908. His son, Henry, joined him at College Park Airfield in 1919 and took over most of the experimental operations. In 1924, the Berliner helicopter made its first flight. Later they founded the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) where the Ercoupe was designed by Fred Weick.
From the museum website...
The centerpiece of the Berliner Exhibit is the Berliner Helicopter No. 5 on loan to the Museum from the National Air and Space Museum. In addition to detailed text panels, a monitor with film footage courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum and the UCLA film archive shows several versions of the Berliner Helicopter at College Park Airport ca. 1922-25. A nearby tabletop exhibit case details the work of father and son, from the invention of the gramophone, through their experiments with vertical flight, to the founding of ERCO.
The Aviation Museum has an outdoor deck upstairs with a view of the College Park Airport and the museum's childrens' playground. No food or drink is allowed inside the museum but you can have picnic lunch/dinner on the deck.
From the museum website...
Featuring a tableau representing an air race at College Park Airport during its management by George Brinckerhoff, this exhibit encompasses several aircraft, including the Monocoupe 110. On a grandstand decorated with flag bunting and showcasing replica trophies, stands an announcer mannequin. On either side of the grandstand are a spectator mannequin and a Ford Model T (on loan from William Herndon). Nearby is a red and white checkered pylon ready to be rounded by the racing aircraft.
From the museum website...
This sleek red airplane was popular for its speed and efficiency in the air races of the 1930s at College Park Airport. With a 145 Warner Super Scarab engine, it could reach speeds of 120-148 mph. A common sight at George Brinckerhoff's air meets, it was popular with pilots like Helen MacClosky and Pheobe Omilie.
N12345 (serial no. 6W43) was purchased by the College Park Aviation Museum in 1997.
Wingspan: 32 feet, 0 inches
Length: 20 feet, 8 inches
Empty Weight: 991 lbs.
Gross Weight: 1,611 lbs.
From the museum website...
A side-by-side seating, high-wing monoplane, the Taylorcraft has been retrofitted by our restoration shop to become the museum's "Imagination Plane." Visitors to the museum are encouraged to touch, explore, and sit in the cockpit of the blue 1939 aircraft. Aspiring pilots can operate the controls to move the elevator, rudder and ailerons. One wing has been left in various stages of completion, to illustrate the process of covering a wing with fabric.
N23624 (serial no. 1349) was donated to the College Park Aviation Museum by Francis A. Fine in 1997.
Wingspan: 36 feet, 0 inches
Length: 22 feet, 0 inches
Empty Weight: 640 lbs.
Gross Weight: 1150 lbs.
Powerplant: 65 hp Lycoming O-145
Maximum Speed: 102 mph
Range: 250 miles