Friday, July 29, 2016

College Park Aviation Museum

While in Washington D.C. our home was parked in College Park, Maryland.  It is a nice little college town, home of the University of Maryland.  Frequently as we drove through College Park we saw signs pointing to an aviation museum.   We were looking for something inside to do because of the hot weather, and something that would catch the interest of a toddler.

This museum does have many hands-on interactive activities for children!  Nathan was happy exploring them while the rest of us were able to concentrate on the exhibits.  The museum is part of the College Park Airport Campus, which, besides the museum, also has the world's oldest continuously operating general aviation airport.  In 1909 Wilbur Wright chose College Park as the site to instruct military officers how to fly.   Pictured below is the man himself in his shop.
Nathan enjoyed pushing the button frequently and watching the animated figure as it moved its arms and spoke.  It was on this airfield that the first woman was flown in an heavier-than-air machine in the United States.  She was the wife of one of the army captains, and went up in a plane flown by Wright.  And speaking of women, the fifth licensed woman pilot in the United States came to this airport in 1912 to give a demonstration on the Bieriot aeroplane.  Army officials were considering whether to include that plane in its fleet of aircraft.  The pilot is pictured below,  the runway of the
airport can be seen in the background of the picture.
The airport has gained the nickname as a "Field of Firsts" as numerous aviation firsts happened here.  In 1918 the airfield was chosen as the location for the first U.S. Postal Airmail Service route.  In 1924 the first "controlled" vertical flight happened here.  In 1941 two African Americans were the first to operate a licensed airport in Maryland.  The airport was a haven from discrimination which minority pilots had experienced at other airports.   The other important aviation events are too numerous to go into, but before closing I do want to mention one popular plane which was built near the airport and test flown here.
It was in 1937 that Engineering and Research Corporation designed and began production of the Ercoupe, considered one of the safest and easiest planes to fly.  A large portion of this museum is devoted to the story of the production of this plane, and how it was transitioned to military production during World War II and the Korean War.  After that time rights to the aircraft were sold to a series of other manufacturers.  It was one of the first airplanes which John Travolta flew in the 1970s.

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