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Full text of "The history of the aviation field at College Park / by Ralph C. Van Allen."

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The desire of mankind to master the air can he 

traced from as early as the myths of Daedalus and Icarus, 

T/hich shows that his attempts to soar above the earth 

commenced in prehistoric times, 

Suetonius states that Simon Magus was killed in 
Rome during the reign of Nero by attempting to fly from one 
house to another.ETom that time on experimenters offered 
many ingenious, but for the most part impracticable flying 
machines* The first successful experiments in the navigation 
of the air took the form of hot air and hydrogen balloons, 
which were followed by the dirigible, a combination of a 
balloon with a motor and propeller. 

Along with these experiments were those related 
to the airplane. Among the attempts to solve the problem of 
flight with heavier than air machines were those of Hiram S« 
Maxim, Otto Lilien thai, and Professor S*Langley,of the 
Smithsonian Institution. The most successful of these early 
experiments took the form of air gliders. 

During the fall of 1903, the Wright brothers, Orv 11 J e 
and Wilbur, constructed a most primitive machine in which they 
installed a twelve horse-power, two hundred pound gas engine. 
The construction required the operator to lie prone and 
control the front horizontal rudder with his hands and the 
vertical tail by a cradle in which his hips rested. 

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur Wright rose into the 
air with this machine .This was the first time that man 


had ever flown In a mechanically driven heavier than air 
machine.Four short flights were made j the first three were 
barely skips above the ground, but the last covered eight 
hundred feet in a time of fifty-nine seconds. 

In 1907, the Wright brothers offered to sell all 
their rights and interests to the United States Government, 
but the Board of Ordanance and Fortification replied that it 
had no money available for this purpose* 

The War Department awakened to the possible 
military value of aircraft and on December 23,1907 issued 
the first airplane specifications ever drawn up by any 

These specifications were largely drawn by 
Major George O.Squier.They required a speed of forty miles 
per hour, a flight of one hour vrith two persons of a total 
weight of three hundred and fifty pounds, fuel -carrying 
capacity sufficient for a flight of one hundred and twenty- 
five miles, and the ability to steer in all directions 
without difficulty. 

On September 9,1908 the first tests were held 
under these specifications, They were held on the parade 
ground at Fort Meyer.At 7; 50 A.M,,CrvilIe Wright took off 
and circled the grounds fifty seven times at a height of 
about one hundred feet, His time was just short of an hour. 

That afternoon the first flight was made of 
over an hour, 

A short time later while making a test flight 
with a passenger the plane crashed, killing the passenger 


and injuring Wright, This stopped further tests until the 
following year» 

July 1909 Wright returned to Fort Meyer with a 
new plane which was not only accepted "by the government 
under the original agreement f "but earned an additional bonus 
for the Wright brothers by a successful ten mile cross 
country flight. 

The United States was now one of the first 
countries to own an airplane , but as yet it was of no 
value as they had no pilots* 


With the purchase of the Wright brothers 1 airplane 
by the United States Government, came the necessity of 
training pilots, The contract between the Wright brothers 
and the Government called for the instruction of tiro Army 
officers as pilot s«For obvious reasons the drill field at 
Fort Meyer could not be used for training purposes, so it 
was necessary for the Government to acquire the use of 
another field© 

The Wright plane was assigned to the Signal Corps 
for the airplane's only use seemed to be for observation* 

The Signal Corps set out at once to select the 
site for the first training field* October 1909 a site at 
College Park, Maryland was selected* This field is located 
just east of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks and 
may be seen from passing trains* 

The reasons for the selection of this field by 
the Signal Dorps were because of a large, fairly level 
piece of ground that needed very little improvements to 
be turned into a landing fie Id* The soil was a grade of 
gravel that dried very quickly and made possible landings 
even in wet weather* The proximity of this field to 
Washington also added to its choice* 

The first pilot trained at this newly established 

field was Lieutenant Lahm y a Lieutenant in the Cavalry 

assigned to the Signal Corps for training* He is now a 
Brigadier General* 


The second pilot trained by Wright was Lieutenant 
Humphreys who resigned at the completion of his training. 

Although their part of the contract had been 
fulf illed, Orville Wright consented to train another officer 
in place of Lieutenant Humphreys .This officer was Lieutenant 
Foulois now a Brigadier General .Before Foul ©is* training was 
completed, Orville Wright had to sail for Europe, so Lieutenant 
Lahm completed the training of Lieutenant Foulois. 

The training of the two officers was completed 
by the latter part of November 1909 .The training of the two 
men having taken just about one month. 

The Signal Corps had only the one plane that had 
been purchased from the Wright brothers .A short time after 
his training had been completed Lieutenant Foulois took this 
plane from College Park to San Antonio, Texas, so the College 
Park field was not used again by the Army for several years. 

In the spring of 1911, the first appropriation 
ever allotted to aviation was made by Congress. On March 3, 
1911 Congress appropriated one hundred and twenty-five 
thousand dollars for aviation. 

The Quartermaster Corps built temporary hangers, 
and In June 1911 the first real flying school was established 
at College Park, with Captain Charles De Forest Chandler 
in c ommand. 

Three planes were bought and sent to College 
Park as training planes. They consisted of one Wright, one 
Curtiss and one Burgess biplane. 

The actual flying started at the field July 1, 


The training consisted, of those officers who 
already knew how to fly, teaching other officers who in 
turn acted as instructors* 

On July 7,1911 Lieutenant Arnold reached an 
altitude of three thousand two hundred feet* 

August 21,1911 is a day to be remembered in Army 
aviation history, as on that day the first flight of over an 
hour was made by an Army aviator* The flight was made by 
Lieutenant Arnold and lasted one hour and two minutes, 
covering a distance of forty- two miles* 

By September 1911 the Signal Corps planes and 
their pilots stationed at College Park were as follows, 
Lieutenant T.De.W .Milling, piloting a nurgess-Wright plane, 
Lieutenant Harry N.Arnold, piloting a Wright plane .These men 
having been trained at the Wright factory and they in turn 
had trained captain Charles De F*Chandler and Lieutenant 

R.C • Kir tl and .Cap tain Paul W*Beck was flying an eight 
cylinder Curtis s. 

Lieutenant Frank II. Kennedy of the College Park 
Field was to be sent as the first Curtiss pupil. A great 
deal of rivalry then existed at the field between the Wright 
and Curtiss men* 

The longest cross country flight that had been 
made up to that time was made by Captain Chandler and 
Lieutenant Arnold from College Park to Frederick, Maryland 
a distance of forty-one miles, air line. Re turning that night 
they broke up the machine landing at Gaithersburg* 

The first experiment In the use of an Instrument 
of war with an airplane was conducted at College Park, 
October 10,1911 when a bomb sight developed by Lieutenant 
R.E.Scott was tested on a Signal Corps plane*To operate this 
sight the bomber had to lie down between the aviator and the 
engine in order to look thru the telescope of the sight* 
In the test two bombs were dropped within six feet of a 
cloth target and six inches apart from an elevation of 
one thousand feet* 

Because of the open type of planes then In use 
the Signal Corps flying school was transferred from College 
Park to Augusta, Georgia for the winter flying and flying 
was not resumed at College Park by the Signal Corps until 
April 1912. 

The first real accident at College Park was June 
11, 1912, when Lieutenant Hazelhurst,who had been detailed 
from the Infantry for instruction! and Welsh, a commercial 
pilot were killed while testing a Type C Wright plane* 
Besides the men additional weights were carried ,an anvil 
being one. The strain resulted in the wings snapping. 

The second accident resulted In the death of 
Lieutenant Rockwell and Corporal Scott. 

Flying fields were named in honor of these 
pioneers in Army flying. 

The greatest single forward step of the airplane 

as ah Instrument of war took place during the same month 

at College Park* This was the first machine gun being fired 
from an airplane .The gun used was a Lewis gun, one of the 


f irst few of that type of gun manufactured. The gun was 
"brought to the College Park field by Colonel Lewis the 
inventor and instruction in its operation given Captain 
Chandler on the ground* The gun was then held on the plane 
by Captain Chandler so that the barrell rested between his 
knees and the muzzle rested against the foot rest. The plane 
was piloted by Lieutenant Milling* A cloth target sixty feet 
long by five feet wide was placed on the ground* Ihe plane 
was traveling at a speed of forty five miles per hour and 
fourteen hits were recorded out of fifty shots .The gun 
could not be fired for any length of time because of the 
manner in which it was mounted* 

Colonel Lewis never accepted royalties for his 
gun from the United States Government. 

isy November 1,1912 the personal and equipment 
at College Park had grown to consist of twelve officers, 
thirty-nine enlisted men, twelve planes, and eight hangars 
in comparison with two officers, six enlisted men and one 
plane in 1909 and 1910. 

Still further developments were made with the 

airplane as an instrument of warfare, when the airplane 

was used for the first time in the United States in 

connection with control of artillery fire. Tests were 

carried on at College Park from November 5,1912 to November 

13, 1912. Three methods were used, radio, dropping cards and 

smoke signals. 

During the latter part of 1912 the first so 
called "Military Planes" were received at College Park. 


They were speeds-scout single-seater type having a cruising 
radius of one hundred miles at a speed of sixty-five miles 
per hour » and two-seater scout type with forty-five miles 
per hour speed, three hours flight endurance and a weight 
carrying capacity of four hundred and fifty pounds. The 
machines previously used had he en the ordinary commercial 
planes, lacking power, speed and carrying capacity necessary 
for military use* 

The flying school was ordered south for the winter 
of 1912, hut did not return to College Park in the summer of 
1913, as the Air Service branch of the Signal Corps was sent 
to Texas for duty on the border* 

Why the Signal Corps did not return to College 
Park after the trouble on the border had quieted down 
I could not ascertain, but no record can be found of the 
College Park field being again used by the government 
until X918 # when the government again took over the field 
and established the first air mail station running mail 
from New York to Washington. 



Many early experimenters and aeroplane companies 
made use of the college Park field at the same time the 
Signal Corps was using it. 

About the first of these companies was the one 
formed by Dr. Christmas, which used the hangers left by Wright. 
Very little is known about this company except that it was 
one of the pioneer aviation companies* 

The best known companies that operated at College 
Park were the Rex Smith Aviation Company and the Washington 
Aeroplane Company. Possibly the best known of the two was the 
Washington Aeroplane Company.Mr J.Lee Simmons was the 
president of this company and the builder of the Simmons 
Propeller, Mr Berliner, who is well known in Washington at 
the present time in connection with Hoover Field was also 
interested in this company. 

The engines used in the planes built by the 
Washington Aeroplane Company were built by the Gyro Motor 
Company of Washington. 

Possibly the best known plane built by this 
company was the Columbia Monoplane, the first monoplane 
built in had a spread of twenty nine feet, 
weighed five hundred and thirty pounds, had a twenty horse- 
power engine and developed a speed of seventy miles per 

On May 24,1912 a new duration record was set by 

Paul Peck of four hours, twenty- three minutes and fifteen 


secondsolt was made In the Miss Columbia a Washington 
Aeroplane Company biplane with a seven cylinder, fifty 
horse-power Gyro engine .This plane was given its initial 
tests at College Park. 

Among the first of the enclosed cockpit or 
Nacelle type of planes built in America were those built 
by the Washington Aeroplane Company and tested at College 

A record was made In aeroplane building by 
Mr J.Lee Simmons of this company when he built a ^special 
biplane, similar to the Curtiss June Bug in twenty one days 
including the day of signing the contract and of shipping 
the plane. The plane was sent to the Crystal Palace 

On June 22,1912 there were four planes in the 
air at one time over the field, the planes being a Wright, 
a Burgess, a Curtiss and a Columbia monoplane .How unusual 
this was at this time is shown by a quotation from the 
Washington Star as follows, "unusual sight for the aviation 
field 11 . 

Among the well known fliers of that day who flew 

at College Park were in addition to Paul Peck, Lincoln 

Beachey who flew a Wright Gyro, Oscar Brindley»one of the 

first licensed Wright fliers who flew a Columbia machine, 

Harry A Orme who flew a Wright plane with a four cylinder 

motor cycle engine and Cecil Peoli,the first man to fly 

across the Andes in SouthAmerica.Peoll was killed while 
testing a machine of his own design assembled for him by 


the Washington Aeroplane Company, The reason for his crash 
is laid to the fact that a different engine was installed 
from the one that the plane was designed for causing the 
plane to he out of "balance. 

Another man who did a great deal of work a College 
Park is Rex Smith. Before entering the aviation field he was 
an amateur trick bicycle rider and was the first man to ride 
a bicycle down the Capitol steps. 

He started building his first plane about April 
1910 and completed it about November the same year. It was 
a single surfaced headless biplane of the uurtiss type and 
used an Emerson one hundred and fifty horse-power engine. 
It was flown by Antony jannus,who also flew for the 
Washington Aeroplane Company. 

Rex Smith finished his second plane in the spring 
of 1911#Soon after its completion it was taken on an 
exhibition trip by Paul Peck • This machine had a total weight 
with gas, oil and operator ready for flight of one thousand 
pounds. It left the ground at a speed of thirty-five miles 
per hour and had a speed In flight of fifty-five miles per 
hour. It was capable of carrying three hundred pounds of 
passengers or freight. 

The third machine built by Smith was finished 
about October 1911 and was practically a duplicate of the 
second machine. 

Paul Peck was one of the most important test pilots 
that flew at college Park. He taught himself to fly in less 
than ten days. He started to learn July 20,1911 and nine days 


later was a bona fide pilot. 

On August 0,1911 he flew from College Park to 
Washington circled the dome of the Capitol, flew down 
Pennsylvania Avenue, around the Washington Monument and over 
into Virginia and then hack to the speedway where he landed 
completeing the flight in half an hour* The next morning he 
flew back to College Park, 

He flew only about two years, being killed September 
11,1913 while flying a Columbia plane •This was a long life 
for a test pilot at that time. 

In addition to these successful companies many 
small companies were formed at College Park from time to 
time but none of them were very successful. 

Flying progressed smoothly at College Park until 
the entrance of the United States Into the World War when 
all commercial flying had to be abolished and all civilian 
fliers were called to the colors. 

College Park was not used again for flying until 
taken over by the government for an air mail station. 

The World War brought the early history of the 
College Park Aviation field to a close. 



I hare endevored to give in this thesis a "brief 
history of the aviation field at College Park from its 
establishment to the World War, bringing out the most 
important events that occured at the field, or any incidents 
of interest that happened to men or planes connected with 
the field In any capacity* 

There are periods of time which may appear not 
to have been covered, but it is either that nothing can 
be found covering this time or the events that took place 
were not of sufficient Importance to be given a place in 
this thesis. 

From the World War to the present day forms a 
new chapter in the history of the College Park field 
and there was not sufficient time to cover it in this 



Lieutenant Colonel Charles De Forest Chandler 

Commander of the Signal Corps Flying School 
College Park f Mdo 
Mr J.Lee Simmons 

President of the Washington Aeroplane Company 
College Park,Md* 
Mr Moore 

Washington Aeroplane Company 

Ae or nautical Division 

Department of Commerce 
Early copies of "Aeronautics" 

Army Air Service Library 
"Textbook of Military Aeronautics" 
Henry Woodhouse 

Army Air Service Library 
"The American Air Service" 
Arthur Sweetser 

Army Air Service Library 
"History of U.S. Naval Aviation" 
Bureau of Aeronautics 

Navy Department 

View of the Signal Corp* Aviation Field, College Park, MM., 1912, taken from an Army machine. (From "Flying.") 

The Hangars ut the l\ S. Army Aviation School at College Park, Md., 1911. 


The first machine gun 
fired from an aeroplane *