Because of the US Army Signal Corps and the aviation success at Fort Myer, College Park, Maryland became the site of the longest continual operational airport in the world.
Wright Flyer at Fort MyerIt was late July 1909. The Wright Flyer had flown from Fort Myer Virginia to the edges of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and back. The US Army Signal Corps' Officers were pleased that the speed results exceeded the 40 MPH threshold. With the return of the Wright Brothers entry in response to their request for a heavier than air flying machine, the Army had a viable aircraft. It was now up to the Wright brothers to provide the training. But where? The small number of acres at Fort Myer were too confining. Besides, the public interest guaranteed that there was always a crowd of people ready to watch this new form of transportation when they held the trials at Fort Myer. The US Army still used gas filled balloons then. LT Frank Lahm on a regular observation flight discovered a flat parcel of land some 10 to 12 miles to the Northeast. It was near the Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks, which later would serve as competition for the air-land races that these new aviators would compete. So the US Army leased the land in August of 1909 and a new chapter... perhaps books of transportation began. It was here that the Wright brothers trained the first pilots: Frederic Humphreys and Frank Lahm. It would also be here that many familiar aviation companies began - among them Curtiss-Wright. The War Department established the first military aviation school with Lieutenant Henry H. Arnold as one of the instructors. The airplane saw its first use in warfare in WWI as the US Army Air Corps was established in 1926 - they renamed the US Army Air Service. Arnold would later go on to lead the new United States Army Air Forces in 1942 which became the United States Air Force in 1947. It would be at College Park, where civilian aviation began with the Rex Smith Aeroplane Company. Later another first, the building of the first aircraft by the Christmas Aeroplane Company in 1911. A year later, the company would deliver it's next model craft to respond to the contract to deliver mail by air for the US Postal Service. In 1918, the first regular airmail delivery between College Park and both Philadelphia and New York City began lasting until 1921. As more and more applications of aviation were discovered and used, the industry grew as did the number of airports across the United States and around the world. Though College Park, Maryland still holds the distinction of being the first. The saga continues at the airport and the adjacent College Park Aviation Museum which is worth the visit to see some of this history up close and personal. The book, "Images of America - Fort Myer" holds a treasure of over 200 "timeless photographs" that deliver the first 100 years of this US Army Post.
The 3d Cavalry - the "Brave Rifles"After WW I, Fort Myer was where the famed 3d Cavalry - Brave Rifles - were stationed until they relinquished their horses in 1942 and headed to Georgia to become mechanized. When this film was made, COL George S Patton Jr. was commander of Fort Myer and the 3d Cavalry. Thanks to my extensive network, a video clip which was made in 1934 surfaced of these troopers exercising their mounts with sabers drawn on the drill field on Fort Myer. This joins the other three items that I've found that were filmed on Post:
- the 1909 flight of the Wright Flyer with Orville Wright & LT Frank Lahm
- the 1934 Movie "Keep 'Em Rolling" that introduced the Caisson Song
- the 1957 segment of The Big Picture with TUSAB* & TOG** on Summerall Field
SABER DRILLFor your viewing pleasure, I present below to you the Brave Rifles on Fort Myer performing one of the last saber drills (one can see the "Three Sisters" in the background as the troopers head down the drill field) You can learn more about the "Brave Rifles" and the historic Fort Myer where they were posted in the book "Images of America - Fort Myer" * TUSAB = The US Army Band **TOG = The Old Guard - 3d INFANTRY Regiment
Military Aviation - A New Way To TravelWhen the US Army asked the Wright brothers to return to Fort Myer in 1909, it was the beginning of a new era in travel. In spite of the crash on September 17, 1908, where a propeller shattered and the airplane along with its two occupants - Orville Wright and Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge - fell from the sky. They were at approximately 100 feet. (The crash injured both of them - Orville had broken bones in his leg and ribs while Lieutenant Selfridge suffered a concussion resulting in him passing a few hours later).
Wright Brothers Return to Fort MyerOrville had healed from his injuries and was ready to fly again. Tests resumed in July of 1909 with a newer version of the Wright Flyer and the trials were well attended on the drill field of Fort Myer. On July 30, 1909, Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois as the passenger and Orville at the controls flew from Fort Myer to Alexandria, Virginia and return at a speed in excess of 42 miles an hour and covering 10 miles. This concluded the final tests. On August 2, 1909, the Signal Corps accepted the Wright Flyer as the world's first military aircraft, naming it Signal Corps Airplane No. 1. It was onto College Park, Maryland for training.
More in the BookImages of America - Fort Myer chronicles the first one hundred years of this historic US Army Post with a combination of telling narrative and over 200 historical photographs. As One of the nearly seventy forts constructed during the US Civil War - The Defenses of Washington - when then it was known as Fort Whipple, Fort Myer continues its mission of defending the US Capital of Washington DC. It's also home to The US Army Band (TUSAB) - "Pershing's Own" and the 3d US Infantry - "The Old Guard" which are two elite ceremonial units of the US Army.
Dayton, Ohio - Kitty Hawk, North Carolina were two places where the Wright Brothers - Orville and Wilbur tested their Wright Flyer in the early 1900s. Yet it was in September 1908 that Orville in response to the US Army's request for a "heavier than air" flying machine brought his invention to Arlington Heights. And the drill field of Fort Myer is the location where military aviation began. The drill field is long gone, replaced by buildings and parking lots, but the tests in 1908 were so successful that the Army requested that the Wrights return in 1909 for further testing and acceptance. This was despite the crash from nearly 100 feet that ultimately marked the first military aviation fatality when LT Thomas Selfridge experienced a concussion during the crash and passed hours later. In the book "Images of America - Fort Myer" there are several historical photographs of the Wright Flyer and these events. This is among over 200 photographs found in the book.