Who Should Get to Call Itself the First Airport in America?

Aviation history buffs have long argued about what site should get to call itself the first airport in America. While most Americans know that the Wright Brothers first flew their aircraft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, the Huffman Prairie Flying Field near Dayton, Ohio, claims to be the first airport in the world. Meanwhile, the College Park Airport says they are the oldest continually-operating airport in America.

The Huffman Prairie Flying Field

While most Americans may have never stopped to ponder where the Wright Brothers started practicing with their plane before they took it to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the United States National Park Service maintains the site where a replica hanger and a catapult used to launch the airplane into the air can be viewed by the public. Orville and Wendell Wright first used this site to make mistakes before they introduced their plane to the public. Before they could use the catapult to launch their plane into the air, however, they had to run the cows and chickens off the pasture. After their infamous flight, they returned to this site to make more aviation history between 1904 and 1916, including the first controlled turn by an aircraft, the first figure-eight by a plane and the first controlled bank. The brothers trained many of their exhibition pilots at this site. The National Park Service also says that this was where the first cargo flight took place when Wilbur Wright flew 55 bolts of fabric to nearby Dayton.

College Park Airport

The operators at the College Park Airport claim that they are the oldest continuously-operating airport in the world. The United States Army Signal Corps opened this site in August 1909. After uncrating the first aircraft here in October 1909, Wilbur Wright taught Lieutenants Frederic Humphreys and Frank Lahm to fly making them the first pilots in United States military history. On October 27, 1909, Mrs. Ralph Henry Van Deman became the first woman to fly in an airplane at this site. The first military aviation school in the United States was opened here just two years later. The first aviation mail service was launched from here in 1918 taking mail to Philadelphia and New York City. Just two years later, the first helicopter flight was completed at this airfield by Emile and Henry Berliner. While it took five years to complete their tests, the United States Bureau of Standards created the first bad-weather landing system at this airport completing the project in 1933. Visitors are welcome to tour this historic site along with viewing 10 replica and original airplanes.

Where the first airport in the United States was located is a question that is open for debate. Some claim it is the Huffman Prairie Flying Field near Dayton, Ohio, while others claim it was the College Park Airport. The United States National Park Service operates both sites allowing visitors to see these locations. Historians with the College Park Airport say that they do not care because they are the oldest continually operating airport in the United States with small planes still using their runway today.