aviation

Charles Lindbergh, wearing helmet with goggles up, in open cockpit of airplane at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, 1923. (Source: Library of Congress)

Washington Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Charles Lindbergh

When word came from Paris that Charles Lindbergh had successfully completed the first trans-Atlantic flight on May 21, 1927, the world celebrated. Overnight the young pilot became a household name and hero. Cities around the globe prepared to fete him. But to Lindbergh, one greeting stood out in particular, “Paris was marvelous and London and Brussels as well, and I wouldn’t for the world draw any comparisons, but I will say this, the Washington reception was the best handled of all.”

A Plane for Every Garage

Ercoupe plane. (Source: The Peter M. Bowers Collection/The Museum of Flight)

In the early days of aviation, aircraft designers and manufacturers like Henry Berliner envisioned a future in which everyone would have the opportunity to own and operate their own planes. Berliner struck out on his own in 1930 and founded the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO). Headquartered in northwest Washington, D.C., the company’s intent was to build tools for the manufacture of airplanes. Berliner’s real dream, though, was to make air travel accessible to the masses. In 1937, Berliner purchased 50 acres of land near the airport in College Park, Maryland where he built an airstrip and a large factory to manufacture ERCO’s new plane, the Ercoupe. It was a machine that might have made George Jetson proud.

The Wright Brothers Prove Their Worth in Arlington and College Park

Wright Military Flyer flying at Ft Myer in 1909. Photo courtesy of the College Park Aviation Museum.

Ohio and North Carolina often get into a dispute about who can “claim” the Wright Brothers. The former was where the two lived and conducted most of their research, but the latter was where they actually took to the air for the first time. The debate rages on, with shots fired in forms from commemorative coins to license plates. But the place where the Wright Brothers really fathered the American aviation age was right here in the DC area, where they taught the first military pilots to fly, proved to the American public that their machine was real, and took to the air at what is now the oldest airport in the world.