Aviation had descended on Maryland, literally, as far back as 1784 when America’s first balloon flight had returned to earth in Baltimore, beginning a long line of flight-related achievements. Civil war balloons, for example, had constituted the world’s first “aircraft carriers” in 1861, and the world’s oldest, continuously-operating airport, College Park, had been established in 1909 in order to train the first two Army pilots to fly their Wright Brothers-designed aircraft. Navy pioneer flights had been conducted in Annapolis. Home to three major aircraft manufacturers and several smaller ones, Maryland had spawned the first commuter airline, Henson, while today it is the location of NASA’s Goddard Space flight Center and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).
Maryland’s aviation history can be divided into six periods:
- The pioneer days, during which the initial airfields had sprung up with the grass which had provided their runways.
- The classic era, when the first airports and airlines had been established and the first airmail service had been inaugurated.
- The military-necessitated expansion, particularly during the Second World War.
- The post-war and Cold War period.
- Present-day aviation.
These periods, along with their advancements, can be studied at several aerospace-related sights, all of which are within an hour’s radius by road.
The first of these, at Martin State Airport in Middle River, is the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum.
Born on January 17, 1886, Glenn Luther Martin himself, a self-taught pilot, had owned Ford and Maxwell dealerships in Santa Ana, California, at age 22. His first aircraft, a Curtiss Pusher-resembling biplane powered by a 12-hp Ford engine, had been designed and built in collaboration with mechanics in an auto shop set up in a rented, unused church. He had been the third American after the Wright Brothers and Curtiss himself to have designed his own aircraft.
Establishing the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in 1912, he had immediately adopted a strategy of hiring talented managers and trained engineers, many of whom had later become aircraft manufacturers in their own right, such as William Boeing, Donald Douglas, Lawrence Bell, and James S. McDonnell. His resounding success can be directly attributed to his dedicated, unwavering life philosophy, expressed in 1918. “The way to build aircraft or do anything else worthwhile,” he had stated, “is to think out quietly every detail, analyze every situation that may possibly occur, and, when you have it all worked out in practical sequence in your mind, raise Heaven and hell, and never stop until you have produced the thing you started to make.”
Martin State Airport, inextricably tied to the man who had created it, had been founded in 1929 when Martin had purchased 1,260 acres 12 miles east of Baltimore in order to establish an aircraft manufacturing factory, then considered one of the most modern. The Eastern Baltimore County communities which had housed its workforce had developed concurrently with it.
The high-speed B-10 bomber, for which Martin had been awarded the Collier Trophy, had been built here during the early-1930s.
Between 1939 and 1940, construction of three runways, three hangars, and an Airport Administration Building had taken place, while several more hangars, including those at Strawberry Point, had followed in 1941.
Always relying on military orders, particularly for heavy bombers, the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company had designed the twin-engine PBM series flying boat; the twin-engine, high-wing, high-speed M-26 Marauder; and the Martin Mars, all bombers instrumental during World War II, its only significant commercial design having been the three M-130 Clipper flying boats built for Pan Am in 1935. A one-off M-156, a larger-span derivative for Russia, had been produced three years later.
The twin, piston-engined, unpressurized Martin 2-0-2 of 1946-1947 and its pressurized counterpart, the Martin 4-0-4 of 1950-1951, had constituted its only significant post-war airliners. Intended as elusive DC-3 replacements, they had faced strong competition from the similar Convair 240, 340, and 440 series.
The B-57 Canberra, a twin-jet, straight-winged, medium bomber designed for the US Air Force, had been produced between 1952 and 1954.
Conceding to changing economic conditions, the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company had merged with the American-Marietta Corporation, a major defense contractor of missiles, space hardware, avionics, and guidance systems, in 1961, resulting in the Martin-Marietta Corporation, its successor. Nevertheless, between 1909 and 1960, the Martin company had autonomously churned out more than 11,000 aircraft and 80 predominantly military designs, most of which had fought in all theaters of war.
On September 20, 1975, the state of Maryland had acquired the 747-acre Martin State Airport in order to offer a Baltimore-proximity general aviation reliever field.
Once again merging with Lockheed in 1995, the Martin-Marietta Corporation, rebranded Lockheed-Martin, had been parlayed into one of the world’s largest aerospace manufacturers.
Martin State Airport, with a single, 6,996-foot runway and a private tower, is home to the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard, comprised of the 135th Airlift Group and the 175th Flight Group, basing a fleet of A-10C and C-130J Hercules aircraft there.
The Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum, located at the airport, had been founded in 1990 “to maintain an educational institution dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and documentation of aviation and space history in Maryland,” according to its mission statement, particularly “the contributions of Glenn L. Martin and his successful company."
The museum, chronicling the development of the aircraft manufacturer, its designs, and its people from its origins to its present form as Lockheed-Martin, features photographs and models, subdivided by period, such as “The Dream,” “The Early Years,” “The Depression,” “The Pre-War Era,” “The War Years,” “The Postwar Era,” “The Cold War Era,” and “Present.” Eleven mostly-Lockheed aircraft, showcased on the ramp at Strawberry Point and requiring vehicle escort, include a Martin 4-0-4 airliner; an F-101F Voodoo jet interceptor; an F-4 Phantom; a TA-4J Skyhawk, which had been used during the filming of “Top Gun;” two Martin RB-57A Canberra jet reconnaissance bombers; an F-105G Thunderjet; an F-100F Super Sabre; an A-7D Corsair II; an RF-84F Thunderflash jet photo-reconnaissance aircraft; and a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star jet trainer.
South of Martin State Airport, in the BWI Observation Gallery of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, present-day commercial aviation can be studied. The gallery, overlooking the ramp, features displays about the evolution of the airliner, weather, and air traffic control, but its strength lies in the many actual airliner sections which permit detailed inspection, including a Boeing 707 main undercarriage bogie; a Boeing 737-200 nose and cockpit, a fuselage mid-section, a right wing with fully extended spoilers and trailing edge flaps, and a vertical stabilizer and rudder; and a Boeing 747-100 Pratt and Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan. Located before the airport’s security area, it is accessible to the general public.
Twenty-five miles south of the airport, in Greenbelt, Maryland, is an opportunity to shift focus from aviation to aerospace at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Located on a 1,270-acre area, which excludes the adjacent Magnetic Test Facility and the Propulsion Research site, it had been established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight center whose purpose had been to develop and operate unmanned scientific spacecraft in order to manage many of its earth observation, astronomy, and physics missions, and is currently one of 13 such centers strategically located throughout the country.
Dr. Robert H. Goddard, for whom the Maryland facility had been named, is recognized as the father of modern rocket propulsion and is to space what the Wright Brothers had been to aviation.
The Goddard Space Flight Center, the location of the US’s largest organization of combined scientists and engineers dedicated to learning about and sharing their knowledge of the earth, the sun, the solar system, and the universe, builds and operates most of NASA’s science research satellites, including the Hubble Space Telescope, and manages their tracking and orbiting. It will play a major role in the US’s return to the moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission (LRO) whose purpose is to develop new technologies to support human space exploration of Mars and beyond.
Numerous, campus-wide facilities enable it to achieve these goals. The Gravity Evaluation Facility, for example, evaluates optical components and detection systems used in space instrumentation, while the Flight Dynamics Facility offers a range of engineering services to mission designers, spacecraft builders, and the spacecraft themselves, determining their orbits and altitudes. It supports both Space Shuttle and expendable launch vehicles.
The high-capacity centrifuge rotates and accelerates 5,000-pound payloads up to 30 revolutions-per-minute. The Hubble Space Telescope Center observes and controls the telescope 24 hours per day.
Computational modeling and processing of space-borne observations, the responsibility of the NASA Center for Computational Sciences, has greatly increased understanding of earth, the solar system, and the universe, while the Communications Network provides communications support for all NASA projects by means of its global positioning system.
Generating commands and interfacing communication between the ground and spacecraft is attained through Goddard’s Payload Operations Control Center, and the three-story thermal-vacuum chamber, located in the Space Environment Simulator, is able to create temperature and vacuum conditions of any conceivable launch or orbit.
Actual spacecraft, their components, and their tools are manufactured by the Spacecraft Fabrication Facility.
Finally, the Spacecraft Systems Development and Integration Facility, at 86,000 square feet one of the world’s largest laminar-flow “clean rooms,” is able to remove 99.99-percent of all particles in the air. The Hubble Space Telescope’s First Servicing Mission, for example, had utilized this facility for preparation of its instruments and devices before their transfer to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch on Space Shuttle mission STS-61. The successful telescope servicing, requiring five extravehicular activities (EVAs), had entailed an 11-day mission.
An overview of Goddard Space Flight Center’s engineering and technology activities, earth and space science studies, and general mission and goals can be gleaned from its Visitors Center.
The final, but perhaps most significant, Maryland aviation sight, located only a few miles from the Goddard Space Flight Center, is the College Park Aviation Museum.
Its College Park Airport location, chosen in 1909 so that the Wright Brothers could fulfill their requirement to train two officers to fly their US Army-selected Wright Model A Military Flyer, and currently a general aviation facility with 80 based aircraft and a single, 2,600-foot runway, qualifies it as the world’s oldest, continuously-operating airport and had been the scene of numerous aviation-relation innovations.
Mrs. Ralph H. Van Daman, for instance, had become the first woman in the US to fly as a passenger and Lieutenant George Sweet had become the first naval officer to take to the skies. In 1911, the first Army Aviation School had been established here.
Aviation innovations continued the following year: a “Military Aviator” pilot rating, for example, had been introduced; the first aircraft-installed machine gun had been tested; Lieutenant Hap Arnold had made the first mile-high flight; and, sadly, the first death of a military enlisted man, Corporal Frank S. Scott of the US Army, had occurred.
Instrumental in the development of aviation, College Park Airport is today a living, multi-faceted history book with chapters concerning Wright Brothers pilot training, military training, inaugural airmail service, vertical flight testing, blind navigation aid development, the Golden Age of Aviation, civilian pilot training, public acceptance of flight, World War II Women’s Air Services Pilots (WASP) training, North Pole open-cockpit biplane flight, present-day general aviation, and ultimate inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many original and reproduction aircraft, exhibited in the adjacent College Park Aviation Museum, tell the airport’s story. The 27,000-square-foot museum itself, a glass-and-brick, curved roof building inspired by early Wright Brothers aircraft and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, had opened in 1998 “to research, preserve, interpret, and promote the history and collections of the College Park Airport.”
The historically significant aircraft, overlooking the airport’s runway through floor-to-ceiling windows, cover the 45-year period from 1901 to 1946. The 1901 Wright Glider, for instance, had been wind tunnel-tested at NASA Langley, while the 1910 Wright Model B, a two-seat, fabric-covered biplane turned with the aid of Wright-designed wing-warping, had formed part of the US’s first Military Aviation School. The Bleriot XI, a monoplane which had been the first to have crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover on July 25, 1909, had been manufactured and sold by the College Park-located National Aeroplane Company.
The Curtiss JN-4H Jenny, the workhorse of the airmail fleet, had inaugurated airmail service from College Park to New York on August 12, 1918, although the museum’s example is of the earlier JN-4D series. The Berliner Helicopter, designed by father-and-son team Emile and Henry Berliner, is a triplane-appearing aircraft which had mated a Nieuport 23 fuselage with two counter-rotating rotors and had conducted vertical flight experiments in 1924.
The Monocoupe 110, Taylor J-2 Cub, Taylorcraft BL-65, and Aeronica 65LA Chief, all represented by the museum, had played major roles in civilian pilot training and air shows during the 1930s and –40s here, while the Boeing PT-17 Stearman had successfully made the first open-cockpit biplane flight to the North Pole.
A scaled-down replica of the Wright Brothers’ 1909 hangar, an airmail exhibit entailing the Curtiss Jenny and a mannequin representing first airmail pilot Max Miller, and an air derby platform typical of the George Brinckerhoff period all aid in illustrating the historical chapters written at College Park Airport.
From the hot air balloons which had first ascended from its soil in 1784 to the return to the moon mission of the near future, Maryland has provided the stage upon which aviation had developed before it could move up, literally, to the higher level for which it had been intended—in essence, the way the entire planet has provided the stage upon which we have developed before we all move up to the higher level for which we had been intended…