College Park Airport, College Park, Md.: Perhaps the closest reliever airport to downtown Washington, College Park -- opened in 1909 -- is the nation's oldest continually operated airport, boasting many aviation firsts.
The first mile-high flight occurred here; the first naval officer piloted a plane here. Other firsts that occurred here: the first American woman airplane passenger, the first airmail service, the first aerial machine-gun firing, the first bomb dropping device, the first live bomb drop and the first controlled helicopter flight.
Owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the airport's operations are limited by locally imposed restrictions. No aircraft over 5,500 pounds may use the field, for instance, and no takeoffs are permitted after 10 p.m. No more than 76 aircraft may be based here at any one time. The airport has no radio navigation aids to help aircraft land.
Beltsville USDA Airport: A little to the northeast of College Park is -- or was -- the Department of Agriculture's airport, which began as a grass strip in the 1930s under the aegis of the Commerce Department. On the site of an agricultural research station, its two runways were paved in 1946 with different experimental materials.
The airport has been used variously as a maintenance base for Animal and Plant Inspection Service aircraft, a test facility for pesticide and aerial application techniques, a base for local university flying clubs and one runway at one time was used by the U.S. Secret Service for its driving training.
Close to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in a nonresidential area, the airport represented the area's most promising site for a reliever airport, according to former FAA Administrator Langhorne Bond. His personal pleas to former Agriculture Department Secretary Bob Bergland failed, however, and now the airport is being dismantled.
The site already is being used as a bird reserve and agricultural research center. It also is in the backyard of National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center, which fought the airport idea on grounds that it didn't want to move its devices that test laser beams.
Suburban Airport, Laurel, Md.: Just to the north of Beltsville and about 20 miles from Washington, this privately owned airport has been in operation about 25 years and now plays host to almost 100 aircraft. It has no radio navigation aids for pilots.
Tipton Army Air Field, Fort Meade, Md.: To the east is a nonpublic strip named after Col. William D. Tipton, a decorated World War II aviator. About 30 miles from Washington, Tipton AAF was constructed in 1960. Although equipped with a control tower and radio navigation aids, there appears to be little activity at Tipton; a handful of military aircraft and some civilian flying-club planes are based here.
Freeway Airport, Mitchellville, Md.: Head east 20 miles from Washington, just off Rte. 50 to a family-run operation. Freeway is owned by the Rodenhausers, a long-time Mitchellville clan that began its flight instruction and repair business here in 1941.
The airport was here before zoning laws so it was "grandfathered" into the county's zoning as a nonconforming use. However, improvements require special exemptions and have been hard to make; a planned runway extension has been held up seven years. The airport lost a big battle 15 years ago, and now high-tension transmission power lines run just west of the runway.
The airport, with no radio navigation aids, is well-located near Rte. 50, but a planned interchange never was constructed. Between 75 and 100 aircraft call Freeway home.
Andrews Air Force Base, Camp Springs, Md.: Farther south, about 15 miles from Washington, is another military air field familiar to millions across the nation as the landing field of presidents and distinguished visitors. Andrews was built in 1942 as a World War II base for P47 fighters, training for the European theater of operations and for air defense of the Washington area. By the early 1960s, the base's role was enhanced by the movement of presidential flying support from Washington National and the movement of all air operations from Bolling Air Force Base -- now closed to air traffic -- to Andrews.
Andrews, with its lengthy parallel runways, air traffic control, radio navigation aids and instrument landing system, hosts a variety of Air Force, Navy, Marine, Air Force Reserve, D.C. National Guard and Special Air Mission units. It is not open to the public.
Hyde Field, Clinton, Md.: A little to the southwest of Andrews are two small private airports practically next to each other. Hyde Field was built in 1940 by Arthur C. Hyde on the site of a former tobacco farm. If someone wants to make a movie about barnstorming in the 1940s, a movie set won't have to be built; it's right here with buildings that look little changed.
Hyde Field was used for the civilian pilot training program during the second World War; it was the first Navy satellite training field and served as a Civil Air Patrol base for Atlantic Coast submarine patrols. About 15 miles from Washington, Hyde has two runways but no radio navigation aids. Hyde has somewhere between 125 and 150 based aircraft.
Prince George's Airpark, Friendly, Md.: Hyde's next-door neighbor is P.G. Airpark. This private airport -- originally a grass strip for private fliers in the 1950s -- also lacks radio navigation aids. About 80 aircraft are based here. By air, the faded words, "Rose Valley Airport," are still visible on the roof of the airport's hangar.
Maryland Airport, Indian Head, Md.: Another 10 miles to the southwest is yet another privately owned airstrip, opened to the public in 1947. Up to 75 aircraft can be based here and use the two runways -- one is gravel and turf. The field has no radio navigation aids and is closed to landing traffic at night because it lacks nighttime facilities.
Davison Army Air Field, Fort Belvoir, Va.: Southwest from Indian Head into Virginia, one finds Davison, about 15 miles from Washington. Well-located off Interstate 95, Davison has a control tower, radio navigation aids and sophisticated instrument landing approaches but is for use only by the military.
The field, named for Brig. Gen. Donald A. Davison, a World War II aviation engineer, was opened in 1952. It reportedly hosts about 15 planes and several helicopters for military executive transport, military freight forwarding, rescue and relief missions and defense emergency planning. Traffic appears light, and Davison allows private aircraft to shoot an approach for practice, but nobody can land.
Woodbridge Airport, Woodbridge, Va.: To the southwest of Davison is a relatively new private airport, started in 1966. Woodbridge, with about 130 based aircraft, has no radio navigation aids. In the past 10 years the airport's owner, Charles D. Benn, former owner of what used to be the Washington-Virginia Airport at Baileys Crossroads, has constructed hangar facilities, a terminal building and paved parking.
Manassas Airport, Manassas, Va.: Move west to Harry P. Davis Field, or Manassas Airport. The busiest little airport in the area, Manassas has 240,000 operations a year; that's 20,000 takeoffs and landings a month. With a new, longer and wider runway opened Oct. 1, Manassas is one of just 36 U.S. airports having parallel runways but no tower.
The new $5 million runway system, including taxiways, lights and approach aids, was built in part with $3 million in federal funds and $362,000 in state funds. The airport has radio navigation aids and hopes for the installation of a tower and an instrument landing system this decade.
Despite its distance -- about 42 miles from Washington -- its current facilities for 235 single- and twin-engine aircraft are already full, but new accommodations are reportedly planned near the new runway. The airport, opened in 1964 and administered by the city of Manassas, also plays host to Colgan Airways, a commuter airline.
Leesburg Municipal Airport, Leesburg, Va.: North from Manassas, past Dulles International, another dual-named airport, this one also going by Godfrey Field. A pilot and longtime area resident, entertainer Arthur Godfrey had built Leesburg's first airport on a cow pasture. However, when the land, within the town's limits, became too valuable for airport use, Godfrey sold it and donated the profits to Leesburg for a new city-administered airport outside the city limits.
With town support and two federal projects totaling $800,000 over the past three years, the airport now boasts a strengthened and lengthened runway, improved ramp, a 60-space airplane parking apron and new approach aids. About 80 aircraft can call Leesburg home.
Leesburg has radio navigation aids but reportedly is not a candidate for the sophisticated instrument landing system because it would conflict with the ILS approaches at nearby Dulles. Another drawback, at least for those whose destination is Washington, is its distance -- 50 to 55 miles from the District.
Montgomery County Airpark, Gaithersburg, Md.: East across the Potomac River and a tiny bit to the north is Gaithersburg's county airport. The airport, about 30 miles from Washington, was constructed after land was donated to Montgomery County in 1960. The county had been looking for a new airport site after Congressional Airport in Rockville was closed for shopping center development in the late 1950s.
The county has bought an additional 10 acres to accommodate a second fixed-based operator -- a kind of service station for airplanes -- and additional hangars and service areas. The airport, with parking for 280 aircraft, has radio navigation aids. Well-located in a growth area not far from Interstate 270, the airport has changed its traffic pattern to lessen noise impact on housing developments that are spreading out from 270.
Frederick Municipal Airport, Frederick, Md.: Follow 270 north another 20 miles and you come close to another city-owned facility. Frederick Muncipal is an up-and-coming airport with three runways and a sophisticated Instrument Landing System, installed last year. Frederick Airport has grown significantly with the growth of the I-270 corridor. In 1965, the airport, with 30 based aircraft, handled 15,000 operations a year; now, 250 aircraft are based there, and the airport handles about 160,000 operations a year. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is in the process of moving its headquarters here.