From dawn to dusk the inaugural veterans came, wearing minks and lynx, cashmere and cowboy boots, clutching copies of Town & Country, bearing Louis Vuitton and Gucci garment bags, the heady aroma of Bal A Versailles mixed with jet fuel.

They leapt out of limo after limo, descending upon the tiny general aviation terminal at Washington's National Airport to make their inaugural exit. Some were owners of private planes, others just passengers. In all, there were more than 230 private jets trying to take off yesterday.

By noon, it was Lear-lock.

"It's wild," said Butler Aviation general manager Admiral James Morin. "They all want to leave at the same time. Some damn corporation pilot is raising hell because he can't get fueled up. He's said he's hauling a couple of senators and he wants to leave."

The mass exodus of the private jets owners (more than twice the normal number for any given day) not only set their own departures back two hours, it also caused up to one hour delays for commercial passengers at National Airport's main terminal.

"My god," said Morin, racing around in a brown leather bomber jacket, "everybody wants to leave. Some guys are prima donnas. They want special attention. Well, nobody gets priority around here."

Not even Bob Hope, whose trip back to Palm Springs yesterday aboard the Spanos Construction Co.'s Lockheed Jet Star was delayed about one hour.

"This is crazy," said Hope, surveying the scene in a tweed hat and pink plaid pants. On arrival several days ago, Hope had walked into the terminal, spied a picture of former president Gerald Ford on the wall and claimed it as a souvenir.

"I didn't steal it," he said. "They told me I could take it. I'm planning to paste it on my golf bag. Every time Ford makes a bad shot, I'm gonna swing the bag around to show him."

Every few minutes, the intercom crackled:

Mr. Mellon's party, please call the desk. . .

Eli Lilly Group, your pilot is waiting. . .

Passengers with Ford Motor Company, please report to. . .

Hoffman LaRoche party, please check the desk.

The message board overflowed with memos, among them a scribbled note: "Sen. John Warner, please call your Taylor."

Fortified by 40 gallons of free coffee and 20 dozen donuts, the tony travelers (destinations Miani, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Fort Worth, Greenwich, Salt Lake City) squished down into plastic chairs, chatted about the inaugural ("That ball last night was absolutely ghastly!" ), and did what most people in their tax bracket try hard to avoid: They waited. And waited.

"I thought this was the reason I bought my own plane," huffed one beefy businessman.

"Most of these men have to get back to work," snapped a stunning blonde in a red fox coat.

There was Wayne Newton's red, white and blue turbo prop (with the words "Boomtown, Reno, Nev." on the tail). Henry Ford II's Gruman G-2, Occidental Petroleum's mammoth 727, Mel Tillis' "Stutter One" and a flotilla of Fortune 500 Sabreliners, Jet Stars, Lears and Cessnas owned by Atlantic Richfield, Bethlehem Steel, Tenneco, Goodyear, Whirlpool, John Deere, General Motors, Gannett Newspapers, U.S. Tobacco Co., Time-Life, Inc. and a gaggle of lesser-known corporations.

Outside on the tarmac, the luxury skyliners sat snout to tail, winged victories temporarily clipped. Inside, the pilots sat in the lounge, waiting for take-off times and placating their passengers.

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE DON'T PICK ON YOUR PILOTS," Jim Morin announced testily over the intercom.

"About 10 percent will bitch no matter what," said Morin. "Some are nice, but some are inconsiderate as hell."

"I've never seen such a mess," said Jim Sturgis, corporate pilot for Tenneco's Lockheed Jet Star.

The pilots, distinguishable by their navy blue raincoats, said they can earn up to $40,000 a year flying board chairmen and executives across America. Some are former Air Force pilots who shunned commercial airlines for private work to log more flying time.

"Basically, I'm a chauffeur," said Eddie Lawsche, who co-pilots a Sabreliner 60 owned by the Fort Worth-based Western Co.

He flies 35 to 50 hours each month and earns $25,000 a year.

"We're kind of like the king's carriage driver," said another pilot who wished to remain anonymous. He earns $40,000 a year flying for a Chicago-based corporation, flies about 50 times a month, stays in the best hotels, eats in the best restaurants and is on call 24 hours a day.

The life, he said, has its ups and downs.

"You can't belong to a bowling league," he said before gathering up his party.

Back at the Butler Aviation desk, there was Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.) elbowing into the crowd with a group of friends. "I'm not going, I'm dropping off," he said.

There was former senator George Murphy in a blue beret, admiring a Texas oilman's blinking red and blue elephant pin. Murphy was waiting to board a friend's Cessna Citation for a flight to West Palm Beach. Did he mind the wait?

"I don't mind anything anymore," the 78-year-old Murphy replied. There was former Democratic Committee chairman Robert Strauss on his way to a board meeting in Michigan, shaking hands with fellow Texans in 10-gallon hats.

There was a procession of Yves St. Laurent luggage preceded by Robert Tish, Loew's Hotel magnate.Behind him, a bellhop carried two wicker baskets draped in gingham napkins, goodies for the flight.

"The money walking through here," sighed Val Settle, a Marriott employe selling $17 sandwich trays to the airborne. "You can just smell it. They're amazingly nice, though," Settle confided. "If they bump into you, they say excuse me."

Piled in the corners was enough designer luggage to start a discount outlet.

"I just can't take my eyes off it," said Evelyn DiBona, wife of the president of American Petroleum Institute. "It all has to be signature luggage."

Admiral Jim Morin was racing around his office. "Where are my damn glasses?" he screamed at no one in particular.

Moring and his crew have been deluged with over 700 private aircraft landing and taking off from the general aviation terminal since last Saturday. He managed to borrow a "taxi way" from the main terminal to accommodate the private planes parked there for the inaugural. (The parking fee is approximately $15 a night.)

He also has clients (Paul Mellon, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Southern Railway Corp.) who pay from $350 to $2,000 a month for hangar space.

"They have private planes for the convenience," said Morin. "And they don't have to be pestered by people in lobbies."

Also, he pointed out, you can write it off as a business expense.

Meanwhile, back at the terminal, the limos were backed up almost as far as the Lears. "You won't see this again," said FAA policeman Jim Chaffin. "At least not until four years from now."