The romance of flying drew hundreds of people to College Park Airport last weekend for a two day love-in with flight. They swarmed onto the airfield to admire more than 100 planes of many descriptions and colors, an array to capture the fantasy of even the most earthbound specator.
It was a day for dreaming and for romanticizing about humanity's eternal striving to shed the shackles of gravity and join the birds.
It was a day fr the uninitiated to marvel at the miracle of flying and for the pilots to feel smug.
It was the sixth annual open house at the airport, whose proponents seldom miss an opportunity to boast that College Park is the nation's first and the world's oldest continually operating airfield.
It was a day to be proud.
Bob Woodall became an instant celebrity when he landed his Vari-Eze, an incredible-looking aircraft he built himself. Throngs of the curious and admiring crowded around his tiny two-seater plane with propeller and swept wing in the rear and tailpiece in the nose. It looked and sounded like a sleek white mosquito flying backwards.
Everyone wanted to know how it worked, how much it cost, how fast it went, how much gas it used -- and on and on.
"Most of the time you just talk about it. Now and then you fly it," joked Woodall, a retired Air Force officer from Adelphi.
It was a day to tease.
College Park City Council member Chester M. Joy brought several T-shirts emblazoned with a favorable newspaper article about the airport. They were, he said with a twinkle in his eye, presents for several of his fellow council members who are less than enthusiastic about the airport.
At the last council meeting several members expressed exasperation with the sometimes controversial airport, whose neighbors at times worry about the noise and the safety of small planes. The airport did not get council permission before stringing a sign across Calvert Road trumpeting the open house.
It was a day to impress.
Joe Gauvreau commutes each day from Kent Island to College Park in his green-and-white antique Cessna 170.A resident of Kentmorr, a community clustered around its own airstrip on Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay, Gauvreau parks his plane in his back yard.
About four mornings out of five, depending on the weather, he and his wife fly to College Park, pick up their car and drive to the New Carrollton Metro station where his wife boards a train for her job in Rosslyn.
Gauvreau then turns around and heads for his job with the Defense Nuclear Agency in Bethesda. They reverse the trip each evening.
Flying is all of six minutes shorter than driving the 55 miles one way, he said, but it's "a hell of a lot more fun -- and after all, how many people fly to work?" He flashed a grin from behind his aviator sunglasses and lit a cigarette -- the Marlboro Man of the skies.
It was a day for selling.
Jim Dick, owner of Ultralights East Inc. in Riverdale, stood along the main runway shouting over the buzz of planes taking off and landing. He was pushing powered hand gliders at about $3,500 each.
Mostly wing with a harness to sit in and a chain-saw engine powering a propeller, the craft is the Moped of the skies.
Because it is not classed as an airplane, the hang glider is not subject to federal licensing and inspection. Anyone can buy and fly one anywhere, anytime. According to Dick, it's one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
"It's considerably cheaper than an airplane. We've opened the skies to the working person," he said. "We're just selling fun."
It was not a day for old-timey barnstorming with trick flying, loop the loops and stomach-turning flips. Dave Jones, assistant manager of the airport, said airport officials try not to emphasize the sensational.
"This is PR for flying," Jones said. "It's just an open house. We want to tell people we're here and that general aviation is alive and well -- well, not so well, but alive -- and that aviation is fun. It's very educational. We want to stir some imaginations."
Jones said the growing cost of aviation fuel, planes and upkeep is hurting the sport.
Still, it was a day for fun.
"I wanted to see what a great place this is," said Mardy J. Harron, a government economist from Silver Spring. "This has great historical value. I wanted to see what airports looked like in the pioneer days. It's just terrific to go back to 1910 to see what took place then.
"And it seemed like a beautiful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I have a good friend (with a plane). I'm looking for him. Maybe he'll give me a ride." CAPTION: Picture, At College Park Airport's open house, George Economos flies "Breezy," a two-seater he built for $4,000. By Michael F. Parks -- The Washington Post.