As airports go, Hyde Field is hardly a picture of metropolitan madness.
The airport, which is being sold for the first time in its 45-year history, lies on 300 rural acres in southwest Prince George's County -- down Woodyard Road past Clinton across from the Clip-a-Poo Professional Dog and Cat Grooming Center, just before the turnoff to Snoopy's Inn.
If the location is not enough to give Hyde Field a certain rustic air, consider its office/terminal. Outside is a collection of white frame buildings connected in higgledy-piggledy fashion by beams and sloping roofs. Inside are old wooden desks and counters, faded posters declaring, "A Safe Pilot is a Good Pilot," and two aged and indolent cats named William and Weasel.
"I imagine they run the airport," said pilot Bonnie Sedgwick, who sometimes helps airport manager Harry Lehman in the office. "They've been here forever."
Indeed, one of the few regulatory signs posted in the terminal concerns the comings and goings of William and Weasel. "Do not let the cats out, please," says the sign on the front door.
Hyde Field is one of those places that time seems to have passed by, devoid of computers, control towers and other symbols of high technology.
Nonetheless, it serves an exacting business. To the pilots and owners of the 150 small single- and twin-engine planes lodged there, Hyde Field is an easy, convenient take-off point.
"Seven minutes from my house," said Sedgwick, who learned to fly at Hyde Field.
To the county Economic Development Corp., Hyde Field, along with a number of other general aviation airports, is a plus when recruiting new industries to the area.
"It's one of the things some companies look for right off," said Gordon Hubley of the Economic Development Corp.
And to longtime owner Arthur C. Hyde, the airport represents an enduring love for aviation -- the hearty no-frills kind. He is selling it, to an as yet undisclosed buyer for a reported $1.5 million, on the condition that the property remain an airport.
"I started Hyde Field in 1940," said Hyde, 74, a Rockville investor who owns Congressional Plaza Shopping Center on Rockville Pike. "It was a rundown tobacco farm, all grown up. I just built it from scratch, didn't have to have permits or engineers or anything.
"Everybody was interested in flying back then," he said. "I was a pilot. I wanted an airport of my own. I started out with one airplane and one pilot."
During World War II, Hyde Field boomed. Pilots were trained there and the Civil Air Patrol used it as a base for its patrols looking for enemy submarines along the Atlantic coast. Today, Hyde Field is one of three small private airports in Prince George's County.
"We charge no landing fees," said Hyde. "Anybody can fly in there and land, leave their plane all day. It serves about the same purpose as a municipal airport." Hyde said he is selling the airport as one step in his move toward retirement. But he has made no secret of his longstanding haggle with county officials over plans to expand Hyde Field.
For the past decade, some county environmental officials have been after Hyde to remove tons of earth he has dumped in a ravine, since the 1940s, as he has extended his runway. Officials named by Hyde could not be reached for comment yesterday. Rather than continue the fight, Hyde said he will pass to the new owner his plans to lengthen the major runway from 3,000 to 4,500 feet. Whether the airport will also experience more dramatic changes with the sale is unknown.
Nowadays, Hyde Field is decidedly quiet. Yet it still manages to attract its very own skywatcher.
J.D. Montgomery, a retired printer, goes to Hyde Field daily to sit in his gold Chrysler and read the newspaper. He just likes to sit and think and look, he said, and this is his place to do it. "It's a little slow now," he admitted, taking in the empty blue sky. "But I can't stand to stay in the house."