We can't relive the past, nor should we try. But commemoration, and its related pageantry, is often worth doing. In that spirit, the Washington area -- and the nation -- are about to be treated to a reenactment of the first transatlantic airplane flight.

A U.S. Navy seaplane, the sole survivor of three planes in a flying flotilla, made the six-stop journey to Britain in May 1919, eight years before Charles A. Lindbergh's more famous solo nonstop hop to Paris.

The two planes making the reenactment flight date from World War II, not from the pioneering 1919 trip. They will fly into and around Washington on Monday.

So, Washingtonians, keep your eyes peeled between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Monday for a couple of Catalina long-range bombers. Soon after arriving from Pensacola, Fla., the seaplanes will leave Andrews Air Force Base and fly inside and around the Capital Beltway. No precise local flight plan had been announced by late yesterday.

Now -- and this gets a trifle confusing -- the reenactment of the flight of 66 years ago is part of the Navy's official festivities marking 75 years of naval aviation. It was on May 8, 1911, that Capt. W.I. Chambers, then in charge of naval aviation, signed requisitions for the Navy's first two Curtiss biplanes.

The 1919 transatlantic flight began with three planes, two of which crashed in storms. The survivor, a Curtiss-built NC4, pictured at the top of this column, traveled with a crew of six from Rockaway, N.Y., to Plymouth, England, in 57 1/4 flying hours, with stops in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Azores (two stops), Portugal and Spain. The NC4 was commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Albert C. Read.

The two Catalinas making the reenactment journey will be piloted by Wilson (Connie) Edwards of Big Springs, Tex., and Robert Franks of Los Angeles, and copiloted by Lou Peterson of the Smithsonian Institution and Art Ward, a retired Navy captain who is now a New York advertising executive. Both planes now are privately owned.

The aircraft are scheduled to leave Washington Tuesday morning, and to depart Rockaway, N.Y., on Thursday. Following the schedule of the NC4, they're due in Plymouth on May 31.