In October 2022, NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann became the first enrolled female member of a Native American tribe to travel into space. John …
“Where is it”, I wondered, as I crossed the threshold and entered.
My eyes glued to the ceiling, looking right first, and then left. It was nowhere to be seen.
This can’t be right. Am I looking in the right corner? I can’t have forgotten. Not after almost two decades of fascination. In fact, so much had changed I could no longer recognize where everything was.
Was it really gone?
You see, my fascination began almost at the beginning. It was Spring of 2003 when first news of the spacecraft rippled the airwaves. In May of that year flight tests for SpaceShipOne began over the Mojave dessert. Uncrewed captive flight tests were followed by glide tests. That fall I was fortunate enough to attend the 99s Southwest Section Meeting hosted at Lancaster, CA. The organizers had planned a trip to Scaled Composites at Mojave Airport. The highlight of that event for me was seeing SpaceShipOne up close and personal in its hanger, standing right under its wings almost a touch away.
In June of the following year, I made the pre-dawn early morning trek back to the Mojave Dessert and watched SpaceShipOne achieve its destiny as the first commercial spaceflight and later that year won the Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipOne flew its last flight in October 2004, made the victory lap in Oshkosh, WI in 2005 during Airventure, and reached its final destination at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in October of that year. Displayed along with The Spirit of St Louis, Bell X-1 and Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, it graced the main atrium for more than a decade. A replica of SpaceShipOne hangs at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of seeing both many times.
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) has been undergoing a multi-year renovation, since 2018. All exhibitions are being reimagined, with new presentation spaces and attractions. Construction and the recent pandemic had resulted in partial or full closure of the museum over the last two years. Although construction will continue through 2025, and some exhibits are not yet available, this past October the museum reopened to the public. Museum visits are available through reservations through March of next year. While I knew transformation was happening, I had not expected such drastic changes.
The main atrium like the rest has been transformed. The Milestones of Flight gallery which hosted aircraft that were used to achieve first flights is now replaced by America by Air. My favorite SpaceShipOne for now remains in storage. Meanwhile there is always the replica in Wisconsin to appease the mind.
“W32 Airport Sold, Closing November 30”
Seeing an email informing of the closure of Hyde Field piqued my curiosity. While living and flying in California, there were several occasions when the local aviation groups coalesced, strategized, and organized events and fly-ins to support endangered airports. Santa Monica, Oxnard and Oceano airports come to mind. And how can we forget the abrupt midnight bulldozing of Meigs Field in 2003? Out of curiosity I started to research the reasoning behind this abrupt closure. Although I have flown out of Potomac Airport (VKX), one of the “Maryland 3” airports, I have never flown into or out of Hyde Field. As I pondered the closing announcement, an intriguing idea started to take shape: How about doing a flight into Hyde Field and recording a landing before it closes?
Washington Executive Airport (W32) or Hyde Field, is a public-use general aviation (GA) airport located near Clinton, MD. It is one of the “Maryland 3” airports located within the Washington, D.C. Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), and subject to the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) restrictions imposed by the FAA. The third airport being College Park (CGS).
Hyde field was built by Arthur Hyde and opened in 1934 as a training field for United States Army aviators to support primary flight training during WW2. The earliest known depiction in a sectional chart was in the 1941 Washington Sectional Chart, which depicted Hyde Field as a commercial / municipal airport. Earliest known aerial photo from 1943 depicts the airfield as having four runways. A 1960 Jeppesen Airway Manual depicts two runways. Hyde Field currently has a single runway. Due to the onerous SFRA restrictions leading to declining revenues at the airport, in 2008 there were plans to shut it down and redevelop the land. The airport has been on sale for the past 15 years with the latest sale in 2020 falling through and ending up in bankruptcy court.
A recent AOPA article from Feb 2022 on following John Wilkes booth’s escape route notes: “Civil War buffs and conspiracy theorists will want to visit the Surratt House Museum, three miles northeast in Clinton, Maryland… The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum is located 17 miles southeast of the airfield. Mudd was the doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth on the morning after Lincoln’s assassination…. Booth fled south from Mudd’s to Pope’s Creek, where he boarded a boat to cross the Potomac River into Virginia. Today, that spot is close to Captain Billy’s Crab House and Gilligan’s Pier (a steak and seafood restaurant that is operated seasonally). Enjoy a lunch of Maryland blue crabs at one of these waterfront restaurants and contemplate Booth paddling across the river in the dark of night, trying to make his escape.”
A little after 10 am, Marianne and I set off from Maryland Airport (2W5) in the Citabria, not the same one I did my tailwheel training, but a similar one. It really is a fun aircraft to fly, and it was great to be back in the air in it. A couple of touch and goes to refamiliarize myself again with stick and rudder flying, and off we went for the short hop to Hyde Field. The weather gods had relented. It was calm, and pristine day with clear blue skies. Rain was expected later in the night and next day, but for now, it was perfect flying weather. We couldn’t have asked for a better day for our brief flying adventure.
We had already negotiated our arrival into Hyde Field with the airport manager, filed a FRZ flight plan, received clearance, and within a few minutes we arrived at our destination. The runway was already in a sorry state for lack of maintenance. And no, we did not visit Surratt House Museum, or contemplate Booth’s escape across the Potomac over crab cakes. We did walk around the airport checking out the abandoned and dilapidated hangars and contemplated the loss of the airport to GA. Out of the more than 100 aircraft based at the airport, only 30 still remain according to the Airport Manager. By the end of the month, they too will be gone, as developers tear down everything and begin construction of residential houses. After topping off at the self-serve fuel station, we retraced our path and the short return trip back to Maryland airport.
It was a trip down memory lane for Marianne who had originally based her aircraft there decades ago. When I had reached out to her to gauge her interest, she was immediately enthusiastic to participate in the adventure. It is saddening to see the airport close, but the location, the closeness to Washington DC, mere steps away from Andrews Air Force Base, the stringent FRZ requirements, residential neighborhoods, and a host of other factors likely contributed to the fate of the airport. GA Airports constantly face such challenges and will continue to face them.
Come 5pm November 30, 2022, Hyde Field will be no more. This single landing is symbolic at best, but a show of support for an airport that once served its purpose.