A crowd of more than 100 gazed up at the clear blue sky in delightful anticipation.
"Over there!" someone yelled as all eyes excitedly turned toward the two F-22A Raptors and two F-15s flying overhead in commemoration of Langley Field in Hampton, Va.
Image to right: Two Air Force F-22A Raptors and two F-15s performed a flyover at the unveiling ceremony. Credit: USAF
The flyover was part of a ceremony that culminated Saturday, June 11, in downtown Hampton at the Virginia Air & Space Center with the unveiling of two state highway markers noting the rich history and numerous accomplishments of Langley Field – the birthplace of the U.S. Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Norman L. Crabill, a retired NASA Langley engineer, envisioned this day several years ago while researching his book "Virginia Airports: A Historical Survey of Airports and Aviation from the Earliest Days." As chairman of the historical marker committee of the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society, Crabill was keenly aware of Langley's accomplishments and was in a position to do something about it. He proposed having Langley Field recognized as the oldest continuously operating airfield in Virginia and quickly won approval for the highway markers and ceremony.
Image to left: Gen. John P. Jumper speaks at the unveiling. Credit: USAF
Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, represented the Air Force in the ceremony. Jumper, whose father was a commander in the Air Force, recalled as a senior attending Hampton High School being inspired to pursue a career as an engineer and pilot while living at Langley – a place that trained fighter pilots and the nation's first astronauts. "I used to watch those men and knew that I wanted to be doing what they were doing," said Jumper.
Roy D. Bridges, director for NASA Langley Research Center, read a letter from the NASA Administrator Mike Griffin congratulating both the Air Force and NASA Langley. This nation has the world's best military and commercial aircraft because of the pioneers at Langley Field and their colleagues in government, industry and academia. "They contributed to achievements in aerospace that have greatly enriched our society and provided a vital measure of our national defense in times of great peril," Bridges added.
Image to right: NASA Langley Research Center Director Roy D. Bridges, Jr., speaks at the unveiling. Credit: USAF
Mayor Ross A. Kearney II commended the three local businessmen who in 1916 had the forethought and the vision to propose that the federal government locate Langley Field in Hampton. Albert M. Orgain IV, chairman of the historical society, recognized the local officials attending the ceremony including Congresswoman Thelma Drake and read a letter by Senator George Allen recognizing Langley Field's role in maintaining the nation's preeminence in aeronautics.
NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base chose their visitor center, the Virginia Air & Space Center, to be the official site of the markers so that the citizens of Hampton and the more than 400,000 annual visitors to the museum could enjoy them.
The markers read as follows:
Langley Field: Creating an Air Force
In Dec. 1916, the U.S. Army purchased land four miles north of here to build an airfield to use jointly with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. During World War I, the Army trained aircrews and tested aircraft there. In 1921, Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell led bombing trials from Langley to demonstrate that air power could destroy battleships. On 1 March 1935, Air Corps Combat units were realigned nationwide under the GHQ Air Force. Led from Langley by Maj. Gen. Frank Andrews, that combat air command was the forerunner of the Army Air Forces of World War II and marked the first real step toward the U.S. Air Force.
Image to right: Historical markers WY 96 (left) and WY 97 commemorating Langley Field. Credit: USAF
Langley Field: Discovering Aerospace
The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), created in 1915 to revitalize American aviation, was a pivotal force behind opening Langley Field in 1917 nearby to the north. It was named for the late Smithsonian Secretary Samuel P. Langley. The NACA's first research facility, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, opened in 1918. Over the years, it solved complex problems of atmospheric flight, yielding ongoing advances in aircraft design. After World War II, the laboratory also laid the foundation for space flight. When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) emerged in 1958, Langley trained America's first astronauts.
Donna G. Lawson
NASA Langley Research Center