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Aviation Blog

The Airport Lost in Alexandria’s History Books – Alexandria Living Magazine

At one time, Hybla Valley had its own airport.
Nov. 09, 2021
8:09 a.m.
Photo Courtesy of Fairfax County
Every American with their own plane? Strangely enough, this was a widespread belief during most of the 1920s and ’30s — a motive which, at the time, led to the creation of Alexandria’s prestigious and unique Hybla Valley Airport. 
Built in 1924 by Elvin Robertson, the airport was first called the Alexandria Airport and mainly built as a way to profit from the public’s sudden love affair with flying — particularly after Charles Lindbergh’s extraordinary New York City to Paris flight. Robertson planned for the business to be a sightseeing attraction where light aircraft would offer tourists bird’s-eye view tours of the area and the Potomac River while also amusing them with jaw-dropping air shows. 
University of Dayton (Ohio) Prof. Janet Bednarek, an aviation historian, noted this growing fascination: “It’s evidence of what historian Joseph Corn called the ‘Wing Gospel.’ Americans were embracing this new technology and their enthusiasm for it had no bounds.” But, while many people fantasized about being pilots, the majority were content with watching others fly the machines. 
In 1929, Hybla Valley Airport became the first airport granted a permit in the Commonwealth — and yet while slowly building an impressive resume, it still faced major competition because across the region, countless private airfields were popping up. One of these, Beacon Field, was only a few minutes away in what is now Groveton. 
Furthermore, all these airports were seeking to be designated the official D.C. Metro airport. “In the 1930s, a lot of people were surprised that D.C. still didn’t have a proper airport — only small private ones,” Bednarek explains. 
In the same decade, and thanks to its unique climatology, the Zeppelin Company considered the Alexandria airfield to be a potential transatlantic base for its airships. But, just when it seemed the plan would go through, the idea was ultimately disregarded as local government officials believed the project would be too big and expensive to accomplish. 
Although Alexandrians might not have seen Zeppelins floating overhead, it wasn’t uncommon to see other blimps doing so — usually naval training vessels from the nearby Anacostia Base, which were housed at Hybla Valley Airport in its heyday. 
As World War II rolled around, the U.S. Navy was given the airport by owner Elvin Robertson for training purposes. It was here that naval pilots underwent fierce tests to ensure they had the skills necessary to aid the Allies in the global conflict. When the war finally ended, the facilities were handed back and the airport continued its operations under the guidance of new owners, the Ashburn family. 
The Ashburns also had big dreams for this small airport, and with their supervision, it steadily grew over the years. By 1954, it spanned more than 179 acres and housed numerous Piper Cubs, Monocoupes and Luscombes. It also hosted a respected flying school and a high-end terminal restaurant, where patrons could watch air shows as they dined. The Congressional Flying Club also met here, and U.S. Representatives would often be seen learning how to fly over the Metro area. 
But perhaps what might be most intriguing are the somewhat overlooked events that occurred at Hybla Valley Airport. In 1951, the Civil Air Patrol used it as a starting point for a major emergency blood delivery flight to Easton, Maryland. Two years later, Aldine Glass (one of the first parachute rescue nurses in the country) used the land to perfect her jumps before taking off to do relief work. Those present at the time might also have seen Bob Ashburn, the owner, zooming over D.C. in his Cessna Bobcat, as he pursued his hobby of aerial photography. 
Although a lively place during its prime, the high profile of Hybla Valley Airport was not to endure. Its popularity began to wane as a developmental boom hit the area in the mid-1950s. The airport did everything it could to survive as the suburbs closed in, but it was eventually sold to a developer and officially closed in 1956. Today, the former airfield is now where Hybla Valley Elementary School and surrounding neighborhoods rest. 
While this legendary destination may no longer exist, its spirit lives on each day in small ways. For instance, you might come across a historical marker near Route 1 and Fordson Road highlighting this significant land. If you look even closer, you might also notice that the neighborhood roads built on the former airport are named after various aspects of the aviation industry, like Piper, Lockheed and Stinson. 
The early 20th-century dream of owning personal planes might not have fully come to fruition, but the magic of aviation continues to inspire generations — something that fulfills the long-lost Hybla Valley Airport’s mission. 
Beacon Field
Beacon Field was established in 1929 when property owner W.F.P. Reid installed a pilot’s navigation aid on the property. That navigation aid, an unlit tower, was called a “beacon tower” and commonly used in the early days of aviation. By the late 1930s, the Ashburn Flying Service was training hundreds of pilots for military service at Beacon Field. The airport closed during World War II for safety reasons, but after the war, the Civil Aeronautics Administration Region One Safety Office moved its headquarters to Beacon Field. Before the airport ended operations in 1959, veterans of both World War II and the Korean conflict trained at the Lehman/Reid flying school there, and many became commercial pilots. 
Nov. 09, 2021
8:09 a.m.
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