Beacon Field: Ruby Burdette


We rented that field, when we got there in 1925. It was just open pasture. We flew the plane in from St. Louis. That started the airport.

We had students and eventually several other planes were there. They would build a shop where they were trained to repair the planes. They had great big wings. It had a standard engine. If anything happened to the wings they would be recovered.

Then it became Ashburn flying school. Mr. Bob Ashburn took it all over and then he had a flying school there. He trained students and I worked in the office.

The first airplane that was there was in 1925 and it was flown in from St. Louis and it made it. Later other people had their own planes there. There were different models. Not a great many, say four or five to start out with. The boys came out from Washington mostly and other parts of the county, and took instructions. My husband was the instructor and we also had another young man from Aldurn, Virginia.

There were always accidents of some kind, and there were fatal mishaps later on. Mast everybody pitched in and students and everybody helped.

When there was an accident the wings had to be repaired. The wings had to be doped and covered when they were broken and destroyed. We got the material from Bolling Field and they were taken from old parachutes. It was a very nice silk material and we'd cut it out and then repair the wings, put dope on them, and get 'em together again.

Quite a few of the students did learn to get their pilots license. Of course it's quite different from what they get now, but I mean they did learn to fly those things.

Fifteen dollars an hour was the rate on flying lessons until they were able to take over for themselves.

I didn't fly myself. I had two small children and I thought the best thing for me was to stay on the ground.

There was a field at that time in Hybla Valley. They handled Eagle Rocks. They had an agency for Eagle Rocks and that was the Rodeson Brothers. Also there was a man came there, his name was Woodhouse. He had a big dream of buying up all land down at Hybla Valley, and opening a Zepplin airfield but it all fell through. These two young men had this Eagle Rock dealership down there and they did have a training service down there too.

Arthur Godfrey came to Beacon field and he learned to fly there. He was a regular visitor. Mr. Frank Blair, he worked for the Washington News, had an airplane and kept it there. He came out regularly to fly his own plane. A lot of people gradually bought their own planes.

When Mr. Ashburn took over I was responsible for telling them which area they could stay in and which they couldn't stay in. I had to go through quite a "rigamarole" to get that. We had an area and if they got out of that area I was in trouble which wasn't very good. It was around Mount Vernon and up the river. You had to stay on a certain territory. The Civil Aeronautics Board had a control of that.

National Airport, when it first started, was a smaller place. There used to be a little race track called "Boggy Bottom" there, somewhere, and they began to fly out of that at first. But of course National Airport came quite a lot later.

The airport was where Beacon Mall is now. As a rule we had a big wind sock, and they usually took off from that field, from north to south. Of course It had to be according to the wind. If the wind wasn't in the right direction at that time when they were flying those things, why you had to be careful. If the wind was in the opposite direction, you went to the other end and went with the wind. There was no taking off from east to west, because the field wasn't wide enough.

The "Beacon Light" was put there. It was a revolving light that directed airplanes at night into this area, and all into the Washington area. That was the first beacon light in this area, and it was on that field.

When we started in there it was a cow pasture. And we rented it to Mr. Pierce Reid.

We also had 11 guys in there that had a little black plane called a "Camel." It was a queer looking thing and the guy that flew it was just about as queer. We started with a Standard, OX5 motor with banner. It had enormous wings, and an awful loud motor. It did get off the ground and come back. We used to have people come out from Washington and get their pictures taken beside the planes. At that time there was no communications, you just looked after yourself, because there wasn't that many airplanes around at that time. We were the first ones around this part of the country. Also Eagle Rock had their's at Hybla Valley field. That was about the only two besides College Park.

On the plane it said $2.50 for a ride. Quite a few came out and just took a chance on it and took rides in it, mostly on Sunday afternoon and Saturdays. There wasn't any flying for distance. They'd fly over the area. We used to fly out to Rockville and Gaithersburg. Maryland.

He went out to the Robinson Aircraft Corporation in Saint Louis where Lindberg was. (At that time Lindberg was flying the mail out of there), and he took this course. His diploma is there. He got his diploma in 1926. He bought the plane, there and flew it back here to Groveton, and it landed out there where the Beacon Mall is.

My husband was a man before his time, in a way, and he had always had an idea about wanting to fly. His father was in a position to do it, so he sent him to St. Louis to that Robinson place out there for training.

There was one guy who come in from New York and had a glider. That created quite a bit of excitement. Eventually people would come in, from cross country and like that, but not too far.

When Mr. Ashburn took over we had a number of different kinds up there, Ronkas and Piper Cubs. I saw most all of the wrecks. The boy that I said got killed out there, I've forgotten just what plane he was flying now, but it was either a Ronka or a Piper Cub. He was crazy about flying, but he was reckless. He wanted to take all kinds of chances. He was the only one that got killed on that field. Then there was another young man, now he didn't belong to the field. He flew in here from somewhere else. He crashed it in my back yard, which was where the car wash is now. That had no connection with the Burdette airport. That was when the Ashburns worked there. Then there was my husband. He had one accident there. He came in too low and hit the wires up there where the First Federal is now. He didn't get hurt but he damaged the plane right much.

Mr. Ashburn built this little hanger, and the office was up over top of it. A lot of people kept their planes there. They were repaired there also. It was really called the Ashburn flying school. Then when the Second World War come on, of course they made us move back from the coast.

The community had mixed feelings. Some of 'em didn't like it and some of 'em were opposed to it. Especially later on when the school was built there. They won out and we kept the field until after the war.

We trained a lot of girls up there too. We had the girls program and I was quite excited. You'd be surprised at how many there were, and a lot of 'em did go on to get in the air force. They had a class type program, and then they would have so many hours that was included in this program.

It depended on the individual of course on how many hours it takes to get their pilot's license. Some of 'em will get it in a shorter time than others, but they have to have so many flights and then when they were capable, when they were able to takeoff and land and make the required pattern, then they got their private Iearner's permit; then their private pilot's license.

I think they started out at 16 or 18. I know there were a lot of the boys that came out there that probably were a little bit younger but t hat wasn't the strictest rule and regulation that they had. In the later years, I think it was 18 that they began training.

Volume Two, Table of Contents
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