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Too Close for Comfort at Hoover Field

Today’s featured image contains either a Douglas DC-2 or a DC-3 taking off or coming in for a landing at the Hoover Field located in Arlington, VA. While the airfield was in operation (1925 to ’41,) it was considered to be one of the most dangerous flying fields in the country.

Military Rd., visible in the photo crossed the field and the automobiles visible in the distance on both sides of the roadway may have have been parked there while the occupants visited an amusement park located right next to the airport. The newest vehicle in the scene appears to be circa 1936. Today the Pentagon is located on the site.

Please share with us what you find of interest in the photograph found via courtesy of the Arlington Public Library.

34 responses to “Too Close for Comfort at Hoover Field

  1. I think it’s a DC-2, based on the shape of the wingtip (not as elliptical as the DC-3) and the fact the front passenger window is more forward in the fuselage…in line with the engine…on the 2.
    Also, the fuselage looks more slab sided, characteristic of the narrower DC-2 cabin.

    The DC-3 first flew in December 1935 ,and entered service the following June, so that’s not a help. However the first American Airlines DC-3s were the sleeper model (DST) with small berth windows above the passenger windows, which this aircraft lacks.

    • When you consider what the Wright brothers started with only 32 years earlier, the DC-2 was quite an accomplishment.

      • Yes, a huge leap.
        Then again the aviation world went from Lindbergh’s crossing the Atlantic in 1927 to jet airliners in 30 years.

  2. Given that the DC-3 was introduced in 1936, that has to be a very early example. Perhaps the crowds gathered to see the arrival of the latest thing in passenger transport.

  3. Wow! The DC-3 (Gooney Bird) was difficult enough to fly. Couple that with a dangerous flying field … glad I never had to operate there.

  4. By this time Hoover Field was part of Washington-Hoover Airport, having merged with the adjacent Washington Airport in 1933. Military Road was closed on May 15, 1938, so that’s a cut-off date for the photograph.

    I think the airplane is an American Airlines aircraft. The three lines flying out of there were American, Eastern Air Lines, and Pennsylvania Central Airlines. Eastern used a front fuselage flash rather than this plane’s rear flash, and PCA used a curved front stripe rather than American’s lightning bolt. It’s too blurred for me to tell if it’s a DC-2 (boxy fuselage) or DC-3 (rounded fuselage).

    • A number of things.
      1. The runway was short (2500 feet) until the mid-30s.
      2. A landfill next to the runway was on fire, and the smoke often obscured the runway.
      3. A public swimming pool was located at the airport, and children would cross the runway to get to it.
      4. The sod runway had notoriously poor drainage and was often a mud runway.
      5. When the runway was extended after the merger, it crossed Military Road. The County of Arlington fined the airport when they installed a traffic light to keep cars from crossing the runway during flight operations for “obstruction of traffic.”
      6. Even when extended the runway’s length (4200 feet) was shorter than was considered safe for new airliners like the DC-3 (5000 feet).
      7. The west side of the field was lined by high-tension wires and radio towers; the wires limited flight paths north of the airport (the runway ran NNE-SSW). The south had buildings with smokestacks. There were also tall trees next to the field. An amusement park (Arlington Beach) was located just past the NNE end of the runway.

      • A very close friend of mine was a Flight Engineer on DC 3’s of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force during the “Bush War” back in the sixties/seventies and they would have to fly overloaded planes ,filled with supplies, to the troops in the field, and land on runways far too short for even a DC 3. The pilot would drop the plane in as close as possible to the beginning of the runway, hit the brakes as hard as possible and if it didn’t look like it was going to stop by the end of the runway, he would hit one brake only, so doing what my friend described as a “ground loop.” Evidently this was done very often and it didn’t take the troops long to work out that they didn’t have to clear as much bush as they thought because they knew that the plane would stop in time. Taking off wasn’t a problem as it was now empty. Good times.

    • I thought of that, but if you magnify the image you do see a bright spot where the landing light is.
      Judging by the shadows under the cars, the sunlight is hitting the aircraft pretty much at the angle of the photograph, so the landing light lens and the silver reflector within, merge with the unpainted aluminum of the AA scheme.

      Besides, the other points I made in my first post still tend to indicate to me that it’s a ‘2. Too bad the photo wasn’t taken a split second later so we could see the tail.

      Or if any of you are CSI-types, 🙂 if you could adjust the photo enough to make out the registration numbers under the wing, I could compare it to my records.

      If you are interested in the flying qualities of the DC-2 and 3 presented in layman’s terms, read Ernest K. Gang’s outstanding memoir, “Fate is the Hunter”. He flew both types for American and paints a vivid picture of airline operations of the period.
      It was a pretty good short field ship, and on a nice day as seen in the photo, probably wouldn’t have been too hard to land at that field. But imagine trying to do a landing in instrument conditions using the primitive systems and procedures of the day….that’s another story, especially if the field was wet or icy.

      A friend has a restored DC-3 which he flies (it was one of the group that flew the Atlantic last year to commemorate D-Day and the Berlin airlift), I love spending time in it. Every panel and rivet reeks of its 76 year history.
      It was also a favorite of my father in his military career.

  5. This post today prompted me to order another copy of the Doug Engells DC3 history. Don’t recall when it was written, but as I remember it was while Donald Douglas was still with us and he characterized it as the best book ever on the plane. The aircraft has a list of ‘firsts’ that can wear one out while reading it. Jack Frye wrote to Douglas asking for an all metal tri-motor. Douglas responded by telling Frye he would build him a two engine plane meeting all other required specs that could fly on one engine. The rest is history. A very rich history as most of you already know.

    • I remember a documentary on the DC-3 made during the eighties. They interviewed a pilot, who explained that, in a 747, to put the gear down, you flipped a switch to “down.” He then listed all the steps you needed to go through to get the gear down on a DC-3. He finished with, “And then you stick your head out the window to make sure the gear is really down. You try that on a 747.”

      • Sticking your head out of a 747 is easy enough. Getting it back in one functioning piece is another. Corollary to “Takeoffs are optional….”

  6. I think these are just folks at the end of the runway, taking in the miracle of flight. It was still a rather new phenomenon. Years ago, in Milwaukee, you could sit at the end of the runway at Mitchell Field. The jets were only a short distance above, and was quite a rush. I’m wondering what the traffic signal and loudspeaker were for?

    • Oh, I’m not an aviation expert, but I think it’s taking off. If landing, wouldn’t the tail flaps be down?

    • Yes Howard, I recall those days with a great deal of fondness. All of the traffic in the period I’m thinking of was propeller stuff…lots of 6s and 7s, stll a fair number of 3s and an occasional Northwest Stratocruiser. Recall the terminal was on Layton, a humble holdover from the late 30s with the control tower on the second floor. Life was grand…

      • Hi Robert, I thought you’d remember that. I think it was 6th street and College, you could see the serial numbers on the tires. Mitchell Field has an area in the terminal that is dedicated to the history of the airport. Back when it was merely a converted farmhouse and the surrounding area was way out in the sticks. My grandmothers brother operated a greenhouse on Layton and Howell in the 30’s during that time.

    • Highway Bridge (14th Street Bridge). Opened in 1906 for use by automobiles and the Mount Vernon Railway (yellow line trolleys). Closed after George Mason Bridge was built in 1962 and demolished in the late 60s.

    • The “tail flaps” are the elevators…they would be deflected a bit up or down in response to the pilot pushing forward or pulling back on the control column, but it may not be enough to be really obvious in a photo. After all, this is a gentle passenger carrying takeoff, not a Max-performance climb like a fighter or acrobatic airplane.

      Yes, the wing flaps would be down for landing and up for takeoff, but the angle of attack of this plane isn’t correct for a takeoff, far too level unless he just broke ground in which case, judging by the proximity of the cars and road, he left it too late, cutting it too close for comfort!

      And just to be thorough, I’ll note for a Max performance takeoff in a DC-3, the pilot does lower wing flaps at 45mph. The gear would be raised and a climb established once the ship hits 85, then at 100 you raise the flaps by gradually “milking” them up.

      • It’s entirely possible he just broke ground. The runway crosses the road, similar to how Gibraltar International Airport’s runway crosses Winston Churchill Avenue.

  7. My husband who flew some of these now antiques while stationed in Greenland with Air Rescue in 1954, says angle seems more like it is landing. Of course he is more familiar with the military version.

  8. They may have been thinking it was a Buick, as they looked quite similar from the rear, or they may have been looking at its metal, not wood, roof parts and thought it a convertible coupe, not a roadster. Looking at both may help you decide.




    My father had a newer Cessna 310 in the early 1960s, and I remember travel in it being much like riding in a car, but my first flight in an older DC-3 piloted by a schoolmate’s dad was a very different experience. When its fuselage began to vibrate and its engine shroud covers began to “flap,” I was sure we would dunk into Puget Sound! When we took a night-time flight in it several months later and I saw occasional flares from its exhausts, I was sure we would explode! Of course, 3s were among the safest planes of all time, but you couldn’t tell that to 7 or 8 year-old me. I still prefer wheel to wings; even when one of my “rich” old-car pals offers me a ride to Amelia or Geneva or Monterey on his Mustang, Falcon or Honda. Not cars. Jets.

  9. I don’t know if it’s a DC-2 or 3, but I believe it belongs to Air Canada . The fuselage lightening bolts and what appears to be a maple leaf are my cues.

    • Air Canada wasn’t in existence then, a t wasn’t named that until 1965.
      TCA’s early equipment were Lockheeds, not Douglas’.
      It’s clearly an American Airlines paint scheme.

  10. I suggest the roadster is not a Packard. A Packard would have an oval tailight with 3 lenses and a full bumper with vertical bumper clamps. I suggest it is a small Nash or a Hupmobile. Graham-Paige also used disc wheels of this type, but Graham did not have a tailight of this type. The other cars are Chevrolet facing the camera, Pontiac, Plymouth and Plymouth. Note both Pontiac/Oakland and Plymouth were featuring oval rear windows for a period.

  11. Doesn’t look like people were any better at following simple guidelines back then than they are now. I can’t read the traffic signal and it looks like cars are both parked and moving on the road crossing the runway.

    Speaking of angle of attack, I’m guessing he’s coming in for a landing. The tail seems much too elevated to have just left the ground on a short runway. I think we would need an old map showing the location of this crossing in relation to the bridge in the background.

  12. And on review it now appears he could be taking off. I really can’t say for sure. Great photo that raises as many questions as it answers.

  13. It looks like we need an “old aircraft” section to this website. There is certainly a lot of interesting information being generated.

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