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Washington National: 1941

Washington National: 1941

Arlington County, Va., circa 1941. "National Airport. Plane in front of passenger terminal and control tower." Photo by Theodor Horydczak. View full size.


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State of the art relics

When Washington National Airport (DCA) opened in 1941, it offered state of the art aircraft servicing facilities, designed to reduce ramp congestion and shorten turnaround times. Visible in this photo are service pits built into the ramp apron, in proximity to the aircraft's respective service points.

The right (pilot's perspective) landing gear of this DC-3 rests on a six-foot diameter turntable after being guided to this spot by pavement markings and a ground marshaller. This positioning allowed the aircraft to pivot (with the right wheel braked) for a smooth departure towards the taxiway, with minimal stress on the landing gear supported by the turntable.

When a DC-3 was thus parked, it was in the correct position to facilitate various servicing requirements (fuel, oil, electrical, cooling air, and communications, which included a pneumatic tube for written messages between crew and operations agents).

It was a good idea while it lasted, but the explosive growth of civil aviation in the post-war years, with attendant increase of aircraft types, rendered the system impractical, and in short order most servicing facilities were returned to mobile provision.

In areas of the ramp that haven't been completely repaved over the decades, a couple of these abandoned relics are still identifiable by various access doors and turntable plates. Perhaps they were intentionally left in place in keeping with the terminal's status on the National Register of Historic Places.

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