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NEWS | June 21, 2017

The founding fathers of Langley

By Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie 633rd Air Force Base Wing Public Affairs

On August 22, 1834, history was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, that would change the thoughts of flight in the United States of America.


At that time, Samuel P. Langley, for whom Langley Air Force Base would be named after, served as the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and studied the possibility of heavier-than-air flight.


Although Langley’s steam powered Aerodrome number 5 was the first non-manned heavier-than-air flight, at just over one half mile in 90 seconds, the flight was ridiculed by spectators for the aircraft going nose up and into landing the river.


“His sense of failure was heightened on 17 December, when, in Kitty Hawk,

North Carolina, the Wright Brothers accomplished the first manned flight,” said William Butler, Air Combat Command deputy command historian. “Although this success proved his theories about manned flight, Langley never resumed his experiments and he died from a stroke on Feb. 17, 1906.”


The base was later named after Langley by Lt. Colonel George O. Squier.


Brig. Gen. George Scriven established a board of officers and appointed Squier to the head of aviation for locating a suitable site to base an Army aviation field and conduct aeronautical experiments as Langley once did. The airfield would hold the official name of “Langley Field” until August 7, 1917.


Once the location for the airfield was selected, the infrastructure was next in line. Albert Kahn, a German immigrant, signed on to be the architect for the airfield structures.


According to Mark Stanley, ACC historian functional area manager, Kahn’s use of decorative brickwork surrounds us here at Langley AFB and it is easy to take the architecture for granted when it is seen every day. 


“Visitors often remind us with remarks about Langley’s striking appearance. For that, we must take a moment to thank Kahn for his vision to create buildings that have stood the test of time,” said Stanley. “Today, those buildings remain useful, relevant and easy to admire.”


Langley, Squier and Khan are the beginnings of what Joint Base Langley-Eustis is today and it is fitting that the installation is joint with the U.S. Army, since this base began as an Army endeavor 100 years ago.


“These forefathers established the foundations for Langley Air Field, not knowing it would lead to an extraordinary 100-year history,” said Stanley.  “Their work to construct Langley Air Field should never be forgotten and neither should the services rendered over the past century.  The United States Air Force and Hampton, Virginia made significant contributions to aviation history and each day brings something new to expand upon the history our forefathers set in motion in 1917.”