Built for Air Power
Hampton is home to one of the earliest military bases in America specifically built for air power. Langley Flying Field, as it was then called, witnessed and nurtured the growth of the United States Air Force.
The story of the land embraced by the northwest and southwest branches of Back River precedes the birth of the nation. First, it was hunted and cultivated by the Kecoughtan Indians, then planted by colonial landowners. Eventually, because it was open, flat and close to water, it would prove attractive to the military. At the onset of World War 1, as combatants clashed in the air over Europe, the United States recognized the need for an airfield and proving ground and purchased 1,650 acres in what was then Elizabeth City County. The Army Air Service trained with the Curtiss JN-4 biplanes, de Havilland bombers and, briefly, hydrogen-filled dirigibles; a portion of the base is still referred to as the LTA, or lighter-than-air area. The base was named Langley Field after aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley.
In 1921, the flamboyant Gen. Billy Mitchell, considered the father of the modern Air Force, led bombing runs from Langley on captured German warships anchored off the Virginia coast, proving how lethal air power could be. "The first battles of any future war will be air battles," he wrote. "The
nation winning them is practically certain to win the whole war." Meanwhile, as Langley Field grew, the designation of the military aviation group changed. In 1918 it was called the Army Air Service, in 1926 the Army Air Corps, and in 1941, as America entered World War II, the Army Air Forces. Finally, in 1947, it became a separate branch of the military, the United States Air Force, and a year later, Langley Field took its present name, Langley Air Force Base.
Langley Field and Plane - Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum
Langley Air Corps Barracks-1932
Dodd Hall at Langley
Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum, Cheyne Collection
Boeing Bomber YB9 - Courtesy of the Hampton History Museum