Wings Over Washington

In more innocent times, it was okay to buzz the Capitol.

(Library of Congress)

These days, you have to be either crazy or confused to fly a private airplane over downtown Washington D.C. But it wasn’t always that way. Early in the 20th century, even the U.S. Capitol building had an open-skies policy, with aircraft of all types regularly flying over the dome or landing near the building’s historic eastern steps.

The first known photo of the Capitol taken from the air was in 1897, courtesy of William Eddy and his kite-flown camera. By 1913, wire-frame aircraft were flying over the building or landing on the plaza near the steps, a practice that continued into the 1920s and 30s. The rules tightened up in 1938 after a U.S. Army airplane crashed on Capitol Hill, and more restrictions were added during World War II.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, Washington has been a virtual no-fly-zone, with the restricted area now radiating 30 nautical miles from the dome of the Capitol. As a result, scenes like this one— Lincoln Beachey flying a Curtiss over Washington in 1913—have become distant memories.

Fortunately, we still have pictures (see the gallery below).

Flying Camera


William A. Eddy and his assistant Edward Herbert Young suspended a camera from a tandem line of nine Eddy Kites in September 1897, to snap this photo of the Capitol dome and grounds.

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