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Gateway to Northern Virginia

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks involving hijacked airliners, a flight restricted zone (FRZ) was created around the city. It lies at the center of a larger special flight rules area (SFRA), which pilots can fly through if they follow proper procedures. The FRZ is far more restrictive and all pilots must undergo a security check, be fingerprinted, and receive a unique PIN before flying to any of the Maryland Three airports, a process that can take 14 days or more. Since 2001, these three airports within the FRZ have faced financial challenges because many pilots do not want to bother with the security process or risk violating the SFRA/FRZ boundaries.

So, why go? If you’re planning a vacation in Washington, D.C., or often have business there, the Maryland Three are the closest airports where general aviation aircraft can land. But, be certain to complete the required FAA online course (required for VFR operations within a 60-nautical-mile radius of the DCA VOR/DME), get your security clearance, and know how to enter the SFRA and FRZ or you’ll meet some F–16 pilots and law enforcement officers.

Potomac Airfield

Potomac Airfield is located 10 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., just beyond the beltway (Interstate 495) and five miles from Joint Base Andrews, home base to Air Force One. It’s one mile west of another of the Maryland Three airports, Washington Executive Airport / Hyde Field, so be certain you’re landing at the correct airport. The third of the Maryland Three is College Park Airport, eight miles north of Washington.

Potomac Airfield would be the closest airport for visits to Alexandria, Virginia, or Washington, D.C., if arriving from the south. If you’re coming from the north, land at College Park. Pilots might use Potomac Airfield as a convenient base for business trips to Joint Base Andrews, the Pentagon, or any of the government agencies in the area.

Potomac Airfield is not built for large aircraft, with a single asphalt runway that is 2,665 feet long and 40 feet wide at an elevation of 118 feet msl. The FAA lists it in “good” condition. There are no landing fees and 100LL aviation fuel is available, although transient pilots should plan to arrive during normal business hours. On landing, or even before, it’s probably best to contact GT Aviation, a flight school on the field which is usually tasked to pump the fuel for transients. If you have a mechanical problem, they can provide maintenance, too. Pilots who are based at Potomac have the option to join a club that provides discounted fuel to members.

Bring your own tiedown equipment and expect to park on the grass—it’s not a large airport. The airport facilities are basic—restrooms, a flight planning room, and a lounge.

There are three Enterprise Rent-A-Car offices reasonably close to the airfield, in Fort Washington, Clinton, and Oxon Hill, Maryland. Arrange ahead of time for a car and be mindful of that office’s opening time. The Branch Avenue Metrorail station is eight miles north; pilots could take a cab or a ride-share service to the station and take the train into the district, Virginia, and Maryland. If your destination is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,or anywhere in the district, this is the way to go.

The Potomac Airfield website offers a large webcam image with a view of the current conditions.

See, do, and stay

Eight miles away, and a good place to find a hotel room, is National Harbor, a waterfront development arranged around the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which hosts many events and conventions. National Harbor features the Tanger Outlets —with more than 80 shops—and many hotels, restaurants, and an MGM casino. The development overlooks the Potomac River from the Maryland side, facing the colonial town of Alexandria, Virginia, with Washington, D.C., on the horizon upriver. Visitors can view the surroundings from the Capital Wheel, a 180-foot Ferris wheel on the riverfront.

A water taxi can take you to Alexandria, Virginia— “George  Washington’s Hometown” —which is known for its colonial history and well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. Wander the brick sidewalks and visit the Washington family pew at Christ Church, where George and Martha Washington worshiped. Seek out the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, a little-known or visited spot behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, and quaff an ale at historic Gadsby’s Tavern.

Mount Vernon, the Washingtons’ home, is 16 miles from Potomac Airfield and nine miles south on the George Washington Parkway from Alexandria. The mansion is open to tour, in addition to an extensive museum where you can see Washington’s “wooden” teeth, his firearms and military uniforms, and the family’s collection of silver and dinnerware. Each summer, it hosts Revolutionary War reenactors firing muskets and cannon, which is popular with kids and very loud and smoky.

No trip to the national capital area would be complete without visiting the National Mall and Memorial Parks to view famous monuments and take in the many museums within walking distance.

Flying in, a scenic approach to Potomac Airfield would be from the south over the Potomac River past Mount Vernon, 8.5 miles southwest of the airport. Prohibited Area P-73 overlies the estate, but it’s not too large, so you can fly quite close.

From any of the Maryland Three airports, the capital region offers weeks of sites to see and outdoor activities on land or water.

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