Airports of Call
The choicest sites for airplane watching.
- By Russell Munson
- Air & Space magazine, September 2001
(Page 2 of 4)
Moses Lake Port Authority has great hopes and big plans for its airport. With long runways and a rural location, Grant County Airport would make a fine international freight hub, according to its supporters, and the Authority recently made a deal in which McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma can use Moses Lake as a training facility for its C-17 Globemaster IIIs. Long-term planners even envision this as a port for space shuttle replacements that can take off and land on conventional runways. For now, though, the 747s are enough to satisfy any airport bum.
LOCATED 35 MILES EAST OF DOWNTOWN Los Angeles and just six miles south of Ontario International Airport, Chino Airport was established in 1940 as Cal-Aero Academy. Thousands of U.S. Army Air Forces pilots were trained here by civilian instructors under government contract. It was the first civil school built in the form of an Army post, and was commanded at one time by Captain Robert L. Scott, who later wrote God Is My Co-Pilot. Many of the original wooden buildings still stand.
Aviation history is alive in every corner. Over at the Military Aircraft Restoration Corporation—the hangar with the C-123 transport parked out front—you’ll likely run across Joe Krzeminski and coworkers, restoring and maintaining rare aircraft. Krzeminski forms a strong allegiance to the particular history of each aircraft he restores. He’s currently working on a Douglas A-20 Havoc.
A few steps east of the C-123, Tony Ritzman is running up a Douglas A-26, which is flanked by three North American B-25s. Aero Traders, owned by Ritzman and his partner, Carl Scholl, specializes in the restoration of military aircraft from World War II and the period immediately after, primarily piston engine types. The company will also train you to fly them, or rent you a B-25 camera ship and crew for your next air-to-air photography session.
Sam Stewart was sitting in his Martin 404 when I hollered up the rear stairs to see if anyone was home. Stewart has owned ten 404s, but never more than three at once. He and his son, Ted, flew the Doobie Brothers band on this ex-Eastern Air Lines aircraft, serial number 14235, for seven years, through 1985.
You’ve probably heard of the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino, and its branch site at Valle Airport in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Planes of Fame, on the north side of Chino airport, started in 1957 as a dream of Edward Maloney. Housed in several buildings, one of which is an original Cal-Aero hangar, Planes of Fame has amassed some 150 aircraft, 30 of them flyable. The collection includes several one-of-a-kind treasures: the only flyable Northrop N9M 60-foot flying wing, the only flyable Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero model 52, the only flyable Boeing P-26 and P-12E, the last surviving Seversky AT-12, and Charles Nungesser’s Hanriot HD-1 Scout. Fighter Rebuilders, the museum’s on-site restoration facility, is also open to the public.
On the last afternoon of my Chino visit, I walked among the rows of T-hangars at the northeast corner. “Hangarminiums” would be more descriptive—some have kitchenettes, bathrooms, couches, and shops, as well as space for both winged and wheeled machines. In his hangar, paleontologist Michael Stokes has his office as well as his Cessna 140, his 1942 Dodge WC54 military ambulance, and his hangarmate’s Luscombe. Archie Lane’s head was in the wheel well of his Beech D-17S Staggerwing when I passed by—the airplane will be back in the air very soon, he said. One hangar row away, Robin Scott had parked his 1957 Ford Thunderbird and was cranking up his bright red Yak-52 for some aerobatic practice. A Fouga jet trainer, with its unique butterfly tail, taxied by Dave Hansen’s hangar party. Friends had parked their airplanes nearby, and an excellent band played Glenn Miller favorites.
FROM THE SUNNY SOUTHWEST I TRAVELED to the sunny southeast and Opa Locka Airport in Florida, a scant eight miles north of Miami International. I came here for three reasons, and they all begin with DC: DC-3, DC-6, and DC-7. Florida Air Cargo has four DC-3s and two Beech 18s. On the adjacent ramp, Florida Air Transport flies the sole DC-7 in commercial service. Its DC-6 is almost ready to go on the line. Both companies fly the old radial engine airplanes for profit, not nostalgia. But the thundering relics are unlikely to remain economically viable much longer when pitted against the costlier but far less maintenance-intensive turboprops like the Shorts 360.