For nearly half a century, the Santa Monica Airport was the home base of the Douglas Aircraft Company, which produced some of the most revolutionary aircraft in aviation history.
As such, the airport has had ties to some monumental achievements in aviation, including the first circumnavigation of the world on Douglas World Cruisers in 1924 and the first flight of the DC-3, a commercial airliner that was also used for military transport, in 1935. The DC-3 has been credited as one of the top three pieces of equipment that helped win World War II.
In addition to Donald Douglas, Sr., who founded the company that was the airport’s main user and city’s largest employer for decades, some of the most storied figures in the history of flying at one point called the Santa Monica Airport home. Female pioneer aviators such as Amelia Earheart and Pancho Barnes took off from the airstrip for the first Powder Puff Derby race in 1929.
“The airport has been the home for many important events and personalities in aviation,” Santa Monica Airport Director Robert Trimborn said.
The many feats of the Douglas company that originated from the Santa Monica Airport as well as other historic accomplishments in the aviation and aerospace industries are highlighted in a new Museum of Flying, opening at the airport Saturday, Feb. 25. The museum, which is returning to the airport after a 10-year absence, is located at a new 3.2 -acre site adjacent to the DC-3 Monument and statue of Douglas.
A ribbon cutting ceremony featuring museum and airport officials will be held at 10 a.m., although the22,000-square foot museum at 3100 Airport Ave. will be open for visitors throughout the day.
The museum pays special tribute to Douglas and his company with various artifacts and exhibits, but also features displays on other major aviation and aerospace companies from Southern California, including Boeing, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed, North American and Northrop Grumman.
The Museum of Flying first opened in 1989 on the north side of the airport but due to economic challenges, the facility was forced to close in 2002. The collection and many of the aircraft have been stored in hangars at the airport or were loaned to other museums.
Some of those who have been closely involved in the resurrection of the museum were pleased that it is finally opening, noting that the airport is a fitting spot for such a tribute to aviation.
“I’m thrilled that it’s finally come to fruition; it’s been almost a decade-long process to get to this point,” said Trimborn, who noted that the effort involved the City Council and a number of other groups.
“The airport is a very historic place and a lot of historic events happened here so it’s wonderful that we can provide a facility to educate the public, especially kids on the history of the airport and aviation in general.”
Museum managing director Dan Ryan also spoke of the dedicated effort to bring back the museum to its Santa Monica home, saying the project would not have been possible without the help of volunteers and donors. The nonprofit museum is in the midst of a $5 million capital campaign to support the cost of construction and the pre-opening costs. The facility aims to preserve the history of aviation and aerospace in Southern California, while educating and inspiring visitors through its exhibits, Ryan said.
Pointing to the Douglas company’s accolades, Ryan noted that all of its historic achievements in flight started “right there in Santa Monica.”
“It’s very exciting to know that we are rebirthing this museum and doing something to preserve this airport’s history and more importantly, inspiring the Santa Monica community to achieve great things and reach for the stars,” Ryan said.
Trimborn hopes that the museum will provide visitors with a “greater understanding of the history of aviation and its impact on our culture.”
Beverly Hoskinson, a former Douglas company employee for 50 years and member of the Douglas White Oaks Ranch Trust, said she was delighted to see the museum return to the airport and believes it will help educate visitors about the memorable events that took place there. Many family members of the thousands of Douglas employees still live in the area but new generations can now learn about the company’s legacy, she said.
“This is bringing back the history and heritage of what started right there at the Santa Monica Airport. It all began there and it’s a wonderful thing,” Hoskinson said.
“People in Santa Monica and its vicinity should feel very fortunate to have that history and they can now begin to see and appreciate that.”
Having the museum and its displays situated next to the DC-3 monument and Douglas statue can offer a sense of inspiration for people who come to the area, Hoskinson believes.
“Now to have the museum there makes it such a wonderful venue for looking at that time and place and inspiring people to what they can achieve,” she said.
Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown touched on the high points the airport experienced during the Douglas era but noted that in recent years, the airport has been a source of controversy with resident concerns on jet pollution and runway safety.
“Long before it became the bane of resident neighbors, Santa Monica Airport was historic for global circumnavigation, national defense and aircraft innovation, all of which will make the new museum educational and entertaining,” McKeown said.
Ryan said that the museum has expanded its focus from primarily World War II-era aircraft at the previous facility to a “much broader representation of the history of aviation.” The Museum of Flying features nearly two dozen aircraft chronicling the history of flight, from a Wright Flyer replica to aircraft from the jet age.
In addition to the aircraft displays, the various features include collections of aviation art and photography, artifacts and items from famous aviators, a theater, as well as an outdoor display plaza for visiting aircraft. A key physical feature of the museum is the nose section of a Federal Express 727, which juts out of the side of the building, and there are interactive educational exhibits for children such as a T-33 cockpit trainer and mini flight simulator.
Trimborn said one of the defining displays in the future will be the Douglas World Cruiser New Orleans, which is owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and is currently undergoing renovation.
The mezzanine of the new facility features a replica of the Douglas Aircraft Company executive board room and recreation of Douglas’ office, along with some of his personal belongings like bagpipes.
The museum will also be home to the recently established California Aviation Hall of Fame. Each year the Hall of Fame will induct and honor individuals that have made a significant mark on the aviation and aerospace industries.
“We are excited that the museum will once again be able to preserve and present the history of aviation and inspire children to excel in academics with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” museum chairman David Price said.
The museum will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $6 for children ages 6 to 12, or free for children ages 5 and under. Information, www.museumofflying.com.