1928 photo of the Ford Tri-Motor owned by the Union Oil Company on the occasion of the airport’s dedication.
How did the Lompoc Airport come about? Who or whom started it? When? How? Who were the first pilots at the airport and where did they come from? How did it evolve into what it is today? -Dick Davidson
Hi Dick. Thanks for your inquiry. I’ve included some information taken from local newspaper articles in 1960, when the new airport was built. This info was quite interesting, as it included history of the old airport. I hope this helps to answer your question.
The first Lompoc airport was on the property between H and O Streets and College and Pine Avenues, where Lompoc High School and the Lompoc Shopping Center now sit. In 1928, when it was dedicated, this site was far out in the country.
First dedicated on November 4, 1928, the airport consisted only of a field of tall grass and a windsock. Twenty-one planes of the Army and Navy roared over Lompoc that cloudy day, then bounced down on the little field to the amazement of wide-eyed farmers and schoolboys. Also landing at the field for the big day were planes from Santa Maria and a big Ford Tri-motor plane owned by Union Oil Company. Leading out at the opening ceremony was Lompoc Airport Committee Chairman D.C. Saunders, along with the rest of his committee. After the ceremony, the military planes took off and thrilled spectators with some aerial acrobatics, Army and Navy style.
The first airport manager was M.R. Bellman, who only held the post for one month and was replaced by C.A. Ralphs, chief test pilot for Santa Maria Airlines, Inc.
Flying began to make headway in the Valley in March of 1930 when the Lompoc Flying Club was formed. The club called for a donation of $100 per person. With the money, a Swallow bi-plane was purchased for the club to use. The club survived the 30’s with a hanger being built, which was 50 feet square, costing the club $1,628. It was the first building to be razed when the old airport was sold and moved to its present site.
On November 18, 1942, the Lompoc City Council voted unanimously to grant permission to the government the usage of the airport for a lighter than air craft (blimp) installation. It was to be manned by the Navy. The total acreage taken over for the blimp base amounted to 64.81. The County consent was also obtained for the changeover. The Lompoc site had been picked by the Navy after extensive weather tests along the coastal area. Construction of the new base began in December of 1942. Quarters were constructed on the airport for Navy personnel, along with paving of the entire area and the erection of a huge mooring mast for the blimps. The function of the blimps was to patrol the coast along California for enemy submarines. The aircraft carried powerful depth charges that could be dropped if a sub was sighted. Many times the blimps returned home to Lompoc without the charges on board.
The last year that the Navy occupied the old airport site, an auxiliary field was instituted on the mesa, adjacent to the city dump (present site of Bedlo’s Auto Wrecking, adjacent to Mesa Oaks). It was there that local civilian pilots kept their planes and landed and took off. Rev. Al Waer managed the temporary facility, offering flying lessons and charter services.
Official Navy flights from the Lompoc Airport ended September 25, 1945. The installation was abandoned by the military a year later. The City re-purchased the land taken over by the Navy for $5,850. Flying gained popularity after WWII when local civilian pilots once again utilized the airport.
In 1960, the new airport, at its current location was dedicated as a county airport. The old airport property was sold, and Lompoc’s first shopping center was built on the site. By 1960, the town had grown up to and around the airport, causing great concern for aircraft and property owners alike. The airport property was appraised as having a total value of $1,210,000. The 27 acres on the easterly end of the property, zoned commercial, was valued at $30,000 per acre and the remaining 8 blocks were valued at $50,000 per block.
The new site covered approximately 140 acres. All funds realized from the sale of the old airport were used for development of the new facility, as stipulated by the federal government. Development of an adequate airport was declared a major milestone in Lompoc’s advancement. The requirement for air service was acute as a result of Vandenberg Air Force Base and Point Arguello. Contractors working on those bases had both airfreight and personnel transportation needs. The FAA stipulated that the old landing strip continue to operate until the new facility was completed.
It’s interesting to note that in 1959, the county wanted out of the airport business. However, it wasn’t until 1991 that the City of Lompoc obtained ownership of the airport. The county had never had the desire to improve the airport, since the economic impact would primarily affect only the City. After the City took ownership, the airport was improved greatly, with a runway extension completed just last year to accommodate corporate jets.