May 20, 2016

Photo Essay: Santa Paula, the Vintage Airport That Rose from Disaster

If you ever wonder whether or not private aviation is still alive and well—or whether it's disappeared with the body of Amelia Earhart—all you have to do is visit one of the many small airports of Southern California.

Sure, long gone are the days of parties thrown by Leslie Brand, who required you to fly and not drive in...

...but when you've got these gorgeous mountains and big fluffy clouds against ridiculously blue skies...'s no wonder that people are still looking for opportunities to get lifted...

...whether they're the pilot...

...or the passenger.

At Santa Paula Airport, it doesn't really matter where you're going... long as you're going there in style.

The no-frills airport and its hangars let the vintage planes shine.

They keep your eyes on the skies.

But it wasn't always like this.

Santa Paula Airport was built on top of land that had been wiped clean by the St. Francis Dam flood.

Two ranches that had been devastated by the flood—each with its own airstrip—were combined to create the airport, which locals built with their own bare hands. The airport opened in 1930—just two years after the disaster and smack dab in the middle of the Golden Age of Aviation.

Since many of the original structures remain, it's the perfect place for people to store and display their vintage aircraft (and, of course, advertise scenic rides). In total, there are around 300 planes here at any given time. The pilots are mostly locals, though the airport has occasionally attracted Hollywood types like Kirk Douglas and Steve McQueen.

The Santa Paula Airport was actually flooded again in 2005 after rains flooded the nearby Santa Clara River (which is the same exact path the St. Francis Dam flood took nearly 80 years before), but it's since recovered.

And anybody who wants to learn how to fly a Cessna civilian plane can attend the airport's resident flight school, CP Aviation. Amazingly, if you're old enough to drive a car by yourself, you're old enough to fly a plane by yourself.

They specialize in Emergency Maneuver and Aerobatics training, so don't be surprised to see some planes spinning around in the airspace above the airport if you visit!

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Van Nuys Airport
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport
Photo Essay: Long Beach Airport's 90th Anniversary Fly-In
Photo Essay: LA's First Commercial Airport, Then & Now
Photo Essay: The Path of Destruction of the St. Francis Dam Flood, 86 Years Later

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