Feb 16, 2016 at 07:50 AM

Wings of Honor – A tribute to those who served at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara during WWII

By Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation

By Fred Lopez

In February 1942, three months after the start of WWII with Japan, Santa Barbara Airport was leased to the U.S. Navy to create Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Barbara. The first Marines arrived in June 1942 and by the middle of 1943, the airport’s footprint had grown from 580 acres to 1,490 acres. The base became a small city capable of supporting several thousand Marines. Marine Corps squadrons sent to MCAS Santa Barbara comprised a mix of combat veterans and newer pilots who were sent to form new squadrons, retrofit returning squadrons from the Pacific and to train for the arduous task of flying from small aircraft carriers to support Marines assaulting enemy-held lands.

At its peak, the air station housed about 500 officers, 3,100 enlisted men and 440 women Marines. In total, 19 fighter squadrons, 10 torpedo bombing squadrons and four scout bombing squadrons were trained at MCAS Santa Barbara. After the war’s end, the Department of the Navy wanted to make MCAS Santa Barbara a permanent air station. The City of Santa Barbara resisted this since it also needed an airport, so in March 1946 the base was decommissioned and the remaining personnel were transferred to El Toro, California. When the U.S. Government gave up the land, Santa Barbara Airport received 928 acres and the Regents of the University of California received over 400 acres, now the site of the University of California, Santa Barbara.


A Vision for a One-of-a-Kind Tribute

Approximately six years ago, Karen Ramsdell, then Santa Barbara Airport Director, suggested to a group of military veterans that there should be some sort of tribute to the United States Marine Corps and that the public ought to know that Santa Barbara Airport was once Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. A committee was formed from the Executive Board of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Museum and Library (now Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation) to make recommendations to the board on how this could be implemented.

The committee’s vision is a one-of-a-kind tribute that honors all who served and commemorates the historical significance of the Marine Corps Air Station at the Santa Barbara Airport. Breathtaking in scope, this feat of art and engineering, illuminated at night for dramatic effect, would draw visitors in to discover the rich history of our airport. This is to be a lasting testament to the Air Station. Wings of Honor will tell the story and symbolize, for generations to come, the vital role Santa Barbara played during World War II.


Designing Wings of Honor

The committee commissioned local artist Douglas Lochner to come up with a design and engineering specifications for the Wings of Honor tribute. This is Douglas Lochner's seventh public art commission. The vision as seen by artist Douglas Lochner: “My quest was focused on conveying the spirit of servicemen and women. To me, it is not about bullets, bombs and bayonets, but rather about honor, loyalty, service and sacrifice. The sculpture is a celebration of those that fight for our freedom. It is uplifting and emotionally soaring, a physical reminder of the significant sacrifice made by these brave men and women.”

The design shows two massive cantilevered glass wings, each weighing over five tons. Each free-standing wing consists of six separate glass feathers, layered and laminated to form a wing. The longest feather is twenty feet and the feathers overlap to form the aesthetic and graceful wing replica. The base of each feather is embedded in a two-foot tall stainless steel support which is bolted to a massive below-ground footing. The glass wings angle over the walkway creating an arch through which people can walk and behold. The glass has a special coating that uses sunlight and static electricity, thereby repelling dirt and water keeping the sculpture spotless and luminous.


The Visitor Experience

As passersby flow through the airport, we will be touching high-quality population demographics. This sculpture’s lifecycle measures in decades, yet will always be visually in the present. The Wings of Honor has a life of well over 75 years with a potential of 60 million interactions. A high percentage of airport customers are local residents and will be repeat viewers, which will reinforce recognition.


Careful consideration of aircraft safety and walkway aesthetics in the design of the illumination of Wings of Honor results in a stunning surprise at night for a first-time visitor and a powerful remembrance for the repeat visitor. The glass of the sculpture is edge-lighted by robust LED modules inside the base. LEDs will illuminate the night-time sculpture with no evident source of light. The lighting design eliminates glare while enhancing the ethereal quality of the artwork.


The walkways, landscaping, descriptive visuals, electronic content and restful benches combine with the sculpture to create an environment steeped in symbolism while adding knowledge of local history thereby enriching the airport visitor experience. One of Santa Barbara's foremost landscape architects has been retained to incorporate native plants and ensure the site complements the existing airport landscaping.


An Engineering Marvel

Once completed, this will be an engineering marvel and the largest free-standing cantilevered glass sculpture in the world. Nothing this big has ever been built from contiguous sheets of glass. Fabrication begins with precision cutting and polishing of the glass sheets, each sheet more than twenty-four feet in length. The sheets are then heat tempered, adding strength to the glass. Then the individual layers are placed in a massive autoclave where they are heat laminated in a vacuum. As a result of the precision and scale, the capabilities to fabricate this sculpture are not available in North America. Manufacturers are available overseas, so the sculpture will be fabricated in Europe and shipped to Santa Barbara for installation.


What’s Next?

The project has received approvals from the:

? Airport Commission (SB)

? Santa Barbara City Council

? Visual Art in Public Places (SB)

? County Arts Advisory (SB)

? Architectural Board of Review

? Historic Landmark Society

The estimated budget to completion is $3.1 million with the fabrication and installation timeframe of approximately 12 to 18 months. To support this project, donate here.



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