Jul 14, 2016 at 09:44 PM

Santa Barbara Airport History: WWII

By Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation

In the years leading up to WWII the U.S. Army became involved with the airfield in Santa Barbara, the current site of the Santa Barbara Airport. Immediately after the war started, the U.S. Army Air Corps added revetments and stationed P-40 Warhawk interceptors and twin-engine antisubmarine aircraft at the airport. The U.S. Marine Corps, looking for Marine Corps air bases to be established on the West Coast, selected Santa Barbara (along with Mohave, El Centro and El Toro) as one of the air station sites. The weather was perfect, runways were already in place, a location next the Pacific Ocean, and a supportive community was very attractive to the Marines, however it was far from an ideal site. Because the airfield was built on a slough, drainage was poor and at high tide some portions of the airfield were flooded. In addition, the main coastal north/south route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Highway 101, bisected the base and would have to be relocated. A leasing agreement was reached with the city in February 1942 (can you imagine how long it would take today?) and additional property was purchased.  Construction of the base started in May 1942. The U.S. Army Air Corps left the base shortly after the construction was started.

The first tenants in June 1942 of MCAS Santa Barbara consisted of the forward echelon of Marine Air Group (MAG) -24 with LtCol. F.G. Cowie in command, scout bombing squadrons VMSB-243 and VMSB-244 flying the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless.  As Marines are expeditionary, they were well familiar with building up a site from scratch. The dry high ground at the northeast end of the airport was chosen for the initial tent camp. The only water available at the time was in town so it was trucked daily to the base.  Two vacant hangers were used for additional barracks and a mess hall. The station headquarters was set up in a United Airlines terminal building and the squadron areas were temporarily located on the former Army Air Corps revetments. Additional barracks were built on a high, dry mesa southwest of the airfield. This is now the location of the University of California at Santa Barbara campus. 

To learn more about the Santa Barbara Airport and the Wings of Honor public art piece, visit www.wingsofhonorsantabarbara.org

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