Many smaller General Aviation airports have a rich history that serves as a link to the current airport. One example is Mesa Del Rey Airport, a public use airport locatedone mile northeast of King City that serves Monterey County, California.
While conducting our last safety inspection, King City planner, Maricruz Aguilar-Navarro, pointed out the historical attributes of the airport. She provided division staff with copies of historical documents, old photographs and airport planning documents. After reviewing the airport’s Business Implementation Plan, staff toured the WWII pilot training facility, built in 1940 and entered the refurbished Pilot Training Registration Building. The facility is now called, “The Mesa Business Park.”
Some of the historical facts discovered about the airport and former military facility: This facility, along with 56 Army and Air Force contract flying schools under military direction in WWII, trained over 400,000 pilots. At its peak, they flew 700 hours per day off Mesa Del Rey with 130 instructors. They graduated 10,000 cadets, first flying Stearmans, then Ryans and finally Stearmans again.
The planes were huddled in revetments, (barricades constructed to protect against damage or injury from explosives), adjacent to the field to protect them in the event of an enemy attack, but during the day they filled the air space between San Ardo and Greenfield, a 32 mile stretch with King City in the middle.
Buildings were completed by May 1941 and included five barracks, a hospital, an administration building, a mess hall, and two hangars. The complex accommodated 280 cadets with one instructor
for every five students. There were 110 mechanics and 45 administrative staff.
The U.S. Navy took over in February 1945 training fighter and torpedo plane pilots. Approximately 900 men were stationed in the Naval Auxiliary Station, King City until the end of the war. The property reverted to King City in 1951, and in 1957, it was purchased by the Basic Vegetable and Dehydration firm.
Meanwhile, back in the 21st century… One of the airport staff opened an aircraft hangar and Ken Erickson, instructor of the Tutima Academy, approached and began filling us in on the activities of the
Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety owned by Sean D. Tucker. This somewhat obscure airport is one of the locations for one of the most prominent aerobatic training classes in the United States. The
course introduces the building blocks of aerobatic flight while emphasis is placed on exacting methods of recovery.
The Mesa Del Rey Airport is located close to California’s central coast and boasts some of the best flying weather in the U.S. The nearby Pacific Ocean keeps the weather mild, and the Big Sur Mountains to the west block most of the winter rains. It is reported to have at least 360 days of flyable VFR (visual flight rules) weather per year. The 4,485 of runway accommodates an average of 22 aircraft operating per day. The airport is open on a 24/7 basis.
Editor’s Note: If you are surpised that California has a Division of Aeronautics check out their excellent video on this web site or go to their web site. They perform great work for our state.