Friday, May 25, 2012

Burbank Gala

The greater Los Angeles area in the late 1920s was awash in small airfields. It was the Golden Age of Aviation, and airports, as well as aviators, clamored for attention, business and supremacy. Glendale’s Grand Central Air Terminal, which opened in 1929, boasted of the west coast’s first concrete runway. Not to be outdone, the nearby city of Burbank encouraged the construction of what was then called United Airport (today Bob Hope International), which was touted as America’s first multi-million dollar airfield. It was built and operated by the United Airport & Transportation Corp, the giant conglomerate that was later broken up to become Boeing Aircraft, United Airlines and United Technologies.

While the Grand Central Air Terminal’s opening had been a big gala affair, Burbank’s had to be bigger and better. It was a three-day event, held on Memorial Day weekend, 1930 that featured a series of air races (a total of five closed-course air races held over the three days, as air racing was much more popular sport then than it is today), as well as a mass appearance of Army aircraft, fitting since it was, after all, Memorial Day.

The original Hangar 2, which has since been moved to the far
west end of BUR, where it has housed biz jets belonging to,
among others, John Travolta and Roy Disney.
The entire 95th Aero Squadron and their Boeing P-12 “Pursuits” from March Airfield as well as the 11th Bombardment Squadron, flying Curtiss B-2 Condors and Keystone LB-7 Bombers from Rockwell Field (today’s NAS North Island, in San Diego) arrived on Saturday morning, May 30th, for massed fly-bys, as well as static display of their aircraft. Our photo shows some of these parked on the field after their arrival. A program of the festivities can be seen here. Interestingly, the P-12s are named as “Wasps” and the LB-7s as “Hornets” in the program, reflecting not the name of the aircraft, but the type of engines used.

Just past the trees, you can see the dome of the Portal of The
Folded Wings at Valhalla Cemetery, where a number of aviation
"greats", including the Wright Bros' mechanic, Charles Talyor,
are buried.
The festivities kicked off on Friday afternoon with the arrival of the two army squadrons, as well as the Goodyear blimp Volunteer. Two class air races were held, and the evening finished off with an 8:30 pm “Dance on the Roof Garden, Terminal Building”. This must have been quite the swanky affair…and oh, that the vastly remodeled Burbank terminal building still had this venue!

The main terminal building, which still stands, albeit highly
remodeled. This is where, on both the Friday and Saturday
nights of the event, VIPs could "Dance on the Roof Garden."
In the distance, to the left of the terminal, is the original Hangar
One, which like Two has been moved to the west end of the
airport. It houses the US headquarters of the regional cargo
airline Ameriflight (disclaimer: proud former employee).
On Saturday morning, two additional squadrons of Navy planes arrived, and more races were held, including a two-plane-team relay race, in which a passenger had to dash from the first plane to a second waiting one after the first lap of the race. A race for women pilots, as well as an unlimited class race was also held. The final event of the day, the William E. Boeing Trophy Race was for members of the 95th Aero Squadron. At the end of the day on Sunday, all the Army and Navy planes formed up together in one giant departing formation.

This photo also gives an interesting juxtaposition on the threshold of a crucial time in aviation history: the aircraft shown here in 1930, both the fighters and the bombers, are little changed in configuration and technology from 15 years before, in the midst of WWI. And yet a mere 15 years after this photo, there were jets flying through the sky.

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