In 1968, country and western performer Doc Burch grew tired of the Los Angeles scene, with all its smog and drama, and went looking for a life change.
Many of us today would envy what he did, as he packed up his car and drove until he found that special place to get away from it all and start a new life doing something he loved. When his 1965 Ford rolled onto the property of Quartz Hill Airport that February, he started a new love affair that would last for 20 years.
Unlike nowadays, after he saw the airport property a deal was struck that day with the operator. With just a handshake, a month-to-month lease for 20 years was agreed upon. This important piece of Quartz Hill history would continue on and define the community as much as the water tank on the hill.
I knew Doc for quite a while. We attended church together in Quartz Hill, where he helped start Christ our Savior Church in downtown Quartz Hill. Getting to know him and his personality, I can just imagine how fun that airport would have been to hang around.
During that time period, Doc expanded his flight operations to San Fernando, Mojave, Agua Dulce and Fox Airfield, but he called Quartz Hill Airport home. He moved into a mobile home on the property with his wife Vivian, where they would put in what was called an “airport day,” 4 a.m. to midnight. Doc fixed airplanes, gave flying lessons and ran the cafe. Doc had a fleet of 10 trainer planes at the field, but as costs escalated, he slowly depleted his inventory down to just a couple.
Doc was a showman, and in running an airport he took that talent and made it work for the entertainment of the Antelope Valley. There was nothing like a Quartz Hill Airport air show! It was more like a day of competition, as he would have local flyers compete in ribbon cutting (a roll of toilet paper tossed out the window of a plane and how many cuts you could do before it hit the ground) and bombing accuracy with bags of flour! It was said the safest place to be on the field was in the center of that target! After a day of activities and rides for the public, a good old-fashioned hanger dance took place that lasted well into the night. Doc really knew what people wanted and he always delivered.
Doc always knew that the Airport was running on borrowed time and that sooner or later land development would bring an end to this important part of Antelope Valley history. In the last five years of the Airport’s operation, about five airplanes were tied down and Doc had stopped giving flying lessons. The cafe continued on, as locals and airport bums would come in to experience the sweet smell of eggs and bacon, and grilled onions on hamburgers that were all made with the masterful touch of his wife, Vivian. Sitting at an old-school airport cafe and hanger, flying with Doc and some old-timers is what they would say is “good medicine for the soul” for those who embrace the flying world.
In February 1988 the history book was about to close, as Doc was given notice to move the buildings. New housing was to replace the Airport, so he was to shut down all operations and vacate. All the planes were flown out but one, which sadly was towed from the field. Doc Burch flew the very last plane out of Quartz Hill Airport and as he watched the hanger and buildings being disassembled, he said the words, “I’m sad to see it go — but I always knew the Airport and I were on borrowed time.”
The little Airport that could — the Airport that defined and gave a name to a community, the Airport that trained more than 1,000 pilots and helped to license up to 500 of them — was no more. The freedom of flying and to land and take off from a field with no control tower, with just you, the pilot, making all the decisions, is what the freedom of flying was all about back in those days. It made the small-town airport experience truly special for all of those that enjoyed that sense of freedom and is missed even today.
Before the land was given over to houses, it was home to joggers and horses and an occasional remote-control plane. Nowadays, many of us that drive the curvy road around the Airport’s name sake, Quartz Hill Mountain, look over at a tract of houses and remember a time not so long ago, when the word “freedom” and the good life that went with it were alive and well, and served up on two runways and a small cafe at a place called Quartz Hill Airport. Oh, how we miss it so!