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May 17, 2012

March Field Air Fest History

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Governor James Rolph (in top hat) and (to the right of Governor Rolph) Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Hap” Arnold tour the flightline during the governor’s visit in September, 1932. Visible behind the governor and Arnold are the massive Curtiss B-2 Condor bombers, twin-engine bi-planes with a maximum speed of 132 miles per hour and a bomb capacity of 2,500 pounds. The B-2 served for only a short time, 1928 to 1934, before being replaced in 1934 by the Martin B-10, an all-metal monoplane with a top speed of 213 miles per hour.

The March Field AirFest, which has been a biennial event since 1998, was not the first air show held at March Field. One of March Field’s most famous base commanders, then-Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Hap” Arnold, capitalized on March Field’s proximity to Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area by recruiting movie stars and other celebrities to attend large aerial spectaculars held at March Field. Stars such as Bebe Daniels were regular visitors to March Field, both as a celebrity in her own right and when she accompanied her equally-famous husband and aviator, Ben Lyon.

The Governor of Calif., James Rolph, visited the base with much pomp and circumstance in 1932. Accordingly, Hap Arnold pulled out all the stops, and the aerial demonstrations, parade, and static displays of aircraft on the flightline drew thousands of spectators. Governor Rolph was welcomed with a parade, troop reviews and an honor band, as well as the aerial review.

The March Drum and Bugle Corps, which greeted Governor Rolph on his visit and seen here in 1934, had plenty to keep them busy with the volume of celebrities, dignitaries, and Air Corps general officers that regularly visited March Field. The balcony behind them opens up to the base commander’s office in building 470, and faces the flightline. Building 470 has served as the headquarters building for March Field since it was built in 1929, and still serves that function today. Part of the March Field Historic District, the building is a beautiful example of the Mission Revival style of architecture, a style used throughout the base and Southern California.

In September, 1937, 15-year-old Richard Lockett, a native of Santa Ana, visited March Field for one of the by-then renowned air shows. Though Hap Arnold had moved on to serve as Assistant Chief of the Air Corps in 1936, his legacy and the air shows continued at March Field. Richard photographed the aircraft on the flightline, including this C-33, the Army Air Corps designation for the Douglas DC-2. The C-33, while frequently overshadowed by its successor, the ubiquitous Douglas C-47, was an extremely capable aircraft. During the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race between London, England, and Melbourne, Australia, a DC-2 owned by the Dutch airline KLM completed the race in second place, behind the British de Havilland DH.88, which was built specifically for the race. The DC-2 crew not only flew a course that was 1,000 miles longer than the prescribed course, they also made every passenger stop and carry mail.

During his visit in 1937, young Richard Lockett also photographed an Army Air Corps amphibious airplane, the Douglas Dolphin. Only 58 Dolphins were manufactured, 18 of which were purchased by the Army Air Corps. Variously designated as the C-21, C-26 and C-29 during its operational history, the airplane was originally intended to accompany bomber units over water to serve as navigators and as rescue aircraft in case of a forced water landing. However, the Dolphins proved too slow to keep up with the bomber formations, and were redesignated as OA-3, and assigned to observation duties. Finally, the planes were transferred to rescue and resupply duties, and even loaned to the Treasury Department during prohibition to patrol suspected smuggling routes along the US-Mexico border.




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