National Aeromodeling Historic Site 2013 - 

Marine Corps Air Station, Tustin Hanger

On October 19, 2013, the AMA Executive Council recognized the “North Hangar” Building #28, at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Tustin, California, as a historic site under the AMA’s National Aeromodeling Heritage Program. The north hangar and its sister south hangar are also recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as National Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

Constructed during World War II, the north and south hangars were built by the US Navy as lighter-than-air bases to house reconnaissance blimps. Because of wartime material shortages, the hangars were built primarily of wood and measure more than a football field wide, three football fields long, and approximately 17 stories tall. They are two of the largest free-standing wooden buildings in the world. Model aircraft flying began in the north hangar after WWII and included events such as the Western States Open Contest, Plymouth Internats eliminations, and the 1952, 1955, 1959, 1963, and 1967 indoor National Aeromodeling Championships. During the 1960s and 1970s, the F1D Indoor US Team selection events were also held in the hangar. For multiple-day events, it was common for fliers to sleep overnight in the building.

Famous indoor fliers such as Joe Bilgri, Bill Atwood, Robert Champine (NASA test pilot), Clarence Mather, Erv Rodemsky, Warren Williams, Cezar Banks, Larry Calliau, Bob Randolph, and Steve Brown were regulars to the site—considered “hallowed ground” with the best flying conditions of any indoor flying site in the world.

With the combination of excellent flying conditions and great modelers, it was only time before AMA national and FAI world indoor endurance records for Catapult Glider, Hand-Launched Glider, and Rubber Power were established. In 1973, Ron Wittman set a Category IV Indoor Hand-Launched Glider two-flight duration record of 2:58.6 seconds in the hangar, a record that stood for 36 years. In 1997, Steve Brown set a single flight world record for rubber-powered microfilm, of 60:01 minutes!

In April of 2010, the north hangar was again the location for two Category IV record flights: Jim Buxton’s Hand-Launched Glider (HLG) two-flight total of 3:29.4 minutes, and Ralph Ray’s, Standard Class Catapult-Launched Glider (CLG) two-flight total of 3:52.3 minutes! As recently as May 2011, Stan Buddenbohm upped the ante in Category IV, Unlimited Class Catapult-Launched Glider (CLG), with a two-flight total of 4:31.9 minutes!

MCAS Tustin was decommissioned in 1999 and the local community is presently reviewing options to reuse the site for commercial and residential development, plus the establishment of a county regional park of approximately 85 acres to include the hangar.

The members of the Harbor Soaring Society, an AMA Gold Leader Club, wish to thank the AMA Executive Council, for commemorating the North Hangar’s historic significance, and for their assistance in the club’s ongoing efforts to gain permanent access to the facility. For more information on how you can help preserve the north hangar, please visit http://www.1hss.org/ .