Illustrious aviation legacy continues

The Santa Maria Public Airport continues the legacy of the city’s illustrious aviation history.

Occupying 2,600 acres at the city’s southwest corner, the airport — also known as Capt. G. Allan Hancock Field — lies west of Highway 135 between Betteravia and Foster roads.

The terminal, with its unique undulating roof line, is reached via Skyway Drive.

The airport began as the Santa Maria Army Air Field in the early days of World War ll. At first it was planned as a bomber base before officials found the early runways couldn’t take the constant pounding by B-25s, so in 1943 it became a training base for P-38 Lightning fighter pilots.

It was not Santa Maria’s first airport.  That airport was three miles northeast, on the site of the present Hancock College.

There in the late 1920s, Hancock, an aviation pioneer who had financed the first flight across the Pacific, scraped off a runway and started the Hancock College of Aeronautics, teaching young men to fly. After closing down for a time in the Depression-plagued 1930s, Hancock reopened the aeronautical college at the start of World War ll, training 8,500 future pilots in the next five years.

With two airports in close proximity, Santa Maria became an aviation hub.

At war’s end, while the aeronautical school subsequently became a junior college campus, the old Army Air Field property was first turned over to the county and city. In 1964, it was transferred to the Santa Maria Public Airport District, which currently operates the airport.

Santa Maria’s is one of only a handful of airports in California operated by a special district rather than city or county agencies. The district has accomplished numerous projects, including construction of Skyway Drive and many airport facilities. In 1970, passengers walked into a new terminal building. The Santa Maria Museum of Flight is at the airport’s north end.

Currently, two airlines operate out of the airport, United Express, with several flights daily to Los Angeles, and Allegiant Air, serving Las Vegas, NV.

Roadside Attractions is a weekly chronicle of sights along the Central Coast’s main commuter routes. Sally Cappon can be reached at

Posted in Local, in Santa Maria Times on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:00 am