AIRPLANES ON THE CALIFORNIA CHANNEL ISLANDS
AIRPLANES have been landing in the Channel Islands since the early 20th century. Currently, airstrips are maintained on six of the eight Channel Islands — all but Santa Barbara and Anacapa islands, although single-engine planes have landed on Santa Barbara Island a few times.
Glenn Luther Miller made the first flight to Santa Catalina Island in 1912. Pilot Earle Ovington flew mail to and from Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as did George F. Hammond in the 1930s and 1940s. Earle Ovington taught George Hammond to fly.
Airstrips on Santa Catalina Island (Airport-in-the-Sky), San Nicolas Island and San Clemente Island have airport traffic towers.
- Aspen Helicopters, Oxnard
- Bassett Flying Service, Santa Paula
- Channel Islands Aviation, Camarillo
- Murray Aviation, Oxnard
- Valenti Aviation, Oxnard
FLYING SERVICES ~ SANTA CATALINA ISLAND
- Avalon Air Transport (1953-1968), Santa Catalina Island
- California Amphibious Transport (1981-1982), Santa Catalina Island
- Catalina Airlines (1963-1968), Santa Catalina Island
- Chaplin Airlines (1919-1920), Santa Catalina Island
- Goodyear Pony Blimp (1920), Santa Catalina Island
- Hal Holloway's Fly With Me Sightseeing (1921-1928), Santa Catalina Island
- Island Express Helicopters, Santa Catalina Island
- Pacific Marine Airways (1922-1928), Santa Catalina Island
- Trans Catalina Airlines (1978-1981), Santa Catalina Island
- Western Air Express (1925-1931), Santa Catalina Island
- Wilmington-Catalina Airlines, Ltd. (1931-1941), Santa Catalina Island
In the News~
October 31, 1916 [SBMP]: “All aboard for islands via air route. Lougheads start work in two weeks on big passenger seaplane… A stock company, composed of well-wishers of the boys, has subscribed to the greater part of the $15,000 necessary to build the first machine, which will be called Santa Barbara. The seaplane is designed to carry eight passengers of medium weight (and bulk)…”
December 27, 1916 [SBMP]: “Great seaplane work starts next week. In three months Santa Barbara becomes center of aerial route. Work will be started early next week on the first seaplane to be constructed by the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company of Santa Barbara. This was announced yesterday by the Loughead brothers… As soon as finished, the plane will be used for passenger service between this point and the islands, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego…”
January 26, 1917 [SBMP]: “Mrs. H. B. Duryea in first flight across to Islands. Allan Loughead guides hydroplane in pioneer conquest of air. The first crossing of the Santa Barbara channel by the air route was made with perfect success yesterday forenoon by Allan Loughead in the Loughead brothers' hydroplane. The pioneer trip to the island in a flying macnine was made for and at the wish of Mrs. H. B. Buteya, of Red Bank, N. J., who has been a guest at the Potter Hotel for the past six weeks, accompanied by her cousin, Mrs. Harry B. Hart of Montreal, Canada. Mrs. Duryea had been out in the Loughead aircraft three times previously, but only for the usual flights of a few miles. Her past experiences had filled her with the enthusiasm so common to aviators, and on the occasion of her third sail through the ether she declared she would not be satisfied until she had crossed the channel by the new and delightful method of transportation. And so yesterday's extended flight was arranged to meet her positive order. The aircraft took to the water for the start on the island trip at 10:45 a.m., taking to the air a few moments afterward, and landed at its home port on the return just one hour later. The run to Pelican Bay through the air was made in just twenty-one minutes. No landing was made, as the operator does not know the island harbors, and he is not a man to take any chances, especially when he has a woman passenger's safety in his hands. The voyagers through the airy waters turned about and gave chase to a freight steamer that was making its way down the channel.”
July 8, 1917 [SBMP]: “Loughead super-hydroplane may take to the air in 40 days... While the big car was designed primarily for passenger carrying between Santa Barbara and the islands and coast points, it is able to serve as a demonstrator with which to prove to the government what the local aviation experts can do in the building of battle planes...”
July 2, 1919 [LAT/SB]: “Five hydroplanes arrived in Santa Barbara at noon, coming from the naval air station at San Diego. Their flying time was approximately five hours. One stop was made at San Pedro to allow some of the smaller craft to take on gas. Lieutenant O. P. Kilmer is in charge of the planes, all of which are moored in the channel…”
SANTA BARBARA ISLAND
There is no landing strip on Santa Barbara Island, however several pilots have landed small planes atop the island.
Roger Keeney and a friend landed their planes on Santa Barbara Island in the late 20th century.
SANTA CATALINA ISLAND
AVIATION HISTORY: Santa Catalina Island
- 1912 Aviation pioneer, Glenn Luther Martin (1886-1955), makes the first flight on May 10, 1912
- 1919-1920 Chaplin Airlines -first regularly scheduled service
- 1920 Goodyear Pony Blimp
- 1921-1928 Hal Holloway’s Fly With Me Sightseeing
- 1922-1928 Pacific Marine Airways
- 1925-1931 Western Air Express
- 1931-1941 Wilmington-Catalina Airlines, Ltd., owned by the Wrigleys
With the onset of World War II, Santa Catalina Island was declared a military zone, and both air and sea transport was shut down.
- 1947-1949 Amphibian Air Transport ~ earliest airline to fly the Grumman Goose to Catalina Island,
- in addition to three Sikorsky S-43 amphibians
- 1953-1968 Dick Probert’s Avalon Air Transport, aka Catalina Airlines
- 1978-1981 Trans Catalina Airlines
- 1981-1982 California Amphibious Transport [CAT] owned by Dan Aikens
December 14, 1910 [SBMP]: “That the proposed trip of the bird men from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara may be made part of the way over the sea is likely, according to the statements of the aviators now in the south. Latham has been looking over Catalina as a possible landing place, and incidentally studying the ocean and the winds…”
May 10, 1912 [August 12, 1931: TI/Avalon]: “The first successful flight was made across the island by Glen L. Martin of Newport Beach. He equipped an ordinary [self-built] land plane with two pontoons and then started for Avalon. Martin crossed the channel in an hour. In making his descent in Avalon Bay he punctured one of the pontoons on a mooring near the Pleasure Pier. Three hours after repairing the damage, Martin carried back with him to Newport Beach over 300 pounds of U.S. main in postcards and letters. For his achievement in making the first cross-channel flight, Glen L. Martin was given a diamond-studded gold medal by the people of Avalon and the Avalon Freeholders Improvement Association. A month after the flight, Ernest Windle, representing the Freeholders Association, presented Martin with the gold medal at the Martin home in Newport Beach. An historical event that showed possibility to speedily link Catalina to the mainland, was the organization of the first commercial airplane service. This was in 1919 when Sid Chaplin, with pilot A. C. Burns, started a regular air transportation line between Avalon and San Pedro in a small three-passenger biplane, named ‘Sea Gull,’ equipped with a 100-horsepower motor. Burns landed his plane in Avalon Bay and then taxied to the beach near the steamer landing pier. After making daily trips for some two month, service was discontinued. Operation costs were too great to make the business a financial success.”
[May 10, 1912] August 10, 1978 [LAT]: “On May 10, 1912, 25-year-old Glenn Martin flew a bamboo airplane he had built in Santa Ana from Balboa Island to Catalina in 37 minutes, landing in the bay in what was the longest over water flight in history. On the return trip, he carried the first airmail from Catalina since the pigeon express had been abandoned in 1898…”
May 11, 1912 [SBI]: “Glenn L. Martin is the first man on the west coast to drive a hydro-aeroplane from the coast to an island. He left Balboa Island at Newport bay at 12:15 Friday and arrived at Catalina at 12:52 o’clock. On the return trip he left Catalina at 5:17 Friday afternoon and arrived at Balboa Island at 6:08. In all he traveled a distance of 67 miles over the water. Martin found that with hydro-aeroplanes a perfect course can be steered. He plans to make other trips immediately.”
 June 16, 1938 [TI/Avalon]: “It was in 1919 when Syd Chaplin, with pilot A. C. Burns, started a regular air transportation line between Avalon and San Pedro in a small three-passenger biplane, named Sea Gull, with a 100-horsepower engine.”
July 18, 1919 [SBMP]: “That aeroplane travel has come to stay is proved by the successful operation, since Saturday, of the regular schedule from San Pedro to Santa Catalina Island, for which $40 is charged for the round trip.”
October 30, 1919 [LAT]: “When Cecil De Mille’s great new picture, Male and Female, adapted from J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichtons, goes on in New York week after next, not only will Mr. De Mille himself be present, but as a reward for their hard work in the film, members of his staff of players at Lasky studio who enacted some of the leading roles will also be among those present with the thumbs-uppers on the opening night. Already Gloria Swanson and Thomas Meighan have flitted, and Mr. De Mille himself, who at present is taking a yachting trip, expects to return in time to leave Saturday morning… Miss Daniels has been vacationing for a week over at Catalina Island where she’s been flying about in one of Syd Chaplin’s hydroplanes with a good looking aviator…”
1920 [August 12, 1931: TI/Avalon]: “In 1920 the Marine Airways, with A. C. Curry as manager, attempted to reorganize the cross-channel air transportation system. This company operated two seaplanes, but at the end of the third season were compelled to abandon their project. In 1925 the Marine Airways was again reorganized by R. C. Bacon and for several years these flying oats operated during the summer season on a regular schedule. Much credit is due to pilots A. C. Burns, Steve Galloway and Hal Holloway, Catalina’s aviation pioneers, for their able skill in operating seaplanes, both on the cross-channel flights and in the environs of Avalon. Thousands of passengers have been carried by these men and the other pilots, and the first ‘crack-up’ or accident causing injury to passengers has yet to be recorded. In 1930 the Marine Airways was absorbed by the Western Air Express, the latter operating through the season of 1930 when their contract expired.”
1925-1931: Western Air Express was founded in July 1925. It acquired Pacific Marine Airways, which had been providing air service between Wilmington, California and Catalina Island. On April 18, 1928 WAE acquired Pacific Marine Airways three Curtiss HS-2L flying boats, and also added a Sikorsky S-38 amphibian, a Boeing 204 Flying Boat, and two Loening amphibians. They had three departure points on the mainland, Alhambra, Vail Field and Wilmington. The Catalina route was later taken over by the Wrigleys, who began Wilmington-Catalina Airlines Ltd. On June 6, 1931.
1931-1941: Wilmington-Catalina Airlines, Ltd., “The Shortest Airline in the World,” was organized by P. K. Wrigley on May 15, 1931, and thus the air route to Catalina Island became a subsidiary of the Wilmington Transportation Company. They took over Western Air Express on June 6, 1931 for flying service to Santa Catalina Island by not renewing their permit. Wrigley designed a unique airport at Hamilton Cove, the second cove north of Avalon. This airport was designed to accommodate Douglas Dolphin amphibian planes of the Wilmington-Catalina Airlines, Ltd. The planes landed just offshore and taxied up a cement ramp to a large turntable mechanism. The airplane would then be rotated until it was facing the water and ready for a flight back to the mainland. A small Spanish-style terminal building welcomed residents, business people and tourists to the island. The airline was noted in the March 1941 issue of Flying and Popular Aviation as “the shortest airline in the world.” The airline served two towns less than 30 miles apart. Wilmington-Catalina Airlines flights crossed the channel over 38,000 times carrying over 200,000 passengers. The airline employed as many as nine pilots in the summer and five in the winter months. Walter Seiler, the vice-president, general manager and chief pilot, was aboard nearly 25% of flights, including the flight accident with two fatalities in 1933. Seiler survived the crash. With the onset of World War II, Santa Catalina Island was declared a military zone, and both air and sea transport was shut down.
1953-1968: Avalon Air Transport aka Catalina Airlines was founded in the summer of 1953 by pilot, Dick Probert, with partner Jean Chisolm. They began the operation with a single Grumman Goose (N1503V). Jean Chisolm sold her share to Walt von Kleinsmid. The airline was very successful and grew to a fleet of many planes: Grumman Goose N1503V; N1583V; N1513V; N1523V; N1543V; N322; N323; N324; N325; N327; N328; N329; N93G; N1133; Sikorsky S-43 N326; and Sikorsky VS-44A N41881. In 1963 the airlines name was changed to Catalina Airlines. They ceased operations in 1968.
1978-1981: Trans Catalina Airlines
1981-1982: California Amphibious Transport [CAT] was owned by Dan Aikens. The company flew wide-bodied Grumman Mallards, as had Trans Catalina Airlines (1978-1981). They provided service to the island from Long Beach Airport for only about a year. Their fleet included Grumman Mallard N42DA and Piper Navajo N88LM.
SANTA CRUZ ISLAND
- Bassett Aviation: first air service to fly to Santa Cruz Island, early 1960s-1966
- Murray Aviation: second air service to fly to Santa Cruz Island;
- owned by Philip Joseph Murray (1903-1990), agricultural aviation pioneer
- Channel Islands Aviation (1975-current)
January 26, 1917 [SBMP]: “The first crossing of the Santa Barbara by the air route was made with perfect success yesterday forenoon by Allan Loughead, in the Loughead brothers’ hydroplane. This pioneer trip to the island in a flying machine was made for and at the wish of Mrs. H. B. Duryea of Rad Bank, New Jersey, who has been a guest at the Potter Hotel for the past six weeks… This was Mr. Loughead’s first visit to Santa Cruz Island…”
February 3, 1917 [SBMP]: “Second voyage by air made to islands — The Loughead brothers' hydroplane made its second trip across the channel yesterday afternoon... The aircraft started from her runway yesterday at 11:20 A.M. and returned at 12:15, having been in the air 55 minutes and covered a distance, literally as the crow flies, of about 58 miles. The course lay direct to Prisoners' Harbor on the Santa Cruz Island shore. No landing was made or attempted.”
February 3, 1917 [SBDN]: “With George T. Bonner, a retired business man of New York as a passenger, the Loughead brothers’ hydroplane made its second trip across the channel to Santa Cruz Island yesterday. Allan Loughead served as pilot. The start was made at 11:20 A.M. and the return trip at 12:15 P.M. The machine was in the air fifty-five minutes, covered a distance of fifty-eight miles, and reached a maximum altitude of 1260 feet. Work on the large passenger-carrying machine is progressing, and the builders hope to have it in commission within two months. The aircraft will carry eight persons.”
April 6, 1919 [LAT]: “Santa Barbara. Aerial passenger service between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Island will be established in the near future, if plans now being considered by D. M. Linnard materialize. Many tourists coming here are interested in visiting the Channel Islands, if suitable transportation is provided.”
April 24, 1919 [SBMP]: “Boats will fly over channel to Santa Cruz. If weather conditions are favorable, the two new naval flying boats, A4228 and A4229, constructed here by the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company for the government, will start on their proposed non-stop flight to San Diego between the hours of 10 and 12 o’clock this morning. The propellers were attached yesterday, the tanks filled with gasoline, and a cargo of oil taken aboard…”
May 4, 1919 [SBMP]: “With a view to having the F-1 ready for passenger service between this city and Santa Cruz Island by the first of June, assembling was begun yesterday on the craft of the Loughead aircraft factory. Word received at the factory yesterday was that when completed the boat will carry 10 passengers. It is a twin motor type, with gray body and wings. With the two recently sold government places safely anchored at San Diego, the Loughead brothers will devote their entire time to the fitting up of the F-1.”
May 8, 1919 [SBMP]: “How would you like to plow through the azure blue at 100 miles an hour. Seated in a natty salon on board a fast traveling seaplane? If you are a good sport and want to take a flier without fear of bodily injury, as the experts explain, that the man is much safer in the air than on terra firma, your whim may be satisfied this summer, when the Lougheads inaugurate their Pacific Coast aerial service, using the F-1 for all air voyages… Side trips to the islands will be featured during the enxt few months, it was learned yesterday. Santa Cruz is the magnet that is going to be responsible for hourly journeys, when the season is well advanced, and with the impetus that has already been given overland flying, some extraordinary flights will be made up and down the coast.”
October 11, 1919 [SBDN]: “Royal couple enjoy bathing in surf at Miramar and fly in sea plane to Santa Cruz Island. The King and Queen of Belgium cast off officialdom as they reached their Montecito home… This afternoon at 4 o’clock the royal couple, with several close personal attendants, were to enjoy a hydroplane ride to Santa Cruz Island and back. The plans for the flight were completed early this afternoon by representatives of the King’s party, Allan and Malcolm Lougheed, owners of the big 12-passenger machine, gladly availing themselves of the opportunity to join in the program of entertainment for the royal visitors…”
October 12, 1919 [SBMP]: “Seaplane takes royal couple on tour… At 3:20 Saturday afternoon, the 10 passenger seaplane roared down its landing to the water and bore westward on an aerial trip toward the Channel Islands. In the front compartment were Queen Elizabeth and J. M. Nye, secret service agent, securely clad in leather coats, helmets and goggles… King Albert occupied the large compartment behind the propellers… It sped westward at the rate of seventy miles per hour toward Santa Cruz Island…”
September 19, 1920 [LAT]: “Out of Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, swept a seaplane and drummed away toward Anacapa, patrolling the channel as carefully as if it were on the watch for submarines. It described interlacing ‘figure eights’ which permitted its observer to scan every wave which passed under him. Suddenly the plane ceased to swing from horizon to horizon and buzzed like a bee, in nsarrowing circles, over something in the water. Then it swung back towards Smugglers Cove and from it was tossed a ‘bomb’ which drifted down gently, as if very light, and floated buoyantly when it struck the waves. A man in a crow’s nest in one of the boats in the mouth of the cove saw the ‘bomb’ and excitedly shouted directions. In a minute the boat, which for hours had lain like a painted ship upon a painted sea, was speeding toward the floating speck, and two men in a dory soon captured it and brought it on board. It was a hollow, water-proofed, water-tight paper carton. The captain, an immense hairy Austrian, tore it open and spread out the paper that was in it. The paper was a map of the coast of Southern and Lower California… In one of the two northernmost squares was an X, one point of which was an arrowhead. The ‘bomb’ was from the Canners’ Fish Company Intelligence service and from the map and the accompanying footnotes the captain knew that a large school of tuna swimming northwest had been spotted about five miles north of Anacapa…”
February 1923 James Lauffman [Laufman?] claimed to be the first to land a plane on both Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. [February 1973; 50 years ago; VCY]
1927: “In 1927 the late Earle Ovington of Santa Barbara and one of the pioneers in American aviation flew to our ranch. He landed in the small field by the ranch house at Scorpion. It took several days before an easterly wind permitted him to take off. In the meantime, he located two sites which were much more satisfactory. These fields serve us today for this purpose.” (Gherini 1989).
September 4, 1928 [ODC]: “Frederick Law Olmstead of Boston, leading authority in the United States on parks, will make an inspection of Santa Cruz Island from an airplane next Friday, in company with George A. Batchelder and Earle Ovington of Santa Barbara… They will secure a four-passenger hydroplane from the Western Air Express—one of the ‘flying boats’ plying between Wilmington and Avalon—and, starting at 10 o’clock next Friday morning from Wilmington, will fly with their distinguished guest and his guest, Charles A. Cheney, who made the city plan for Santa Barbara, first to Catalina and over the island itself, then to Santa Cruz Island where, flying at a height of 500 feet, every point will be inspected…”
September 10, 1928 [ODC]: “A hydroplane inspection of Santa Cruz Island was made Friday by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous landscape authority selected by the State of California to pass upon the desirability of the various park sites proposed by the different localities as desirable to be included in the purchases to be made from the proposed bond issue of $6,000,000 to be voted on at the coming election. The trip was a success, and Mr. Olmstead expressed himself afterward as having his previous favorable impression strengthened by the thoroughness of the very novel method of inspecting the property from the air… The party… turned south, skirting the north side of Santa Cruz, passing the breakwater quarry, which has not disfigured the landscape, and tobogganed into Pelican Bay, where they found but one yacht and the tug from the quarry with 75 gallons of Richfield aviation gasoline, which was poured into the hydroplane’s nearly empty tanks. After eating lunch, the tug towed the hydroplane out of the bay at 2:45, and the party took off into the air after a few a few hard bumps on the choppy sea that made the plane boom like a huge bass drum…”
SAN MIGUEL ISLAND
November 8, 1933 [SBMP]: “A flat tire on the airplane of George F. Hammond, local flier, last night caused a widespread search for him when he became overdue for hours after his expected return home from a flight to Santa Cruz Island. His sister, Miss Frances Hammond, 340 Channel Drive, had expected her brother about 5 P.M. He left at 3 A.M. She did not hear from him until he telephoned about 10 P.M. as soon as he arrived on a fishing boat. ‘We chartered Captain Sanborn's cruiser the Traveler,’ she said, ‘and sent it out across the channel to hunt for my brother. There was no way to recall it when my brother arrived. ‘My brother had landed about half way between the two ranches on Santa Cruz Island, and had to walk three miles to a ranch house. He got a ranchman to show him to the harbor, and signaled a fishing boat to come in. My brother returned on the boat about 10 A.M. and cooked his supper en route. He expects to get a new tire tonight and return at once to the island to fly his plane back home.’”