Southern California sites all deserve recognition for their contributions to aviation history
Posted by John Keller
The AIAA designated the old TRW Space Park
in Redondo Beach, Calif., as an historic aerospace site earlier this month, and it got me thinking about the significance to aviation and aerospace history
of many other sites in and around Southern California where I grew up. I was born in Southern California in 1959, and were it not for aviation, my family never would have started there, and I never would have had the opportunity to see a continuing parade of aerospace history pass before my eyes.
My family always was part of the aviation and aerospace scene in the South Bay section of Greater Los Angeles. My dad, an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, moved to Southern California from Montana to attend the Northrop Aeronautical Institute -- now Northrop University -- shortly after leaving the Air Force in 1954. He had been a B-29 aircraft crew chief in the 54th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron on Guam, which was in place to gather information on tropical cyclones and Soviet nuclear experiments, and on leaving the service he wanted to stay involved in aviation. In those days, Southern California was the place to do that.
Northrop Aeronautical Institute was begun during World War II by aviation pioneer Jack Northrop, who started Northrop Aviation (now Northrop Grumman). He set up an aircraft manufacturing plant next to my home town of El Segundo, where Northrop manufactured aircraft like the F-5 jet fighter and its twin, the T-38 Talon supersonic trainer, as well as the YB-49 Flying Wing, which was the predecessor to the U.S. B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.
Right there in El Segundo was North American Aviation (now Boeing), which manufactured the P-51 Mustang fighter during World War II, and later the F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and even later designed the B-1 strategic bomber. Also in El Segundo was Douglas Aircraft (which later would become McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing after that), which manufactured the DC-3, DC-6, and DC-7 passenger aircraft. Hughes Aircraft was also a neighbor.
Just down the road from us in Redondo Beach was TRW Inc. (now Northrop Grumman), which did classified satellite work and designed guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles. I remember first touring TRW Space Park in 1967 as en eight-year-old Cub Scout.
In this place you couldn't avoid the aerospace business in those days. If your dad or mom wasn't working at one of the aviation plants, then the moms and dads of your friends were. Where I lived, my next-door neighbor worked for North American when that company won the B-1 bomber contract. The man across the street worked for Continental Airlines. My dad worked for Garrett AiResearch, where one day he ran into Cliff Garrett, himself, who helped him work out a particularly frustrating mechanical problem.
So the aerospace business runs in my family; it's in my blood, and was part of the fabric of my upbringing. I couldn't have had that experience anywhere else.