Catalina Island News

Airport in the Sky: Hangar Gets a Facelift

Catalina Island Conservancy

The Catalina Island Conservancy’s loftiest facility, at an elevation of 1,602 feet, received high priority this fall as the hangar at the Airport in the Sky was treated to a fresh coat of white paint and general refurbishment. Most of the work was completed the week after Christmas.

“The pilots are pleased,” said Jorge O’Leary, director of airport operations. “It’s very attractive and goes a long way in keeping the airport spiffed up.” The hangar overhaul follows runway repaving completed in June. Painting and landscape improvements around the terminal building have also been implemented this year.

The five original weather-beaten front sliding doors were replaced with new, galvanized steel panels. In addition, the roof of the 10,000-square-foot hangar was reconditioned. Broken windows were also replaced and their frames refurbished and painted.

“Welcome to Catalina Island” now greets visitors in blue retro-script style over the doors, along with “Airport in the Sky” above the Catalina Island Conservancy logo on the middle door. The airport’s stats are prominently displayed: “Runway Length 3,000 ft.” and “Elevation 1,602 ft.”

A generous gift from Conservancy board member Geoff Rusack and Conservancy Benefactor Alison Wrigley Rusack supported this improvement and others at the Airport. “It came out beautifully,” Conservancy President and CEO Ann Muscat said. “We very much appreciate the support of our donors and the hard work of our staff in helping to insure that pilots and guests up from Avalon will enjoy visiting the airport all the more. ”

Aviation on Catalina Island has a long and illustrious history that began with a pioneering cross-channel flight in 1912 by Glenn Martin.

The first airport was constructed in 1931 at Hamilton Cove, in Avalon. It was designed for seaplanes that would “land” just offshore. The pilots would lower their wheels and then drive the plane up a ramp. They then parked on a “lazy-susan” -like mechanism that would turn the aircraft around until it faced the channel, ready for its flight back.

In August 1940, the Santa Catalina Island Company began construction of the runway. The tops of two mountains were blasted away, and then three canyons were filled in to create a runway. This created an unusual grade change from the south end to the north. Pilots today report that it is both challenging and thrilling.

Construction of the runway ceased after the outbreak of World War II, and the airport was leased to the U.S. Army. The army placed numerous obstacles on the pavement to deter any possible landings by enemy aircraft. After the war, the airport’s beautiful administration building and tower complex was completed. It served as the terminal for United Airlines, which serviced the Island with DC-3 flights until the mid-1950s.

The Wrigley family, who owned Santa Catalina Island for decades, kept their DC-3 in the large hangar at the airport—the very same building that was recently given a facelift.

Visit Airport in the Sky by flying in or taking the Wildlands Express from the Travel Plaza in Avalon. Call 310.510.0143 for more information and shuttle reservations.