Douglas A/B-26 Invader

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On Mark, Van Nuys photo tour by Richard E. Fulwiler

On Dec. 17, 1928, the 25th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight – VNY was born as Metropolitan Airport through the establishment of a corporation by a small group of citizens.

The 1920s and 1930s
Located about 20 miles north of today’s LAX, amid 80 acres of trees and farmland, Metropolitan Airport – with its initial biplane hangar fees of $35 per month and landing fees of 50 cents – was a place where pioneering pilots who had faith in the future of aviation could fly their “new-fangled flying machines.”

In its early years, VNY served as the base for many record-breaking flights, including:

  • A men’s solo endurance record of 37 hours, by Herbert Fahy, in 1929.
  • A women’s endurance record of 42 hours, by Elinor Smith and Bobbi Trout, in 1929.
  • A women’s speed record of 196 mph, by Florence “Pancho” Barnes, in 1930.

Hollywood stars discovered the airport too, with Gene Autry, Cecil B. DeMille and Howard Hughes among the celebrities who flew there.

Although the Great Depression put an end to the corporation that established the airport, Hollywood film production, which like the stars themselves had found a home at the airport, helped save it. Filmmakers used the site for scenes from famous movies such as Hell’s Angels, Lost Horizon, Men With Wings and Storm Over the Andes.

To this day, producers of movies, TV shows, videos and commercials frequently turn to VNY to help meet their filming needs. Just a few of the modern-day movies with scenes shot at VNY include True Lies, Lethal Weapon, American Beauty and Pearl Harbor.


The 1940s 
With the outbreak of World War II, in 1942 the U.S. government purchased Metropolitan Airport and converted it into a military base to help protect the West Coast. The military also purchased an additional 163 acres of land for the construction of the Van Nuys Army Airfield, using new runways to train hundreds of P-38 Lightning pilots.

The airport became a vital defense-manufacturing center during the war. In 1944, a joint venture between the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Corporation created an aircraft modification facility known as the Navy Lockheed Plant. In the meantime, Hollywood continued to use the airport for filming, most notably when scenes from the classic Casablanca were filmed at the airport. And one day, the entertainment industry that had become so important to Metropolitan Airport discovered a young woman on an aircraft assembly line. Her name? Marilyn Monroe.

In 1949, the City of Los Angeles purchased the airport from the U.S. War Assets Administration for the token fee of $1, with the agreement that the California Air National Guard base continue to operate at the site. The name of the airport, which by then covered 400 acres, changed to San Fernando Valley Airport.


The 1950s and 1960s 
In the 1950s, the Air National Guard entered the jet age by replacing its propeller fleet with F-86 jets, plus built newer, more permanent facilities at the airport.

The 1950s brought substantial growth to general aviation at the airport and local industries. By 1957, the annual payroll of airport companies reached an impressive $43 million and the airport experienced its final name change to Van Nuys Airport. Residential growth also continued. The City of Los Angeles Zoning Commission allowed developers to build 150 new homes in areas surrounding the airport. In 1959, completion of the Sherman Way underpass enabled extension of the main runway from 6,000 to 8,000 feet as VNY ranked 25th in operations nationwide.

In the 1960s, airport operations continued to increase, with aerospace companies and their space-age projects beginning to locate at the airport. VNY acquired new land to meet these needs, and as the airport grew, in the mid-1960s VNY launched its award-winning guided tour program. By opening its doors to the local community, the airport offered a captivating journey through aviation past and present. VNY continues to offer tours today, giving about 10,000 adults and children a close-up look at the airport each year.

The Van Nuys Golf Course was completed in the clear zone at the south end of the airport in the late 1960s. A new Federal Aviation Air Traffic Control Tower began operation on January 24, 2968 and is still in use today. In 1969, Beechcraft West assumed ownership of the Norman Larson Company and Litton Industries erected a 1,500-square-foot hangar and office facility at the airport.

The 1970s and 1980s 
These decades marked the launch of many new VNY community and educational outreach programs to benefit local residents, businesses and students.

By 1971, VNY had become the busiest general aviation airport in the nation, with airport records showing a total of 562,079 operations. The 10th Annual Van Nuys Airport Aviation Expo in 1973 displayed the command module spacecraft from Apollo 14, and in 1975, the FlyAway Bus Terminal opened. Providing nonstop bus service between the San Fernando Valley and LAX, the FlyAway was an important step in helping to alleviate freeway and LAX parking congestion. Today, the FlyAway serves more passengers than ever and is part of a growing network of regional bus terminals offering service to and from LAX.

Several other activities in the 1980s further showcased VNY's commitment to working closely with the community. These included the implementation of a Noise Abatement and Curfew Ordinance governing aircraft operations, and the formation of the VNY Citizens Advisory Council in 1985 to assist and promote closer, more direct interaction with community representatives on a variety of airport-related issues. In 1986, VNY, as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Adopt-A-School Program, adopted Van Nuys' Kester Avenue School. The following year, the airport started a tradition of hosting an annual holiday event at the school known as “Santa's Visit.”

In 1987, VNY played a role in the final chapters of an American tradition, when the legendary Bob Hope embarked from the airport on his last USO tour for American troops abroad. Finally, in 1988, the airport unveiled an observation area, open to the public daily and offering an up-close, firsthand view of airport operations.

The 1990s
The 1990s brought many more changes and developments to VNY, which continued to serve a vital role in Los Angeles.

The 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard relocated from VNY to the Channel Islands in 1990. In 1991, the City of Los Angeles took over the function, previously handled by the Guard, of hosting VNY's annual Aviation Expo, continuing a long tradition of bringing world-class military and civilian aircraft displays and demonstrations to the San Fernando Valley. In the years that followed, the airport gained national recognition for superlative air shows with many “firsts” for the City of Los Angeles – including the first public appearances by the B-2 Stealth Bomber and the F-117A Stealth Fighter, and the first demonstrations by the advanced AV-8B Harrier jet and the elite U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.

In 1994, the area formerly occupied by the Guard served as a critical operating site for the American Red Cross as it prepared thousands of meals to aid victims of the devastating Northridge earthquake. Also in the mid-90s, the airport adopted and relocated the annual Santa’s Visit to nearby Gault Street Elementary School.

Business activity at the airport continued to grow during the decade and by 1999, an economic impact study indicated that the airport contributed about $1.2 billion annually to the Southern California economy and supported more than 10,000 jobs.

2000 and Beyond
Los Angeles World Airports, which owns LAX, VNY, ONT and PMD, took a major step forward to further address noise concerns related to VNY when it initiated a $15-million residential soundproofing program in 2000.

In 2006, Los Angeles' mayor signed VNY's Master Plan, designed to protect the environment, minimize adverse impacts on neighbors and guide land use at the airport as a Southern California general aviation center for the next 20 years. The long-term planning document focuses on encouraging orderly development of on-airport land use, with a key element providing for a designated propeller area. Before being signed by the mayor, the plan – with input from the VNY Citizens Advisory Council – was approved by the Board of Airport Commissioners, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and the Los Angeles City Council.

In other developments, the new millennium saw the start of a $30-million bond project by the Los Angeles Fire Department to better serve and protect local communities by constructing permanent air operations and helicopter maintenance facilities on the former Air National Guard site at VNY.

At the FlyAway Bus Terminal, an improvement project completed in early 2005 added additional parking, more convenient passenger drop-off, an enlarged and modernized terminal building, and new landscaping. 

In 2003, VNY celebrated the centennial of flight and the 75th anniversary of aviation in Los Angeles with an exciting event that showcased an exact replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer and much more. In 2006, VNY's Rockin' Airfest event featured the first-ever City of Los Angeles flyover by the F-22 Raptor, the world's most advanced fighter jet.

Today, VNY remains one of the world's busiest general aviation airports, and maintains its longstanding commitment to and leadership in general aviation, business and community service. A study released in November 2007 shows that Van Nuys Airport continues to play a critical role in the Southern California economy, contributing $1.3 billion annually and supporting over 12,300 jobs generating an earnings impact of $707 million. In the years to come, the importance of VNY to Southern California, the regional approach to meeting passenger demand, and the entire nation’s air transportation system will continue to grow.



 Above, Van Nuys Airport Diagram circa 1962 - On Mark, Marquardt, and 146th Air Transport areas shown.


Above, Van Nuys Airport - On Mark Engineering Co. area plan, circa 1962 ( Blow up of above detail )

On Mark Engineering Co.

7929 Hayvenhurst Avenue
Van Nuys Airport
Van Nuys, California 91406

Located in the southeast corner of the former WWII Army Air Force Base Unit facilities, On Mark Engineering Company was formed in 1954 and specialized in the modification, repair and overhaul of the Douglas A-26 Invader aircraft for the civilian executive transport business.

On Mark A-26 conversions include the On Mark Marksman and the On Mark Marketeer.

In 1962 On Mark undertook the conversion of a Boeing Stratocruiser on behalf of Aero Spacelines, Inc.  The aircraft would become known as the B-377PG Pregnant Guppy.  The first flight occurred on September 19, 1962 at Van Nuys Airport.

On Mark Engineering Company completed conversion of  40 Douglas A-26 Invaders to On Mark B-26K Counter Invaders for the CIA and the USAF during 1963 and 1964.

In 1965 On Mark undertook the conversion of a Boeing C-97J on behalf of Aero Spacelines, Inc.  The aircraft would become known as the B-377SG Super Guppy.  The first flight occurred on August 31, 1965 at Van Nuys Airport.


On Mark / Aero Spacelines B-377PG Pregnant Guppy (1 aircraft produced)

On Mark B-26K Counter Invaders (40 aircraft produced)

On Mark / Aero Spacelines B-377SG Super Guppy (1 aircraft produced)

The On Mark Engineering Company hanger was located at the southwest corner of Arminta and Hayvenhurst Avenue. 

In the late 1970's through 1982 the former On Mark Engineering Company site was operated by Volpar Inc.

 This hanger was torn down in the mid 1980's, one of its last use being the filming of Firefox starring Clint Eastwood. It was suppose to be the "Soviet" hangar from which Eastwood's character steals the Soviet Firefox aircraft.

The above narrative was taken from Mark Reynosa's wonderful site, which can be accessed here.



Van Nuys Air National Guard Base
(Van Nuys Army Air Field)
This airport, three miles northwest of Van Nuys, was a local airport before the war and was utilized by Timm Aircraft Corp. which built military trainer planes and cargo gliders. In 1942 the 4th Air Force acquires Metropolitan Airport for $302,287.00. Additional 163 acres purchased on the west side for Army Air Forces Base Unit. In 1943, the 428th Fighter Squadron, fying the famed P-38 Lighting was formed at Van Nuys. The following year, the 441st Army Air Forces Base Unit was formed to conduct P-38 training. The Army Air Forces trained fighter pilots here in night fighting. The airfield had two sub-bases; Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale and Oxnard Flight Strip, Oxnard. At the end of the war the AAF Base Unit was inactivated.
Following World War II, previously splintered National Guard and its former Air Corps units were reformed and restructured under the newly created Department of Defense. On September 16, 1946, the 62nd Fighter Wing, 146th Fighter Group and 115th Bombardment Squadron (the former 115th Observation Squadron) were given Federal recognition, and flew their first missions out of of the former Army Air Forces Base Unit facilities. One year later, almost to the day, on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force became the first new separate branch of service created since the Revolutionary War. President Harry Truman named Stuart Symington as the first Secretary of the Air Force, and one week later, General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz became the first Air Force Chief of Staff. In 1948, several units of the new wing moved to Burbank Airport, only to return to Van Nuys a short time later, after too little ramp space at Burbank proved a hindrance to accomplishing the wing’s missions.
Van Nuys ANG Base, Circa 1952. (Mark A. Renosa)

That same year, Major Bob DeHaven, a WW II ace and 146th Fighter Group Operations Officer, broke the existing speed record from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star, covering the distance in 36 minutes and 9 seconds at an average speed of 564 mph. DeHaven’s record was one of many significant events which culminated in the National Guard acknowledging the 146th Airlift Wing as the outstanding unit in the Air National Guard, and awarding the unit the Spaatz Trophy in 1949 - our first of three wins of that particular trophy. Other aircraft flown by the wing since the late 1940s include such truly classic military aircraft as the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Douglas B-26 Invader, North American B-45A Tornado, North American AT-6 Texan, North American F/P-51 Mustang, Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star, North American F-86A Sabrejet, and the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter.

From 1946 through 1954 the 115th Fighter Squadron and the 195th Squadron, both part of the 146th Fighter Wing, flew P - 51 Mustangs. The 115th Bombardment Squadron (Light) flew A-26's from 1946 to 1952. The 115th was stationed at Van Nuys but during part of this period was assigned to the 126th Bombardment Wing at Chicago's O'Hara field.

In 1949, the City of Los Angeles purchased the airport from the War Assets Administration for $1.00 and a provision for an Air National Guard facility for 40 years. Airport Renamed to San Fernando Valley Airport. Air National Guard was equipped with two squadrons of P-51s. But in February 1951, the 146th Fighter Wing was re-equipped with the F-86A. By July 1955 the transition from the F-51H Mustang to the Sabre was complete. The wing was re-designated a Fighter Interceptor Wing with an air defense mission for the Los Angeles area.

In 1955, the Air National Guard moved into a new Air National Guard base was completed just west of the old Army Air Forces Base Unit facilities. On 21 May of that same year, 1st Lt John Conroy of the 115th Fighter Squadron made aviation history by completing the first sunrise to sunset trip between the west and east coast in an F-86A. The 5085-mile round trip between Van Nuys and New York took 11 hrs., 26 min. and 33 sec.
Van Nuys ANG Base, circa 1955 (Mark A. Reynosa)
In 1957 the airport was renamed Van Nuys Airport and the runway extended from 6,000 ft to 8,000 feet with Sherman Way underpass.

1960 brought the wing a new mission, and a new mission aircraft. With air transportation recognized as a critical wartime need, the 146th was selected to receive the C-97 Stratofreighter and was redesignated the 146th Air Transportation Wing (Heavy). Our present day course as airlifters was set. The next year the 146th was again honored when the Air Force Association awarded the wing the Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy, following a flight of 22,815 miles from Van Nuys to Japan and back to Philadelphia, beating the existing record by 623 miles.

In July of 1961, as tensions of the Cold War flared, President Kennedy made it clear to the Soviet Union the United States would maintain the integrity of Berlin. The 146th was activated once again and flew numerous missions during "Operation Stair Step."

The Sixties marked the beginning of other humanitarian missions with our new airlift capabilities. In 1964, a devastating earthquake all but leveled Anchorage, Alaska; floods ravaged Arcata, CA; and in 1968, Hurricane "Camille," the second most disastrous hurricane in U.S. history hit the Gulf Coast with a fury. In each disaster, the 146th provided critical relief supplies and equipment. In the late 1960s, the unit returned to a wartime mission - Vietnam, once again providing critical airlift.

1970 brought a new name - the 146th Tactical Airlift Wing; a new command, Tactical Air Command; and a new aircraft - the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the aircraft we fly to this day. Also in the early 1970’s, USAF’s "Total Force" policy brought the wing into full partnership with its Air Force counterparts by mandating co-operation and teamwork between Air Guard and active duty Air Force units in all phases of military airlift operations. As a result, in succeeding years the wing’s C-130s have traveled to all corners of the world, airlifting troops, passengers, and cargo during training missions, exercise deployments, and real-world military operations to support Federal and State military airlift requirements. The wing and its subordinate units participated in numerous Cold War military exercises such as Team Spirit, Volant Oak, Red Flag, and Reforger. Other Joint Chief of Staff exercises included "Ember Dawn IV" in Alaska and "Brave Shield" in Europe. In 1979, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve assumed full responsibility for airlift operations in Panama, which recently moved to Puerto Rico, a commitment we continue to fulfill today.

In mid-December 1989, and continuing for several weeks, wing aircraft, air crews, and support personnel on deployment for exercise Volant Oak at Howard AFB, Canal Zone, Panama, flew combat airlift missions for U. S. Southern Command during Operation "Just Cause" in Panama. More than 100 combat sorties were flown by 146th aircraft and crews, with no casualties or damage to aircraft.

By March 1990, all but a small remnant of wing personnel had transferred operations to Channel Islands ANG Station. Shortly thereafter, the old Van Nuys facility was closed and turned over to the City of Los Angeles. On April 30, 1990, the flag at Van Nuys ANG Base was lowered for the last time during a special ceremony.

SOURCES: 146th Airlift Wing, Mark A. Reynosa

Corps of Engineers History of Van Nuys AAF

Between 12 December 1942 and 12 June 1947, the United States acquired 366.16 acres in fee, in Van Nuys for an air field. An additional 71 acres were leased and 0.15 acre was
acquired by easement, bringing. the total acreage in use to 437.31 acres. The site was developed and named the Van Nuys Army Air Field.

The Army constructed a complete air training facility at the site with approximately 200 buildings, including housing and support facilities. Van Nuys Army Air Field remained active until 31 August 1948.

The site was reported excess and. transferred to the War Assets Administration 15 September 1948. The entire acreage, 437.31 acres, was sold to the City of Los Angeles on 17
September 1948. The United States acquired back 63.09 acres by license from the city for use by the California Air National Guard.


On the Web

CLICK HERE to visit Mark A. Reynosa's web site on Van Nuy's AAF/ANGB

Known Units at Van Nuys AAF

441st Army Air Forces Base Unit (Combat Crew Training Station, Fighter) 1944-1945
364th Fighter Group, 12 August to 11 October 1943
383rd Fighter Squadron (Code N2) P-38 Lightning
384th Fighter Squadron (Code 5Y) P-38 Lightning
385th Fighter Squadron (Code 5E) P-38 Lightning
474th Fighter Group, 11 October 1943-4 January 1944
428th Fighter Squadron (Code F5) P-38 Lightning
429th Fighter Squadron (Code 7Y) P-38 Lightning
430th Fighter Squadron (Code K6) P-38 Lightning