Santa Paula Airport
The history of Santa Paula Airport is both extensive and interesting. Today offering a wide variety of events and services, from museum exhibits and private plane rides to delicious food, the airport came from humble beginnings. Santa Paula’s first airport was originally established in 1927 when local rancher, Ralph Dickenson, purchased an OX-5 powered International biplane, cut a dirt airstrip on his ranch and built a hangar. Dickenson Airport soon advertised airplane rides and flight lessons available. Less than 5 months later the Santa Clara Valley flooded following the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, taking many lives and destroying acres of property along the Santa Clara River where the ranch was built. Ralph’s hangar was found 1/2 mile downstream with his airplane still inside. He moved it back, made repairs and began flying again within a month. In the following year two more hangars were built as more locals began flying and purchasing aircraft. Recognizing the importance of having a community airport in the area, Ralph Dickenson and Dan Emmet obtained $1,000 from 19 local ranchers and purchased land south of the city of Santa Paula, adjacent to the river. In 1930, following months of personal construction and development by these founders, the newly named Santa Paula Airport opened to the public with a lavish celebration of aerobatics, celebrity appearances, and aircraft. This airport was also one of the favorite flying spots of actor Steve McQueen.
On February 21 and 22, 2005, Santa Paula Airport was heavily damaged when the rain swollen Santa Clara River ate into the airport property destroying airplane tiedowns, ramp and approximately 600 feet (180 m) of part of the western one-third of the runway. The airport’s only flight school, CP Aviation, temporarily moved to nearby Oxnard Airport as a result of the damage. Repairs began in March 2005 following the receding of the floodwaters, and as of February 2007, the airport was fully open to the public.
The Thomas Fire
In December 2017, the Thomas Fire erupted and burned across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The Santa Paula Airport became a helibase for CAL FIRE by the morning after the fire started. The airport was outfitted as a base of operations for the water-dropping helicopters, and closed to all of the regular general aviation operations. About 23 helicopters began operating out of the airport, along with the necessary support crews, tanker trucks, and other equipment. In addition to water, brightly colored fire retardant was dropped on the fire from the air. During the first couple of weeks, there had been limited ability to use fixed-wing air tankers and VLAT (very large air tankers) to drop fire retardant, due to the smoky skies. After having been in the air all day, the helicopters undergo maintenance at night. Other activities included a daily briefing each morning, lunches, and distributing maps. Many aircraft and their operations moved to other airports, such as Camarillo, which remained open to normal activities, while being involved in firefighting efforts. Amid all this, the Santa Paula airport was able to make one of its hangars available for cats after one of the local animal shelters was filled to capacity, and for one local family with its dogs for three nights, on its premises as well.
Between 1984 and 1995 there were 24 crashes, and 11 related fatalities at Santa Paula Airport. On February 13,1991 there was a collision between a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and a Pitts Aerobatic aircraft above the airport. The two people on the plane died. Three on the helicopter were injured, including actor Kirk Douglas and voice actor Noel Blanc. April 3,1991 two men died when the engine failed in their home-built plane. The plane fell and caught fire after hitting a golf cart. August 27,1992 a man died when his Cessna collided in midair with another Cessna, then went through two houses near the runway. December 31,1993 a man drowned when his two-seat Grumman lost power and went into the Santa Clara River. June 21,1994 a man died when his homemade ultra-light plane stalled and crashed into the Santa Clara. July 3,1994 a man and his daughter died when their Cessna 195 had engine trouble and crashed. August 12,1995 a stunt pilot, former U. S. Navy fighter and test pilot, was killed during the 65th Annual Santa Paula Air Show. His Berkut stunt plane crashed while performing a maneuver.
Every first Sunday of the month, the airport comes alive with visitors. People put their airplanes on display with info cards on the propeller. CP Aviation sells Santa Paula souvenirs. Also, car clubs come in and there are always nice cars to look at. The Petersen Auto Museum has displayed its Ferrari collection there. CP Aviation offers flight school, aircraft rental, and aircraft maintenance activities. Fuel is also sold at Santa Paula airport. The Aviation Museum of Santa Paula is headquartered at the airport. The former Logsdon’s Restaurant closed in early 2013. In its place, Flight 126 Cafe opened in July 2014 serving breakfast and lunch from 6am to 2 pm 7 days a week. Go to Visit Santa Paula for events and activities in Santa Paula.