Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
California: Eastern Riverside County
© 2002, © 2013 by Paul Freeman. Revised 8/1/13.
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(Original) Desert Center Airport (revised 10/30/06) - Gary Field / W R Byron Airport (revised 8/1/13) - Heron Airport (revised 8/1/13) - Midland Airfield (added 2/11/12)
Midland Airfield, Blythe, CA
33.85 North / 114.8 West (East of Los Angeles, CA)
Midland Airfield, as depicted on the March 1952 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
Photo of the airport while open has not been located.
According to Wikipedia, Midland was a company town established in 1925, owned by the U.S. Gypsum Company.
The company harvested vast amounts of gypsum found in the area, and the town had a population of approximately 1,000 at its peak.
Many winter scenes in Hollywood films during the 20th century utilized faux snow that originated from Midland.
The Midland Airfield was evidently established at some point between 1945-52,
as it was not yet depicted on the 1945 USGS topo map.
The earliest depiction of Midland Airfield which has been located
was on the March 1952 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Midland having an 1,800' runway.
The 1952 USGS topo map depicted Midland Airport as having a single north/south runway, labeled simply as “Landing Strip”.
The last aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Midland Airfield was on the March 1955 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Midland as a private field having an 1,800' unpaved runway.
According to Wikipedia, “As the character of the gypsum found in the area was considered too heavy as the years went on,
company activity in Midland subsided & then ended in 1966.”
A majority of the buildings of Midland were torn down by the company, leaving only foundations.
Midland Airfield had evidently gained a longer northwest/southeast runway at some point between 1955-81,
as the 1981 USGS topo map depicted the field as having 2 runways, labeled simply as “Landing Field”.
The earliest photo which has been located of Midland Airfield was a 6/15/96 USGS aerial view looking north, which depicted Midland as having 2 unpaved runways.
There was no sign of the airfield having had any buildings.
The last photo which has been located of Midland Airfield was a 6/18/10 aerial view looking north, which depicted Midland as having 2 unpaved runways.
The site of Midland Airfield is located at the southern terminus of Midland Depot Road.
Thanks to Gary Alexander for pointing out this airfield.
Heron Airport, Blythe, CA
33.61 North / 114.57 West (North of Yuma, AZ)
Heron Airport, as depicted on the August 1945 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
Heron Airport was apparently the pre-WW2 civil airport for the town of Blythe.
Its date of construction is unknown.
The Standard Oil Company's 1929 "Airplane Landing Fields of the Pacific West" (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
described a "Blythe Municipal" Airport as being located 3/4 mile east of Blythe, which would correspond to the location eventually occupied by Heron Airport.
It had a 3,000' loamy soil runway, oriented southwest/northeast.
The 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer) described Heron Airport as having a 2,700' runway.
The earliest depiction of Heron Airport which has been located was on the August 1945 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Heron as a commercial/municipal airport.
The only photo which has been located showing Heron Airport in operation was a 6/11/48 USGS aerial view.
It depicted Heron Airport as having a single north/south runway, with several small buildings & 6 single-engine aircraft on the northwest side.
Heron Airport was described on the 1949 Gila River World Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Donald Felton) as having a 2,600' unpaved runway.
The most precise location of Heron Airport which has been located was on the 1951 USGS topo map,
which depicted “Heron Air Field” as having a single north/south runway, with several small buildings on the northwest side.
A 1954 AAA map of Riverside County (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
depicted “Heron Field” as a square parcel of land, west of Intake Boulevard & north of 14th Avenue.
Fred Grande recalled, “I flew out of Heron field in a J3 Cub - I think it was 1953 -
taking a plane from there to an old dirt strip that the crop dusters used on the west side of the Valley.”
The runway at Heron was apparently paved at some point between 1949-55,
as the "Aerodromes" table on the 1955 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of John Voss)
described the field as having a single 2,550' bituminous runway.
In the 1962 AOPA Airport Directory, Heron Airport was described as having a single 2,550' bare Runway 18/36,
and the operator was listed as Leon Coromes.
The August 1967 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Heron Airport as having a single 2,500' north/south paved runway.
The NTSB report for a 4/16/67 accident in which a Luscombe 8A ended up substantially damaged after performing a ground loop at Heron Airport
described the field as having a 25' wide oiled runway.
The last authoritative depiction of Heron Airport as an active airfield which has been located was in the 1968 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Heron as having a single 2,545' paved Runway 17/35.
A parallel taxiway on the west side ran to a ramp on the northwest corner of the field, around which were clustered several small buildings.
Heron Airport was still depicted on the 1969 USGS topo map.
Raymond Mendoza recalled, “Heron Airport closed when I-10 was built through Blythe, this would be about 1969-1970.
I was born in 1965 in Blythe, and remember the freeway construction going on around the time I was 4-5 years old.
I do remember the runway being paved, and what was left on the south side of I-10 was used for storing hay much of the time.
The part on the north side of the freeway was never used for anything. The hangar became an automotive repair place.”
Heron Airport was no longer depicted at all on the 1975 USGS topo map.
The 1975 map showed that Interstate 10 had been constructed through the center of the former airport.
The 2002 USGS aerial photo showed that the site of the former Heron Airport had been bisected by Interstate 10.
A 2004 aerial photo showed that the outline of the former Runway 17/35 was still visible both north & south of the highway,
and portions of the former runway pavement appeared to remain on the south side.
A 2006 photo by Raymond Mendoza, looking south from Hobson Way at what appears to be a former Heron Airport hangar, on the northwest corner of the site.
Raymond reported, “The hangar appears to still be in use.”
The Heron Airport site is located west of the intersection of Interstate 10 & Intake Boulevard.
Gary Field / W R Byron Airport (44CA), Blythe, CA
33.68 North / 114.64 West (North of Yuma, AZ)
A 1942 photo of 2 unidentified Army civilian flight instructors in front of a Piper Cub at Gary Field.
Gary Field was the site of the Morton Air Academy,
which provided contract primary flight training to the Army Air Corps during WW2.
The date of construction of Gary Field is unknown.
However, a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis)
indicated that the first official training flight from Morton Air Academy took place on 6/30/42,
piloted by Aviation Cadet Gornik & Instructor Villagren.
The earliest photo which has been located of Gary Field
was a 1942 photo of 2 unidentified Army civilian flight instructors in front of a Piper Cub.
In the school's first 2 years over 265,000 hours had been flown,
and 3,750,000 gallons of gasoline were consumed by the school's Ryan & Stearman training planes.
A WW2-era aerial view of Gary Field,
from the cover of a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
A view looking north along the landing mat at Gary Field,
from a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
A WW2-era view of Gary Field's control tower & operations office,
from a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
A Ryan PT-22, surrounded by cadets at Gary Field.
Photo is from a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
Ted Morton, the president of the Morton Air Academy.
Photo is from a 1944 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
The President of Morton Air Academy was Ted Morton, who learned to fly in 1925.
After establishing a flying service in Los Angeles,
Morton was among the first to receive a contract by the military to operate a Civilian Pilot Training School.
The General Manager of the Morton Air Academy was Fred Falkin. Gary Field was named for his son Gary.
Gary Falkin, as depicted in a photo is from a WW2 class book from the Morton Air Academy (courtesy of Bob Alvis).
"Gary Field of young Master Gary Falkin.
He symbolizes the youth & undeniable future of aviation & the splendid record established at Gary Field gives him a proud heritage to fulfill."
The Wing Commander at the Morton Air Academy was Roger Pryor, Robert Driver was the Director of ground school,
and Tom Talbot was the Superintendent of Maintenance.
Gary Field had 2 large arch-roof hangars adjacent to the east side of the landing mat.
The northern large hangar was #1, while the southern hangar was marked #2.
An operations building with a control tower on top sat in between the 2 large hangars.
A smaller arch-roof hangar sat just northeast of the operations building, while the administration building sat the southeast.
The word "Morton" was painted on the roof of Hangar 1, "Air" was painted on the roof of the smaller hangar,
and "Academy" was painted on the roof of Hangar 2.
The Primary Flying School at Gary used the Stearman PT-17.
The contract flying schools were mostly staffed by civilian instructors.
The Commanding Officer was an AAF officer,
and usually there were AAF check pilots who made sure the students were qualified.
The Commander at Gary was Major Frank Fuller of the Fuller Paint Company fame.
The civilian head was Roger Pryor, who was a musical director for one of the Hollywood film studios.
Rebecca Serignese reported that "My grandfather (James Ciampolillo)
was an instructor at the Morton Air Academy during WW2.
My grandfather is the one in the center visually showing the cadets something with his hands."
"Gary, Army" was listed in the 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer).
It was described as having a 2,800' hard-surfaced runway.
A 1944 map of Gary Field ("Blythe Primary Flying School" at the top) & its 3 auxiliary fields & other nearby airfields (courtesy of John Voss).
Gary Field had a total of 3 auxiliary airfields during WW2:
A-1 Ripley #1 (10 miles south), A-2 Ripley #2 (8 miles south), and A-4 (which was located a mere half mile to the west).
Apparently not a trace remains of Gary Field's 3 former auxiliary fields.
A 1944 diagram (courtesy of John Voss) of the airfield at Gary Field (on the right), and its auxiliary field A-4 (on the left).
As depicted on the diagram, the airfield at Gary Field consisted of a rectangular landing mat, measuring 3,000' x 2,000'.
The earliest depiction of Gary Field on an aeronautical chart which has been located
was on the August 1945 San Diego Sectional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy), which depicted Gary as an auxiliary airfield.
The facilities of the former Morton Air Academy were reused in 1947 by the Palo Verde College,
and it was at this point that any aviation use of the airfield presumably ended.
The airfield at Gary Field was definitely closed by 1948,
as it was no longer depicted at all on the 1948 or 1949 San Diego Sectional Charts (according to Chris Kennedy).
However, Gary Field (& the Morton Air Academy) were still depicted on the 1951 USGS topo map (courtesy of Fran Blake).
A closer-scale 1951 USGS topo map labeled the Gary Field buildings as “Palo Verde High School & Junior College”, but no longer depicted the airfield at all.
An undated aerial view looking north at the former Gary Field, at the time reused as the facilities of Palo Verde High School,
from the 1955 Palo Verde Annual (courtesy of Fred Grande).
Fred observed, “It was taken before 1953 because when I was there, there were 15-20' tall cotton wood tree all around the parade grounds (quad) .
My sisters & I went to Gary Field (then called - Palo Verde High School). In fact I was in the last class going through – 1958.”
Palo Verde College continued to use the Gary Field facilities until 1958.
Gary Field was not depicted at all (even as an abandoned airfield) on the 1969, 1981.
Amazingly though, after being abandoned as an airfield for at least 33 years, the site of Gary Field was reused as a private airfield.
According to the FAA Airport/Facility Directory, as of 1981 the site has been registered as a private airfield, "W R Byron Airport" (44CA).
It was listed as having a single 2,640' asphalt Runway 18/36, with one single-engine aircraft based on the field.
The owner was listed as Willard R. Byron.
The 1994 USGS aerial photo showed that many of Gary Field's original hangars & buildings remained standing.
It did not show any indication of the use of the property as a private airfield.
Amazingly, even though Gary Field has apparently been abandoned for some 50 years,
in the 2002 USGS aerial photo, many of the original hangars & buildings remain standing.
In particular, the characteristic irregular arrangement of the barracks buildings which remains at the site
make the location of Gary Field very much recognizable.
One of the large arch-roof hangars remains standing (at the southwest corner of the group of buildings),
as well as the tower/operations building (just north of the large hangar),
as well as one smaller hangar (northeast of the tower/operations building).
The second large hangar (at the northwest corner of the site) was apparently removed, but its foundation is still clearly recognizable.
A 2,500' long portion of the former runway area remains intact, adjacent to the west side of the buildings.
A September 2004 panorama by Chris Kennedy looking northwest at the almost completely intact buildings & hangars of Gary Field.
A September 2004 photo by Chris Kennedy looking northwest at the 60-year old south hangar which remains standing at Gary Field.
A September 2004 photo by Chris Kennedy looking northwest at middle hangar at of Gary Field.
A September 2004 photo by Chris Kennedy looking northwest at the boarded-up control tower,
which remains standing on top of the former operations building.
Chris Kennedy visited the site of Gary Field in September 2004, and found that the site is remarkable well-preserved,
with most of the former airfield buildings & hangars still standing, and in quite good condition.
His report: "The Gary Field site is completely fenced off & marked 'Private' & 'No Trespassing'.
As you can see in the pictures, there are electric wires running into it & some evidence of use of some of the buildings.
I was surprised to find so much still intact."
A July 2008 aerial view by Glen Haas (of Glen Haas Aerial Photography) looking northeast at the control tower & a hangar at Gary Field.
Glen observed, “I flew over the remnants of this field & was curious as to its origins.
The design of the main terminal & the layout of the other buildings/classrooms/hangers/etc was really quite interesting.
Given that Blythe is a miserably hot, barren place (especially 50 years ago) it amazed me this place existed.
What was more amazing was the size of the place. I flew over in a 1946 Cessna 120 so it seems fitting.”
A July 2008 aerial view by Glen Haas (of Glen Haas Aerial Photography) looking east at the remains of Gary Field.
As of 2009, the FAA Airport/Facility Directory still shows the site of Gary Field
being used as a private airfield, "W R Byron Airport" (44CA).
In Keith Wood's words, "Nice to see one of the old ones get a new life."
A sad 2012 photo by Travis Waters of the Gary Field control tower, still standing, but with the first-floor roof caving in.
Travis reported, “The place looks pretty abandoned & torn up.”
What a shame that someone can not stabilize this evocative part of our nation's aviation heritage.
A 2012 photo by Travis Waters of the interior of a Gary Field hangar.
A 2012 photo by Travis Waters of what appears to be the remains of hangar door tracks at Gary Field, with something appearing to have gone straight through the building along the same axis?
A panoramic 2012 photo by Travis Waters of the hangars & other remaining buildings at Gary Field.
The site of Gary Field is located at the northwestern terminus of West Wells Road, 6 miles northwest of Blythe.
(Original) Desert Center Airport, Desert Center, CA
33.72 North / 115.39 West (Northeast of Los Angeles, CA)
The original Desert Center Airport, as depicted on the February 1934 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
Photo of the airport while open has not been located.
The original airport for the town of Desert Center was located adjacent to the northeast side of the town.
The date of constructino of the Desert Center Airport has not been determined.
The earliest reference to the field which has been located
was in the 1929 Airplane Landing Fields of the Pacific West (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It described Desert Center as a private field owned by S. A. Ragsdale,
which was open to the public for emergency purposes.
The field was said to consist of sandy runways measuring 4,000' east/west & 2,600' north/south.
The Airport Directory Company's 1933 Airport Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) described Desert Center as a commercial airport.
It was said to be a dirt field with 2 runways in a cross shape: 4,000' east/west & 2,600' north/south.
The Desert Center Airport apparently gained lights at some point between 1933-38,
as The Airport Directory Company's 1938 Airport Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
described the field as having beacon, boundary, and approach lights.
The airfield had also changed when compared with the 1933 directory: it was now described as having 2 sod runways in an “L” shape,
measuring 3,000' east/west & 2,600' north/south.
Note: it is a little optimistic that this field in the middle of the California desert had “sod” runways!
At some point between 1938-40 the Desert Center Airport started serving as one of the Department of Commerce's network of Intermediate Fields
(located for emergency use of commercial aircraft in between major cities).
The August 1940 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Desert Center Airport as “Site 17” along the airway.
The Airport Directory Company's 1941 Airport Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
described the Desert Center Airport as the Civil Aeronautic Administration's Site 17 along the LA – Phoenix Airway.
The field was described as having 2 “gravelly sandy” runways in an “L” shape: 3,740' east/west & 2,860' north/south.
The August 1943 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
continued to depict the original Desert Center Airport,
but it also showed that the new Desert Center Army Airfield had been established closeby to the northeast.
Desert Center Airport was described in the April 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer)
as as being Site 17 along the Los Angeles – Phoenix Airway.
It was described as having a 3,800' unpaved runway.
The Haire Publishing Company's 1945 Airport Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
described Desert Center Airport as CAA Intermediate Field #17.
It was said to be a “class 3” airfield, privately owned but operated by the CAA.
The manager was listed as Stanley Ragsdale.
The field was described as having 2 gravel runways: 3,740' east/west & 2,860' north/south.
The last chart depiction which has been located of the original Desert Center Airport as an active airfield
was on the March 1949 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Desert Center Airport as having a 3,700' unpaved runway.
The Desert Center Airport was evidently abandoned at some point between 1949-51,
as it was no longer depicted at all on the March 1951 San Diego Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
The 2 runways of Desert Center Airport were still depicted on a 1954 AAA map of Riverside County (courtesy of Chris Kennedy),
but it was labeled simply as “Landing Field”,
which most likely indicates that it was no longer an active airport by that point.
The Desert Center Airport was no longer depicted at all on the 1963 USGS topo map.
In the 2002 USGS aerial photo, the outline of almost all of the former north/south runway was still intact.
The outline of the east/west runway was also still somewhat recognizable, although it had been built upon.
A 2006 aerial photo by Joe Merkert looking northeast at the original Desert Center Airport,
showing “the wrecked car storage facility on the southern runway with the north/south runway still clear.”
The Desert Center Airport is located northwest of the intersection of Route 177 & Ragsdale Road.
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