Torrance Airport (CA) (Images of Aviation)
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Californians were panicked by the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, and civilian flights within 200 miles of the coast were immediately terminated. Airfields were commandeered and new ones hastily built. One of these was the Lomita Flight Strip, known today as Zamperini Field, the Torrance Municipal Airport, or TOA. This 490-acre parcel sent four squadrons of P-38 fighter pilots off to war with one commanded by the judge of the Charles Manson trial, an ex-Flying Tiger. Six other pilots became generals, two became commandants of cadets at the Air Force Academy, and one became the only fighter pilot with combat victories in both World War II and the Vietnam War. Japanese Americans returning from World War II internment camps found temporary housing at the field, and the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian helicopters settled there in 1973. The first runway takeoff of a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft was pioneered at TOA, and aerobatic champ Bob Herendeen trained at the site.
FBOs and businesses in the early 1970s. (Courtesy City of Torrance.) From 1958 through 1972, annual air shows drew enormous crowds, such as this 1 of nearly 100,000 at the 1971 Torrance Air Fair in October. (Courtesy City of Torrance.) Air fairs frequently included displays from the Southern California aerospace industry, such as this scale model of a Titan III Space Booster, courtesy of the Los Angeles Air Force Base in nearby El Segundo. The control tower (background) was kept busy
harmlessly into a Santa Barbara oil-tank farm. Two days later, Los Angeles sirens sounded and searchlights stabbed the night sky as antiaircraft guns rattled at a UFO, or maybe a weather balloon, an off-course B-25, or perhaps an actual Japanese aircraft was shot down, quickly scraped up, and hauled off by the army in deeply cloaked secrecy. The country was at war! Among 40 airfields built by the Bureau of Public Roads was the Lomita Flight Strip, a nondescript piece of sheltered farmland in the
Wake Island with 500- and 1,000-pound bombs. Six subsequent missions bombed Japanese installations on Nauru, Makin, and Tarawa Islands. (Courtesy Louis Zamperini.) On April 19, 1943, Lou and his B-24 “Superman” bombed the phosphate plants and airfield on tiny Japanese-held Nauru Island but not without considerable resistance. Five hundred bullet and cannon shells punctured “Superman”—the right tail was shot off, hydraulics shot out, one tire flattened, one crewman killed, and several others
479th Fighter Group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation from headquarters, 8th Air Force, for outstanding accomplishments during the missions of August 18, 1944, September 5, 1944, and September 26, 1944. These three missions resulted in the destruction of 124 enemy aircraft and 65 damaged while losing only two pilots and planes. (Courtesy Fred Hayner.) In September 1944, the 479th Fighter Group transitioned to the North American P-51 “Mustang.” Maj. Robin Olds increased his aerial
ferried around the country by WASP pilots. Armed with four .50-caliber machine guns in an upper turret and four 20-mm cannons in the belly, it could also carry a bomb load of 6,400 pounds. Note the coastline of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Torrance, and Redondo Beach. (Photograph by Ray Wolford; courtesy Iris Critchell.) Three THE POSTWAR YEARS In the months following September 1945, when Lomita Flight Strip was declared surplus, a blizzard of federal paperwork decided its fate along with many