Veterans take tour around Central Coast with Honor Flight

PASO ROBLES — The community gathered on Saturday to officially celebrate 50 years of the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. Over a thousand guests came out to the airport on Sept. 23 to explore aircraft and learn about the airport’s history and future.

“It was a very good turnout,” said Airport Commissioner Tony Gaspar. “Just a nice, steady flow of people throughout the day. The weather could not have been better.” 

A headline from the Aug. 27, 1942, issue of Paso Robles Press records the start of the airport with a headline reading, “U.S. Picks Estrella For Base — 1200 Acre Tract To Be Site For Marine Corps Air Field.”

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Paso Robles Mayor John Hamon (left) receives recognition on behalf of the Paso Robles Municipal Airport from Clinte Weirick, Senior District Representative for State Senator John Laird. 

The airport came about when the United States Army negotiated and acquired just over 1,200 acres in the Estrella area for a U.S. Army airfield built on properties formally owned by A.M. Boyer, Otto Kuehl, George Matthew, John Moore, the Padian Estate, William Radloff, Tillie Schlecker, and Lillie Tuley. In just over six months, 2,000 construction workers had completed the airfield by April 1943, and the Estrella Army Airfield was up and running. 

By October 1944, the airport was inactivated and turned over to San Luis Obispo County for public use. By 1973, the county sold the air base to the City of Paso Robles for $1, and the Estrella Army Air Force Base officially became the town’s municipal airport.

Today the Paso Robles Municipal Airport houses over 40 businesses, employing over 700 people. Many of these businesses lie outside the airfields fence. As an economic engine for the city, the airport has been a place where non-aviation businesses have been able to thrive. From the time of its acquisition, the city has held the airport in high regard. Not only is it the largest property they own, but it has held a view of being the city’s key to growth and opportunities.

Paso Robles Mayor John Hamon received recognition on behalf of the airport from State Senator John Laird (D-Calif.), presented by Senior District Representative Clint Weirick. 

As a pilot himself, Hamon has been a long-time supporter of the airport.

“He [Hamon] has been a big supporter of the airport as a councilman,” said Gaspar. “It was good to see a successful event within the first month of him taking office.”

But the highlight of the day was with Honor Flight Central Coast California, which started the day by taking some local veterans on a tour of the Central Coast. The tour ended with an American flag parachute drop and singing of the national anthem.

Local pilot Ben Andros flew an F-18 from Lemoore and a Black Hawk Helicopter made a few trips in and out of the airport.

With over 250 clear weather flying days a year in Paso Robles, the airport is in an ideal spot for pilots to land, including the Royal Air Force, who recently transferred their training operations from San Luis Obispo County Airport to Paso Robles. The RAF hopes to make Paso Robles its base of operations for several months out of the year, citing good weather and proximity to nearby military ranges as Paso Robles’ advantages. 

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NASA pilot Herman Posada (left) and local pilot Chuck Wentworth stand in front of a T-34C on display at the 50-Year Celebration of the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of Paso Robles Municipal Airport

Airport Manager Mark Scandalis said the main focus of the event was “Highlighting the past, present, and future of the airport.”

He added, “Paso Robles is lucky to have a major highway, rail system and airport as gateways to our city. The airport provides jobs and an industry associated with air travel that is relatively uncommon for a city our size.”

Looking towards the future, in 2022, the Paso Robles City Council unanimously voted yes to submit pre-application information to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a spaceport license for the Paso Robles Municipal Airport.

The effort to earn a spaceport designation began as a way to diversify career opportunities within Paso Robles, which currently relies on wine and tourism for its economy. At the time of introducing the spaceport, city staff noted several benefits the project would bring to the Central Coast, including economic development, education and training opportunities, research and technology (grants and other opportunities), potential to develop existing resources, utilities, and airport ecosystem.

There are currently 14 licensed commercial spaceports in the United States, including one in California, located in the Mojave Desert. The proposed spaceport activity includes horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing (HTHL) only; vertical launches will not be a part of the spaceport license application. HTHL spacecraft will operate within the airport environment much like current fixed-wing aircraft traffic and will utilize existing infrastructure to reach low earth orbit. 

“No one knows exactly where we will be. But it is safe to say, over the next 50 years, the airport will remain an integral part of the Paso Robles community,” added Scandalis. 

If plans for the spaceport are successful, Paso Robles will become the eighth spaceport in the United States. 

Feature Image: Airport regular Marc Dart checks out a plane during the 50th anniversary celebration for Paso Robles Municipal Airport on Saturday, Sept. 23.