Air Wing That Reached the Stars Has a New Home


The “Hollywood Air Force” has landed in Ventura County.

The 146th Tactical Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard, widely known for its ties to the movie and TV industries during the more than 40 years it was based in Van Nuys, has moved into a new $75-million headquarters near the Navy’s Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu.

Monday, the federal government will officially return the 146th’s former headquarters at Van Nuys Airport to the city of Los Angeles.

The chief reason for moving the 146th from Van Nuys to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Base was increased air traffic at the San Fernando Valley airport, said Maj. Michael Ritz, the unit’s spokesman.


“When the 146th first moved there in 1947, the Valley was as sparsely inhabited as the Hueneme-Mugu area is now,” Ritz said.

The unit’s new home is on 66 acres of former bean and strawberry fields just north of Point Mugu.

The 1,500 full- and part-time air guardsmen of the 146th have already moved into the base with their 16 giant transport planes, known as C-130E Hercules transports.

Thursday, the base opened its doors to the outside world for the first time when 30 foreign journalists assembled there before flying to Edwards Air Force Base on a tour of NASA and Air Force installations.

The base, which has more than a dozen stucco buildings and hangars with red tile roofs, resembles a cross between a traditional military facility and a college campus. Grassy areas bordered by colorful flower beds give it a collegiate flavor, but the camouflage-green planes look--and are--battle-ready.

But, as if to prove that the 146th still refuses to take itself too seriously, a display case in one of the unit’s buildings offers silk “flying scarves” for sale at $10 apiece. Instead of boasting an official motto, the scarves are emblazoned, in lipstick red, with pairs of unmistakably puckered lips.

The 146th--the largest Air National Guard tactical airlift wing in the United States--has brought with it a tradition of service--and eccentricity--that dates back to the 1940s.

Although more serious historians prefer to cite the unit’s contributions to U.S. military campaigns in Vietnam, Korea and Panama, others recall that Hollywood luminaries such as movie executive Alan Ladd Jr. and actor Jerry Mathers, who played the title role in TV’s “Leave It to Beaver,” are former members of the 146th.

The Van Nuys base and the unit’s planes appeared in films and TV shows such as “Raid on Entebbe,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Firefox” and “Call to Glory.”

Longtime members of the 146th are proud that the group assisted when many of Bob Hope’s USO troupes took off from Van Nuys to entertain U.S. servicemen overseas, Ritz said.

Even in this era of tightened defense budgets, the 146th can’t entirely escape its Hollywood roots. Ritz, its chief public affairs officer, is the son of the late Harry Ritz, a member of the famed Ritz Brothers comedy team of the 1930s and ‘40s.

However, for two days a month, and during annual active-training stints lasting 15 days, the men and women of the 146th can be deadly serious. Their huge aircraft are used for diverse assignments such as carrying troops, battling forest fires and flying humanitarian missions.

Last December, the unit participated in Operation Just Cause, the U.S. campaign that overthrew the Noriega regime. But the air guardsmen only carried supplies and men and did not take part in the fighting. The unit also carried medical supplies to San Francisco and Mexico City after those cities were hit by earthquakes.

The guardsmen, about 80% of whom are part-time members of the 146th with full-time civilian jobs, recently added a new dimension to its activities: drug enforcement. With the National Guard, federal drug-enforcement officials and other agencies, the Air National Guard has begun a program to spot smugglers from the air, Ritz said.