Burbank’s airport began capturing people’s imaginations with the
prospect of flying to unexplored places when it opened 73 years ago,
and its rich past was celebrated at a party honoring the city’s
contribution to 100 years of aviation history.
The aviation industry was launched when Orville Wright piloted the
first successful flight Dec. 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and
celebrations of that achievement are happening throughout the
country. Burbank’s party Thursday recognized the airport’s 73 years
of carrying passengers to their desired destinations and building
military and commercial planes.
The airport was the area’s main commercial airport from 1930 to
1946, and was home to Lockheed Corp. when it built the world’s
fastest plane -- the SR-71 Blackbird.
“I think every person who lives in Burbank should be proud that
the world’s fastest airplane was designed right here in Burbank,”
said resident Robert Gilliland, 75, a Blackbird test pilot.
The dangerous job meant facing multiple emergencies like
hydraulic, engine and landing failures while perfecting the spy
plane. The plane holds the world’s speed record of 3.2 mach, which is
more than three times the speed of sound, is faster than a sniper’s
bullet and will get a pilot from Palmdale to Florida in one hour,
Hangar 34 at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport was filled with
Burbank aviation pioneers like Gilliland, women dressed in flight
attendant uniforms dating from the 1930s to today, public officials
and, of course, airplanes, including a Bushmaster Tri-motor, a P-40
Flying Tiger and a Stearman biplane.
David Simmons’ early interest in flight led to regular visits to
the airport on his motorcycle. He was 14 when he attended the
facility’s May 30, 1930, dedication as United Airport.
“I saw Amelia Earhart out quite a bit,” Simmons said. “I’d see her
out in the coffee shop in the ‘30s when I’d ride my cycle around the
Simmons also got his hair cut on a day when Charles Lindbergh was
having his shoes shined at the airport’s barber shop. Simmons worked
for the airport as operations manager and president, and has the pen
used to “sign away” the facility from Lockheed Air Terminal to the
three cities in 1978.
Former mayor Bill Rudell, 63, was a key player in negotiating that
sale, and became one of Burbank’s first airport commissioners.
“Our ultimate goal was to preserve the airport as part of the
national air transportation system, and to continue to derive the
economic benefits that are attributable to a commercial air carrier
airport,” Rudell said.