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Wings Around the World

The First Douglas DC-3, “The Spirit of Santa Monica”

When I first moved in Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966, a large chunk of the City of Santa Monica consisted of the Douglas Aircraft plant between Ocean Park and Airport Boulevards. It is long since gone. All that remains is a small Museum of Flying that mostly celebrates the legacy of Donald Douglas and his company. Out front, permanently mounted, is the first DC-3, “The Spirit of Santa Monica.”

The first airplanes to circumnavigate the globe was a team of Douglas World Cruiser planes piloted by U.S. Army Air Service pilots in 1924. A number of displays at the museum dedicate that Herculean 175-day series of flights.

When it was located a couple blocks north, the Museum of Flying used to be bigger, but then it was forced to move out to the boonies. After a few years, a much smaller museum came back. No matter, it’s still fun.

When I look back over the last hundred or so years, the biggest miracle was the airplane. Man has wanted to fly ever since he learned how to use tools, but it was only about a hundred years ago that passenger flight became possible. My two-hour flight to Albuquerque next month would have been impossible. I would have had to board a Santa Fe train that takes many more hours to cover the distance. And before the Transcontinental Railroad, it would take 20 miles a day by horse and wagon—if I were lucky.

Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica in the 1940s

Probably the best aviation museum Martine and I have visited is the one in Palm Springs. It’s so mhuge that one could easily spend two days exploring all the exhibits. There is also a nice one on the outskirts of Paso Robles north of San Luis Obispo. Probably what makes these museums fun is that there are so many retired pilots acting as docents who have their subject down cold. Within a few years, as the World War Two generation fades into memory, many of these airports may no longer be viable. So see them while you can.

7 thoughts on “Wings Around the World

  1. There’s a wonderful “warbirds” museum in Tillamook, Oregon – a little far for a Sunday walk, but if you’re in the area… It’s housed inside an old blimp hangar that, according to Ian, has the world’s largest free-standing wooden roof. Aside from the Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mount Hood, it was probably the most impressive (man-made) thing we saw on our trip to Oregon a few years ago.

  2. You raise an interesting point about scientific advances. I once read an article about why basic science hasn’t seemed to be advancing as much as it used to “in the old days”. The author’s choice for the most important scientific advance in history was the electric light. For better or worse, it freed mankind from the tyranny of the diurnal cycle. Compared to the electric light (and other uses of electricity), there were very few basic applications of scientific knowledge that could possibly have had as big an impact.

    Another author, James Gleick in his book “Faster”, pointed out another paradigm-changing invention, although for an offbeat reason. It was the railroad. The availability of rapid transportation was certainly paradigm-changing, but what Gleick had in mid was railroad schedules. Before the railroad, time as far as humans were concerned seemed to move at a different pace – minutes were not very important, let alone seconds, microseconds, and zeptoseconds. But minutes became very important to keep the railroad running “on time”.

  3. Hi Jim,
    Hope you and Martine are well.
    Back in the late 60s, I used to ride the Number 3 Ocean Park Blvd. bus to the UCLA campus. Workers from the Douglas plant would get on with their lunch pails. The shrimp fleet was also still anchored in Santa Monica bay. Santa Monica still had the feel of being a working class beach town.

  4. Yes, I think you are right. It’s been awhile. I took the blue bus all through my undergraduate years, but nonetheless, I seem to have forgotten my route numbers! I know I took the 2 up Wilshire, the 1 up Santa Monica (or, was it the other way around?) the 3, yes, went up Lincoln and even to the airport, is that right? So it must have been the 8. LOL Also, I may have transferred in there at some point. I really did love the Santa Monica bus lines until the 80s, when all the homeless started to ride it, and I felt less secure overall, by myself or with my children, so I got a car.

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