In 1927 Captain G. Allan Hancock founded the Allan Hancock Air Field. For years it was a peaceful setting, but with a few events of aviation historical interest. One of these was the sponsorship by Captain Hancock of the first trans-Pacific flight by Charles Kingsford-Smith and three other men in a Fokker Tri-motor, the “Southern Cross,” shown here on display in Santa Maria. This trip started on May 31, 1928, just one year and eleven days after Charles Lindbergh’s history making 33.5 hour non-stop flight across the Atlantic.
The Southern Cross left Oakland, California on its way to Brisbane Australia. They stopped in Oahu and refueled in Kauai with the next stop in Fiji. This was a trip of 34.5 hours with only 41 hours of fuel on board. They arrived in Brisbane on June 9 to the roar of admiring crowds.
Later in 1928 Captain Hancock established a flying school that would grow into a major primary pilot training activity during World War II. The Hancock Foundation College of Aeronautics was established on October 21, 1928. Ten-week classes were offered prospective pilot candidates, with successful individuals becoming licensed pilots. Graduation of 34 of the first 49 students occurred on May 21, 1929.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II General Hap Arnold determined that the Army Air Corps needed assistance in producing enough pilots for the war he was sure the United States would soon be engaged in. The Hancock school was selected as one of eight civilian institutions to provide primary training. This training began on September 17, 1939; just 40 days after Captain Hancock and the others had met with General Arnold.
Training continued until June of 1944. On the 26th of that month, the last of the PT-13 Stearman “Yellow Peril” aircraft were flown to storage by instructor pilots. Pilot graduates from Hancock compiled an enviable record in World War II in all theaters of the war. For instance, four Hancock graduates took part in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942. One of them, Ted Lawson, is the author of the book, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”
After the war, the Hancock flight school was leased to the University of Southern California and used to support a four-year course of instruction towards an Aeronautics Degree. During the Korean War, the school trained aviation mechanics for the United States Air Force. Then in 1954 the Santa Maria Junior College, now G. Allan Hancock Community College, purchased 40 acres of the airport site. Some original buildings from the airport are still in use as part of the college.
The current Santa Maria airport, also named for Captain Hancock, was born from the necessity to train bomber pilots during World War II. In early 1942 the Army Corps of Engineers bought the first 160 acres of land, from an early Santa Maria family, the Toys, for $79 an acre. The area needed grew to over 3600 acres as the field was developed.
Plans to base B-25 bombers at the base were scrapped when it was discovered that runways and taxi-strips were not sufficient for the weight of loaded B-25’s. The initial use of the field was for training service groups to support Army Air Force activities overseas. This included transportation, maintenance, supply and other type activities. The transfer to the 4th Air Force in September 1943 marked a change in mission to training P-38 squadrons just prior to overseas transfer. Several P-38 units trained at Santa Maria and its sub-bases, Estrella (Paso Robles) and Oxnard. Ultimately the decision was made to perform advanced pilot replacement training on the P-38 aircraft at Santa Maria, and that continued until June, 1945. In the time span from late 1943 until June 1945 633 new P-38 pilots graduated from training at Santa Maria Army Air Field.
In 1945 the Santa Maria Army Air Field was chosen to be the base for the first jet fighter squadron in the Army Air Force, flying the Bell P-59 aircraft. As the war wound down, this unit transferred to March Field in Riverside, California, and the Santa Maria base was phased out and closed.
The old air base became the present commercial airport, on which the museum is located.