Flight enthusiasts celebrate centennial of historic aviation meet

The Goodyear Blimp kicks off the year-long Centennial Aviation Day.
The Goodyear Blimp kicks off the year-long Centennial Aviation Day.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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The week-long event in 1910 turned a flat field near what's now the city of Carson into the world capital of heavier-than-air flight.

Flight enthusiasts chartered the Goodyear Blimp to get a bird's eye view of area where the meet took place. After a sharp climb, Goodyear Blimp pilot Kirsten Davis described the airspace 1,500 feet above the intersection of the 405 and Harbor Freeways.

"This is one of the busiest airspaces in the country next to, maybe New York’s airspace. There’s always people training, this is a popular training area out here in the Long Beach harbor, lots of students out here, tons of helicopter traffic because they’re transporting people all over the city, giving lots of sightseeing tours, and lots of news copters out here too."

Davis knows airplanes. Alison Bruesehoff director of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, knows the history of the land below."If you head towards that mass of white buildings right there, that’s the Dominguez technology center, that actually is the airfield from 1910, believe it or not."

Aviation promoters organized the week-long meet a century ago. Local business groups and Los Angeles Examiner newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst paid for it. More than 10,000 paid 25 cents on opening day. They got their money’s worth, Bruesehoff said.

"They had the dirigibles, they had the hot air balloons and they had the fixed wing aircraft and that was basically anything goes. There was anything from Zerbe’s contraption — which had 11 wings — to an ornithopter to planes that didn’t have any type of engine or no wings."

Daredevil pilots, speed record holders, and European rock star aviators competed for more than a dozen cash prizes, including two top prizes of $3,000.

The Goodyear Blimp touched down at its airfield a few miles from where the 1910 meet took place.
That event jump started the Southland’s dominance of world wide aerospace manufacturing. Almost all those companies are gone now. Historian Alison Bruesehoff said the commemoration is about remembering the events that launched an industry, and imagining its future.