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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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OTHER BOOKS FOR YOU

"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

"Art Goebel's Own Story" by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-1-8.

"Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race" is available at the link. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing. ISBN 978-0-9843074-3-2.

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In October 2005 in Tucson I met Captain George R. Monthan, USN (Ret), nephew of Oscar Monthan for whom the Airfield is named. Besides providing interesting photos and anecdotes about the early Airfield, he told me that the correct pronunciation of the his family name is "Mon-tin". Note that the "th" is not pronounced. Spread the word. Please direct your browser to this link to see a very unusual and significant image Captain Monthan shares with us.

At the same time, I had the great pleasure of meeting with Mr. Alan B. Thomas of Tucson, who contacted me through my Web site. Mr. Thomas was, as a teenager, witness to several years of Airfield activity. He was a student there, and Al Hudgin (see text, right) taught him to fly in 1938-39. He went on to a 30-year career with the USAF, including eight years at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. His comments to me about the orientation of photographs, and, especially, his identification of buildings and other features on the images have been very valuable.

He says, "As a youngster I spent many weekends waiting and watching for cross country military planes to land and refuel. And, old M/Sgt Dewey Simpson was a friend there. I well remember in the 1930s watching those earlier pilots sign-in on the Register."

An excellent read for understanding the history of aviation in Arizona is provided by Ruth M. Reinhold's 1982 book entitled, "Sky Pioneering: Arizona in Aviation History" (University of Arizona Press, Tucson. ISBN 0-8165-0737-6). She describes the early airfield beginning on p. 73.

Another, more general read is: Bednarek, Janet. 2001. America’s Airports: Airfield Development, 1918-1927. Texas A&M Univ. Press. College Station, TX. ISBN 1585441309.

A definitive history of the airfield is available with this download.

A tabulated history, plus an interesting cartoon history, are available at this link.

 
Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register
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THE DAVIS-MONTHAN AIRFIELD

THE SOUTHERN ROUTE

Take a look at a US map that shows terrain features and you'll see that the east-west line defined by El Paso, Tucson, Yuma and San Diego follows relatively low elevations. This, along with fuel capacity and altitude limitations of early aircraft designs, is a big factor in why the Davis-Monthan Airfield was a popular stopping place for civil, military and commercial pilots traveling east from California and west from New York during the Golden Age of flight.

CHRONOLOGY OF THE DAVIS- MONTHAN AIRFIELD

Early Tucson airports occupied a couple of different geographical sites around the city in the 1920's. The identity and timeline of changes for the several fields is described in the references in the lower left sidebar.

We are interested in what became the Davis-Monthan Airfield. The genealogy is fairly straight-forward. In 1919 the City of Tucson allocated a property south of city center. The field was at its position on what would become the corner of Livingston Ave. and S. 6th St. in south Tucson. It was what was called the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.

The earliest official diagram I have is below, dated 1923, courtesy of a site visitor. The property was called the Municipal Field. The hangar building shown in the lower left corner of this diagram is still standing today.

Tucson Airport Diagram, May 15, 1923 (Source: Site Visitor)
Tucson Airport Diagram, May 15, 1923 (Source: Site Visitor)

The warped nature of the diagram is due to a scanning anomaly. Note that this location is a square. Compare it to the asymmetric quadrilateral of the later, ca. 1927, location shown in the aerial photographs just below. Immediately below, the text description from the Aeronautical Bulletin for May 15, 1923, which accompanied the diagram above.

Tucson Airport Description, May 15, 1923 (Source: Site Visitor)
Tucson Airport Description, May 15, 1923 (Source: Site Visitor)
Early D-M Airfield

Late in 1926, the airfield was moved farther south to its present position. The location of the "new" Davis-Monthan Airfield is currently in the northwest corner of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (refer to the series of images below).

At right is an early image of the airfield in its present location, probably before 1932, facing southwest. The present Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is toward the upper left and off the photo (image from DMAFB Office of Natural/Cultural Resources).

If you study the definitive history linked at left, you'll discover on page 17 of that document that the "new" location was completed in 1927, just in time for its dedication by Charles Lindbergh during his visit at Tucson in September that year.

Apropos the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register, it lay open at both the "old" Municipal Field and "new" Davis-Monthan locations. When it was moved to the new location can be inferred, plus or minus a few months, from information on the biography page for pilot Al Gilhousen. Although the actual date is not clear, it was near February 6, 1927. Not only does the scrap of paper exhibited at Gilhousen's page state, "First plane to land on new Davis-Monthan Aviation Field," but an article in the Tucson Citizen of February 7, 1927 states the same, "The first ship to land on the new Davis-Monthan field,..., set down to a perfect three-point landing by Al Gilhousen, commercial pilot, carrying passengers Sergt. Dewey Simpson and Paul Gustine." Additional images of the Airfield are available on this site at the Cosgrove Photograph and Document Collection.

Below, left, is an image of the airfield in 1936, just before the register record ends. North is toward the top of the image (both images courtesy of DMAFB Office of Natural/Cultural Resources). I added the property lines and dates.

At right is an identical image from 1954. Notice the changed geometries of runways and taxiways, some extending and following the same path as the old runway. Look closely and you'll see changes were also made to some of the buildings on the southwest border of the airfield. The Air Force Base property clearly extends south and east of the old airfield property boundary.

Airfield, 1954
Airfield, 1936

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the aerial photo of the airfield above, left, the square, southernmost building, directly above the "9", is the Army Air Corps hangar built in 1932 by the WPA. It is a utilitarian, well-built structure, with sliding doors on the north and south sides, and a glass block facade on the northwest. This page (PDF 626KB), from the "Western Flyer" in 1931 tells of the plans and funding for the hangar (it also mentions other airfields near Tucson).

DETAILS OF BUILDINGS ON THE AIRFIELD IN THE 1930s

Feature Details

The image at left is cut from the image directly above it. It specifically identifies some of the structures on the field (courtesy of Mr. Thomas). At top is the location of staff homes. Al Hudgin, the FBO manager, and Dewey Simpson, the Airfield manager, rented homes (labeled "staff homes") on the west side of South Alvernon Way.

The American Airlines terminal, welcoming the Douglas sleepers and many movie stars, was located on the west border. The location of that building is now under some 50 feet of elevated roadway.

The approximate location of the Lindy Light (see newspaper references, right column) is shown, although there is conjecture as to its exact location. The "cottage" was allegedly the home of Dewey Simpson. However, Mr. Thomas and his resources agree that Mr. Simpson did not live in the cottage by the AAC hangar. See this link to the Cosgrove Photograph and Document Collection for ground level images of these structures that clarify their juxtaposition.

The nighttime image at right (taken in 1928), from the Arizona Daily Star in 1956, is of the large quonset-type hangar owned by the City of Tucson. Around the mid-30s, Al Hudgin rented this hangar and started his own business of aircraft maintenance and flight instruction. It was out of this hangar that Alan Thomas took his first airplane ride in a bright red Stinson, and then learned to fly with Mr. Hudgin as his instructor.

 

The final building is the Gilpin hangar. Before you read on, please link to C.W. Gilpin for some background on this building. This is the hangar built at the Airfield by ..... This image was taken after the building was moved to...

STILL WORKING ON THIS SECTION....

I HAVE AN IMAGE OF THE American Airlines TERMINAL COMING ALSO...

 

 

 

 

 

 

1932 Terminal

1932 HANGAR TODAY

The 1932 hangar stands today as we speak, and it is the subject of a move to make it a National Historic Landmark. We should all wish that endeavor well, not only for the obvious historic importance of the building, but also for the impact the people and airplanes that visited the Airfield made on the future of aviation.

The photo,left, of the southeastern face of the terminal, was taken in 2002. The wind was blowing on the day I took that photo. As it jostled and blew through the sliding hangar doors I could hear the sighs, gossip and whispers of a thousand pilot ghosts passing through the cracks, each recounting their flights long ago, and requesting their stories be told.

The concrete pad visible in the foreground was the floor of Al Hudgin's hangar SE of the terminal in the 1936 and 1954 photos.

1932 Terminal Entrance

At right is your Webmaster at the glass block NE facade and entrance door of the 1932 hangar. Of the pilots and passengers you call from the dropdown menus, above, who landed after 1932, many passed through this door. As a pilot, standing there was powerful juju. You will understand this better as you further explore this Web site.

1932 Terminal Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

Left, above, inside the terminal you see the robust structure of the ceiling, with old-style slant out windows painted over, and porcelainized light reflectors. According to Mr. Thomas, Dewey Simpson, the airfield manager, stored extra wings for the Boeing P-26 in those rafters. That airplane was prone to ground loops and when it happened he always had a spare wing to mount.

Below, today the space is being used for Air Force Base storage, including what looks like a vertical stabilizer from an A-10 at center.

Terminal Storage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Runway

 

To the right, a view of the 1932 hangar looking northwesterly. The old runway, a later asphalt version (ca. 1937), is visible as a faint line running left to right at the lower half of this photo. The original checkerboard roof pattern has been replaced with text identifying Davis-Monthan Air Force Base active units.

 

 

 

Below is a news article from theTucson Daily Citizen of August 1, 1947. In the wake of the end of WWII, the history of the Airfield was summarized in this article. Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for sharing this article.

Tucson Daily Citizen, August 1, 1947 (Source: Woodling)
Tucson Daily Citizen, August 1, 1947 (Source: Woodling)

Davis was killed flying the Curtiss JN-6HG-1 "Jenny" AS#44796. In the same newspaper, the advertisment below features the Pioneer Hotel. The hotel was a common resting place for Register pilots and passengers.

Tucson Daily Citizen, August 1, 1947 (Source: Woodling)
Tucson Daily Citizen, August 1, 1947 (Source: Woodling)

Below, a baggage label from the Pioneer Hotel.

Pioneer Hotel, Baggage Label, Date Unknown (Source: Cosgrove)
Pioneer Hotel, Baggage Label, Date Unknown (Source: Cosgrove)

 

GOLDEN AGE TRAFFIC AT THE AIRFIELD

Interesting is the report of traffic numbers cited by Reinhold (p. 97ff. in the reference top left column). For 1926, Reinhold reports 215 landings, with 185 landings made by military aircraft. The Register database (queried by year) yields 210 total landings, with 185 made by military pilots. Traffic for other years cited by Reinhold is more or less in agreement with the Register and my database derived there from.

Regardless of the minor discrepancies, on average, by today's standards, airfield traffic was "relaxed". In the register, which lay for pilots to sign on a desk at the field between February 6, 1925 and November 26, 1936, we count 3,704 landings. This is just about one logged landing per day over the life of the register. But, when you go through the list of pilots and airplanes, quality certainly outshines quantity!

The graph of counts below (I know, it needs updating), extracted from my database, shows that traffic was by no means evenly distributed, especially for 1928 and 1929, just before the Great Depression.

Traffic by Year

 

It is clear, after Lindbergh dedicated the field in 1927 (see this link), traffic increased over three times annually. Unfortunately, aviation ran into the Great Depression and from 1929 on traffic dropped to about one airplane per week in the mid to late 30's. Maybe this is why the Register record stopped in 1936.

A slight majority of landings each year was made by military pilots. The Depression had about the same effect on civilian and military aviation alike.

 

 

 

THE DAVIS-MONTHAN AIRFIELD TODAY

Below are two aerial photographs I took during 2002 as I was vectored toward Tucson International Airport for landing. I have outlined very roughly the location of the original airfield as it is positioned in the northwest corner of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Photo below from the northeast with the runways of Tucson International (TUS) labeled in the background.

An Overlay of the 1927 Site (Source: Webmaster, 2002)
An Overlay of the 1927 Site (Source: Webmaster, 2002)

 

Contemporary Aerial View

 

 

At right, closer in, looking southwest past the leading edge of my left wing. The 1932 hangar building is visible as the white structure on the property line. The concrete pad of the Hudgin hangar is visible just to the left of it. A faint shadow of the original runway can be seen in the lower right quadrant of the image (not the taxiways, but a really faint shadow that runs through the apex of the two taxiways).

 

 

Finally, I offer a treat, below, of the approach plate used during the 1940s for the AN range let down at the Davis Monthan Air Force Base. I leave the image writ large so you can enjoy the similarities between this early notation and our contemporary approach plates. Some things change; some things remain the same. Image courtesy of Alan Thomas.

 

RECENT PRESS COVERAGE FOR THE AIRFIELD

The following is quoted from the Tucson Citizen of Tuesday, December 16, 2003 (from part II of a three-part series written by C.T. Revere).

"....There was a time when Tucson's military presence was a one-man outfit.

In 1925, two years before Davis-Monthan Airfield came to be, the U.S. Air Service dispatched Army Staff Sgt. Dewey Simpson to Tucson to set up a refueling station for transcontinental flights that landed at the remote desert outpost.

Simpson's one-man post was set up at the Tucson Municipal Flying Field, now the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.

His first customer, Simpson told the Tucson Daily Citizen, was Jimmy Doolittle, who later led a U.S. bombing raid on Tokyo in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor [Note: the first signature in the Register is that of Al Gilhousen. Perhaps Doolittle visited first, but did not sign the Register]..

Two years later, Simpson's refueling station was moved to the city's municipal airport, which was renamed Davis-Monthan Field in honor of pilots Samuel Davis and Oscar Monthan, both Tucsonans who died in plane crashes after World War I.

The dedication ceremony Sept. 23, 1927, was a day of hoopla and celebration featuring a visit by America's most famous flier, Charles Lindbergh, just four months after he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

An estimated crowd of 20,000 people - nearly the entire population of Tucson - turned out to greet the aviation hero and see him throw the switch on a large rotating beacon called the "Lindy Light."

Davis-Monthan and Tucson continued to grow at a sluggish pace through the late 1920s and into the Depression.

In 1930, the city was home to 32,506 people, and D-M featured a crew of three men. A weather and radio station for the post was still a year away from construction.

Ten years later, Tucson was home to 37,763 and America still a distant observer of the war in Europe. Davis-Monthan, with a crew of 25 enlisted men, was designated an Army Air Base in 1941.

After the United States was drawn into World War II, Davis-Monthan became a training station for medium-range bombers and was equipped with B-18s and B-25s.

As the war progressed, the focus on the base shifted to training crews for heavy bombers and D-M eventually trained nearly 20,000 crew members for B-24 "Liberator" bombers.

By 1944, the B-24s were replaced by B-29 "Superfortress" bombers, with crews trained at D-M.

After the war ended, the newly created Air Force chose D-M as home for the 4105th Army Air Force Unit, which was charged with storage and maintenance for military aircraft left over from the war.

The storage facility, now called the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, is home to more than 4,200 military aircraft, some of which are ready for use and others used for spare parts.

During the years since World War II, D-M has been a training site for pilots and crews of numerous aircraft, including the F-86A "Sabre," and the A-7 "Corsair II."

In 1976, D-M became the training base for the A-10 "Thunderbolt II," which showed its meddle in the Persian Gulf War and more recently in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In 1980, another plane common in the Tucson skies joined the complement at D-M - the EC-130 "Hercules."

The giant cargo plane is now used as a flying battlefield command post and for jamming enemy communications. It also is used in support of D-M's newest addition, the Combat Air Rescue Group, along with HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.

David Taylor, a city planning administrator, said Tucson would be a very different place without Davis-Monthan.

"If we had been bypassed by the Great War's training effort, it's totally hypothetical, but I think we would be a fraction of our current size," he said.

"We would not have grown a lot between the turn of the century and the 1940s and I don't know what would have driven our growth in the years after World War II.""

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 04/29/05 REVISED: 12/08/05, 01/23/06, 09/23/12, 05/29/13, 01/08/14 INCOMPLETE

 
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LOCAL NEWSPAPERS ARE GOOD AND INTERESTING RESOURCES

The Tucson Citizen of November 2, 1925 records the naming of the airfield after two local aviators, Lieutenant Samuel Howard Davis, who was killed in a training accident in Arcadia, FL on December 28, 1921, and Lieutenant Oscar Monthan, killed at Luke Field, Hawaii on March 27, 1924.

"FLOOD LIGHTING NEARLY READY" was the headline in the Arizona Daily Star of February 10, 1928. It announced the purchase and installation of a, "...BBT beacon and floodlight....that will flash in the Morse and Continental code the letter 'T'."

The same paper, on June 12, 1930, headlined, "AIR ENTHUSIASTS OF TUCSON WILL GATHER FOR DEDICATION OF AIRPORT LIGHTING TONIGHT". Listing the schedule of festivities for the evening, including an air show, the article went on to say, "In addition to the air program...radio broadcasts of the Sharkey-Schmeling fight will be featured....The radio arrangements at the field are being made so that fight enthusiasts will not have to make a choice between the two events."

On Thursday June 12, 1930 this must have been a wonderful, low budget way to spend an early summer evening as the Great Depression deepened.

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