AOPA Pilot - August 2001 Volume 44 / Number 8
When visitors to Santa Paula Airport used to ask Bob Phelps where the museum is, he would answer, "We don't have a museum. We are a museum." Phelps retired from the FAA as an operations inspector at the Van Nuys Flight Standards District Office, is an active CFI (he just taught his daughter-in-law to fly), and his son Clay operates CP Aviation in the same building where Phelps taught for the Civilian Pilot Training program in 1940.
Phelps now greets visitors at the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula (www.amszp.org). The museum opened last year and Zhelps recently retired as its president. There are 109 hangars on the field, but none of them was big enough to hold more than an airplane or two, so it was Phelps' idea to use a series of small hangars instead of one big one. He donated the first one, which opened on February 6, 2000. There are currently eight hangars on the tour, all on the west end of the field, and it's an easy walk between them.
Hangar 1 covers airport history, including pictures from the 1930 opening-day airshow by Roscoe Turner and Pancho Barnes. Hangar 6 belongs to another family with deep Santa Paula roots, the Deweys. James, Gwen, and Michael have spent their lives around aviation as instructors, race pilots, and stunt pilots.
The first Sunday of each month is the ideal time for a visit. That's when Santa Paula-based owners proudly put their antique and classic airplanes on display and answer questions about them. The airport is home to a Spartan Executive, both kinds of Moths — Tiger and Gypsy — and lots of vintage Howards, Ryans, Luscombes, Swifts, Cubs, Bellancas, Ercoupes, Beeches, Cessnas, and Pipers. The airport also hosted the early years of Lancair, which moved to Oregon in 1991.
Clayton Graves, who spent 39 years as a TWA pilot, might show you the beautiful blue 1942 Howard he acquired 30 years ago. Or retired Air Force pilot Harry Schreffler might show you his mint-condition, tan 1954 Piper Apache that he has flown to 48 states. You might see actor Cliff Robertson's Stampe. There are about 350 airplanes on the field, and on a typical "First Sunday" about half of them are on display.
The Masons are another family with deep Santa Paula Airport roots. Rowena Mason owns an aircraft-fabric service on the field. She and her husband fly a Cub, and she hosted a "First Sunday" Cub fly-in in May that brought in 21 planes from around the state, including one from Reid-Hillview and two in formation from San Diego. Rowena's son Sammy was named for his grandfather, a Lockheed test pilot. He just turned seven and he's already learning how to fly.
Pat Quinn wasn't so lucky when he hosted a "First Sunday" Luscombe fly-in during April. Santa Paula is a day-VFR airport, and the weather that day never got much better than 800 and a mile. The 24 Luscombes planning to fly in got weathered out, but that day's aviation swap meet and auction were a success and more are planned for the future. Quinn's hangar is the second hangar on the museum tour and is full of Luscombe memorabilia.
If you're hungry after your museum tour, Logsdon's Restaurant is a nice step up from your typical airport greasy spoon, and is near transient parking and fuel pumps for 100LL and 80 octane. There's also the typical complement of fast-food joints a short walk from the airport. For family fun, the Ojai Inn resort is 17 miles away, or you can take the family for a ride in a Pullman car on the old-fashioned Fillmore and Western railroad.
It's a good idea to brief your arrival with a sectional and AOPA's Airport Directory before you fly there. Santa Paula Airport's runway is 2,650 feet long, 40 feet wide, lies in the middle of the Santa Clara river valley, and has a lot of aerobatic traffic (monitor 122.85 MHz for aerobatic activity if you're approaching from the east; the Santa Paula Airport CTAF is 122.9). There's a 2,200-foot mountain a mile to the south. And remember, vintage aircraft in the pattern might be flying at slower speeds than you're used to and might not have radios for position reports.
First Sunday had a taxing start
The First Sunday open house at Santa Paula
Airport started about 10 years ago when owners realized that showing
a vintage airplane for 12 days a year would exempt them from
California's personal property tax on airplanes. The tax is
collected by each county, but the historical exemption applies to
all California-based airplanes. To qualify for the exemption, the
airplane must be at least 35 years old and should not be flown for
personal or business use, but it can be ferried from airport to
airport to be put on exhibit. The 12 days need not be consecutive,
and Santa Paula owners decided that once a month worked out about
right. Displaying airplanes is a great way to promote aviation and
your airport, and a reliable stream of monthly fly-in visitors might
help your FBO keep fuel prices down. To find out if your airplane
qualifies, ask your county aviation tax assessor for the