The following shows the many newspaper articles written about Meadowlark including many about my business on the airport, Sky Ad. The newspapers are fairly faded now although I have always kept them stored in albums. Scanning the articles with my present equipment is not the best that could be done, but something is better than nothing. In some cases I have had to do multiple scans and marry the scans together in order to present a full page. In some cases I have had to show a page in two sets; some imagination will be required. I begin the presentation with the problems I had with the city. In essence, the city fathers wanted the airport closed, but lacking that, they decided to attack me. I include a few articles written that show the human interest about the airport that came from time to time, and then toward the end are the numerous articles about the final closing.
I had flown into Meadowlark beginning almost 25 years prior to becoming a full time resident there operating the Sky Ad business. At the time of starting into the banner tow business, I had no idea of the movement that was going on to close the airport. I did know that the Nerio's who owned the airport planned eventually to build on the property, but I wasn't aware of the activity that was trying to close the airport for other reasons. There were a few busy bodies who were active in calling for closure, but the real push was coming from members on the City council who were developers.
I was cruising along in the beginning months of 1977 running the operation fat, dumb, and happy, when a sudden shock hit me the week after Memorial Day weekend. The official "banner tow" season starts when schools are closed and the beaches are packed.
The first thing that happened was the death of a small child who was hit by a banner tow airplane operating out of the old Capistrano airport. The pilot/operator was operating without FAA approval and was using non-approved equipment that caused the crash. I had a small problem in that a banner was released over some power lines across from the airport. This was a first flight for that airplane (which was on lease) and the tow release configuration was faulty. I opened my mail the next week and got a note from the City council telling me that I had 3 minutes to explain why my business licence shouldn't be rescinded. No statement of accusation was made, just show up and explain. This is the way the crooks that ran City Hall worked.
Now this is an absolutely true story. I sat in the council chambers from 7PM until 10PM when they finally got around to my case. I was standing at the podium stupidly explaining how safe my operation was, assuming that was there concern, (which it wasn't) when from the audience a beeper went off. Our Fire Chief stood up and announced "There's been a crash at Meadowlark"! No kidding, it really happened that way, just like in a grade B movie.
After that there were numerous council meetings that ended up as law suits and court appearances, which I finally prevailed in some two years later. It is the Federal law that controls airspace, not cities, not counties, not even states. So Huntington Beach had no authority to say whether I could, or could not operate out of the airport. And if you don't think that city officials are blank persons, the city attorney, Don Bonfa, called me and asked if I would donate a banner advertising him for re-election; what gall! Another trick the City did was to call the state CalTrans and complain. I pulled into the airport one Monday morning, and saw posted on the bulletin board a memo from the Aviation Division stating that banner towing was not going to be allowed at Meadowlark. This was an absolute shock to me as nothing had been said prior. Geez, what next? But I got that straightened out by changing my banner pickup location and was back to work by the weekend. But I seemed to be spending most of my time dodging arrows aimed at me.
While my problems with the City were always on the front burner, and the articles calling for closure of the airport were on the side burner, there was also a very gratifying interest by the media about my business. I had several competitors in the Aerial Advertising field, but I think that the fact that I was flying my red Stearman biplanes out of the rather small and antiquated Meadowlark made for better copy. Possibly the other media coverage about my problems with the City and rumors of the airport closing also added exposure. Whatever it was, the romance or what, I got a lot of press coverage, both in print and on TV. Unfortunately I cannot present the TV stuff here.
By 1980 the airport was getting a lot of press about its age and condition. The "poor" condition of the airport was what gave it it's charm, and with the funky cafe, was the reason pilots and non-pilots alike were attracted to it. Where else in SoCal could you sit and have lunch while airplanes taxied right up to the cafe? Anytime there was an incident such as a crash, it quickly got press. To my knowledge there never was a fatality on the airport. There were fatal crashes of airplanes trying to make an emergency landing and missing the airport, but none directly on the airport and attributed to the airport itself that I recall. And there were Meadowlark based pilots that had fatal crashes elsewhere. I recall a Cessna 172 landing right on top of a departing KR2 but amazing as it was, no one was hurt! I saw many airplanes run off of the runway and hit the quonset hut, but again no one was injured. The most amazing one was the departing sick and overloaded Cessna 172 that plugged into the 2nd story of the bank building adjoining the airport, and incredibly no one was hurt (picture shown on the Meadowlark website).
In one situation, there was a local pilot who was quite famous as the designer of a very popular small homebuilt airplane (the KR2 and others) powered by a VW engine. I flew one several times and it was quite an experience. I also gave the designer, Ken Rand, several instrument flight lessons, however, to my knowledge he unfortunately did not continue with them.
Sometimes the articles were just slanted toward airport life and featured info about the locals. Meadowlark was also a fly-in spot for many celebs, movie directors, TV personalities. I took Clete Roberts for a ride in my Stearman one day when he had flown in. Movie star Jack Kelly had his office across the street from the airport and was a strong supporter of the airport. Frank Tallman used Meadowlark as a base when filming TV ads, etc.
Thanks for visiting this site, and I hope some fond memories were brought back.
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(revised 9/30/05: chg counter)