Orange County Branch Newsletter

November 2016

History and Heritage

Why the Lyon Air Museum

By Tom Broz, P.E., S.E.

At the November 17, 2017 OC Branch History and Heritage/ Student Night dinner held at the Lyon Air Museum.  Tom Broz, P.E., S.E. - OC Branch History and Heritage Committee Chair, presented why the dinner was held there. 

Tom explained that ASCE has Policy Statement 463 – History and Heritage which states ASCE’s support for programs that promote the knowledge of the history and heritage of civil engineering as an integral component of education and professional practice. To do that ASCE:

  • Encourages civil engineers to be knowledgeable about the heritage of their profession and to share this knowledge,
  • Encourages civil engineering schools to incorporate history and heritage into courses given, and
  • Has an ongoing program that recognizes historically significant local, national, and international civil engineering projects, structures, and sites.  To date, more than 200 projects worldwide have earned the designation of ASCE Historical Engineering Landmark, which recognizes engineering feats with significant achievement under challenging conditions.

In addition to the ASCE recognizing national historic engineering land marks the section and branches can also recognize local historic engineering landmarks.  Since its formation in 1967 the Los Angeles Section History and Heritage Committee has designated more than 60 projects as local historic civil engineering landmarks.  These projects have included such recognizable projects as the Los Angeles City Hall, the Los Angeles Airport, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Angeles Flight. Similarly, since its formation in 1982 the Orange County Branch History and Heritage Committee has designated 13 projects as local historic civil engineering landmarks.  These projects have included such recognizable projects as the John Wayne Airport, the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station Blimp Hangars, and the diversion of the Santa Ana River to create Newport Harbor.  One of the projects the Orange County Branch History and Heritage Committee has designated as local historic civil engineering landmarks is not necessarily very recognizable.  That project is the Santa Ana Army Air Base and the reason the OC Branch History and Heritage/ Student Night dinner was held at the Lyon Air Museum.

The Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB) was one of three Army Air Corps Training Centers constructed in the United State during World War II.  Of the three centers it was the only one to both classify personnel as pilots, navigators, or bombardiers and then to provide pre-flight training.  Construction of SAAAB began October 23, 1941 and the base was activated on February 14, 1942 and ultimately deactivated on March 31, 1946.  The base included:

  • 1,336 acres
  • Approximately 800 buildings
  • 1,357,120 sq. ft. of barracks
  • 28 convalescent wards
  • 18 school buildings
  • 4 chapels
  • 4 theaters
  • 17 warehouses
  • 33 miles of water main lines
  • 28 miles of sewer lines
  • 31 miles of electrical distribution lines
  • 39 miles of paved roads

The first construction contract for SAAAB was awarded October 24, 1941 to the Griffith Company for $2 million for a scope of work that included 177 buildings to be constructed in 120 calendar days.  Ultimately, total construction of the base was completed in 14 months.

During it four years of operation the SAAAB trained 149,425 personnel which included 82,252 pilots, 21,842 bombardiers, 14,230 navigators, 28,388 ground crew, and 188 radio operators.  At its peak the base had a maximum population 26,000 personnel while the overall population of Orange County at that time was slightly more than 140,000.

The SAAAB occupied what is now a significant portion of the City of Costa Mesa and most specifically the Orange Coast College Campus and the Orange County Fairgrounds.  Part of the base included the Orange County Airport.  Though no actual flight training was performed at the base, the airport was used for shuttling trainees to and from the base.  This aerial photograph shows the limit of the base and the adjacent Orange County Airport property at the time. 

Tom went on to explain that the Lyon Air Museum which is within the Orange County Airport property and houses some of the airplanes that the trainees at the SAAAB received pre-flight training for these included the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber, the B-25 “Mitchel” bomber, and the C-47 military transport.

B-17 Flying Fortress BomberB-25 Mitchel BomberC-47 Military Transport

  B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber    B-25 Mitchel Bomber    C-47 Military Transport  

Tom reported that the SAAAB was dedicated on July 16, 1996 as an ASCE Orange County Branch Civil Engineering Landmark for the following reasons:

  • 3 months from site approval to ground breaking
  • 4 months from ground breaking to the start of training of 5,000 cadets
  • 14 months ground breaking to completion of all construction

Tom concluded his remarks by indicating that just on this past Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2016, the only surviving structure from the SAAAB, one of the barracks buildings was dedicated as the “Heroes Hall Museum” with its opening set for February, 2017.