Nostalgia | The Airport

Nostalgia | The Airport
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The Airport

©2021 by Vernon Miles Kerr,

We could get there on our bikes…

Like so many of the childhood wonders around Ontario, California in the 1950’s — such as the Chino Dairy District, mountainous Euclid Avenue above 24th Street, and the Cucamonga Canyon Wash — the Airport was a favorite, because we could get there on our bikes.  But, even to us kids, the name “Ontario International Airport” seemed a bit over-optimistic at the time — the wishful thinking of the Chamber of Commerce. It’s little lobby, with the squawk-box parroting the guys in the tower, and the “gates” which were literally waist-high gates in a chain-link fence, belied such grandiose nomenclature. But still, the Airport was already a magnet.

The runway was long enough to land the biggest military and commercial jets. And, actually, Lockheed and Northrop were already there in the fifties — and they were what drew my parents and my uncle there for work, in the first place.  So, without the airport, I may have not had my still-cherished childhood in Ontario.  But I can still remember a few sleepless summer nights caused by the roar of F-89 Scorpion engines being spooled up by the swing shift over at Northrop. I also remember seeing an ugly black column of smoke from the schoolyard at recess, when an F-89 crashed into a South Ontario neighborhood on take-off.

Maybe my experience with the Airport is colored by the fact that I was a huge airplane nut in the first place. Thanks to my mom’s being a secretary in Lockheed’s Industrial Relations Department, she fed me the addresses of all the major Aircraft companies and encouraged me to write and ask for “glossies” of their products.  Consequently, my room was papered with 8-by-10s of Sabre Jets, Starfighters, 707s, Grumman Hellcats & Corsairs, even a vintage Lockheed Electra.  Airplane pictures were visible from every angle — that is, where you could see them through the cloud of airplane models suspended from the ceiling with thread.  So, ride bikes to ONT we did, over and over.

Standing at the chain link fence outside the Terminal we could see the graveyard of old planes, way off on the East-end of the runway.  The mothball fleet included lots of WWII PBY Flying Boats and even a few Northrop Flying Wings. Closer in, but still across the runway was  the hanger of the California Air National Guard.  While the U.S. Air Force was, by then, flying supersonic F-100s and F-102s,  the Guard was assigned Korean War era F-86 Sabre ­­­Jets. I remember they sported a yellow tail strip with “ANG” in black capitals.  We  were happy to watch them practicing touch-and-go landings for hours. I dreamed of being one of the pilots, drag racing a kid in a hotrod along the road south of the perimeter fence.

Somewhere along the line, the “International” aspect of ONT was brought home to me when Ontario began being used as an alternate when LAX was fogged in.  My dad, a Lockheed Electrician along with other employees was asked to come out during his off-hours and help with “turning-around” the visiting craft.  That meant cleaning out the trash, re-fueling and other chores done at a big airport.  One night Mom was asked to bring Dad a sack lunch, and when we drove up to the fence there was a big Japan Airlines 707 parked and being serviced. I guess from then on, I had to admit that our little Airport had truly become international.