|Red Hill Avenue and Edinger Avenue, Tustin, CA|
|United States Marine Corps|
Marine Corps Air Station (H) Tustin
There are two enormous nineteen-story tall (192 feet) blimp hangars aboard the now decommissioned and closed Marine Corps Air Station that sits west of the crossroads of Redhill Ave. and Edinger Ave., and can be seen from the Costa Mesa Freeway and Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5) in Tustin. Most every Californian driving in the local area has seen them, but few probably know what they are, what they were for, or understand the history behind them. My fiancé, GySgt Barry D. Darnell, is now a retired US Marine. He was stationed at the helicopter base upon returning from Vietnam for approximately ten years from the mid-seventies until the mid-eighties. He tells me that the base began in 1942 as Naval Lighter-Than-Air Station Santa Ana, a base for airship operations in support of the United States Navy's coastal patrol efforts during World War II. The US Navy, in it's efforts to patrol for enemy ships and especially submarines, began in earnest an airship and airbase building program along the west and east coasts of the United States. The large hangars were built to house many blimps at one time. The US Navy and US Army air corps experimented with, and attempted to build many types of lighter-than-airships and settled on the limp airship design. The Germans, who built large, rigid frame airships such as the commercial passenger-carrying Hindenburg, the largest airship by envelope volume it was designed and built by the Zeppelin Company. It could voyage across the Atlantic. The first US airship models were the A and the B. The A was discontinued in favor of the B. The B, and limp combined to form what we commonly call the airships, the blimp, as in Goodyear blimp. Helium was banned for sale to the German Gov't and the Zeppelin Company was not able to produce helium in large quantities and therefore depended upon hydrogen for lift. Hydrogen is an extremely volatile gas and dangerous to use. The gas no doubt contributed to the Hindenburg crash disaster that occurred on May 6, 1937, at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, NJ; another airbase that Darnell was stationed at.
- Naval Lighter-Than-Air Station Santa Ana was decommissioned in 1949, and in 1951, the airbase was reactivated as Marine Corps Air Facility Santa Ana to support the Korean War. It was the country's first air facility developed solely for helicopter operations. It was first renamed Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Ana then Tustin in 1979. During the Vietnam War, the base was a center for on-going testing of radar installations which were erected, tested, disassembled and shipped to Vietnam. It also was a training facility for helicopter pilots, crew chiefs, door machinegunners and mechanics destined for Vietnam.
- By the early 1970s, MCAS (H) Tustin was a major center for Marine Corps helicopter aviation and ground radar on the Pacific Coast. Its primary purpose was to provide support services and material lift for the US Marine infantry and artillery units stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton but also to provide military helo-lift support for 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing units (fighter, attack and transport aircraft) based at nearby MCAS El Toro and missile testing recovery in the Pacific ocean for units at then Naval Air Station, Point Mugu, CA.
- Naval Base Ventura County is a United States Navy base located near Oxnard, California. The base was formed in 2000 through the merger of Naval Air Station (NAS) Point Mugu and Naval Construction Battalion Center (CBC) Port Hueneme. NBVC is a diverse installation comprising three main facilities—Point Mugu, Port Hueneme and San Nicolas Island—and serving as an all-in-one mobilization site, deep water port, railhead, and airfield.
- MCAS El Toro was also closed by the Base Realignment and Closure committee on July 2, 1999. Aviation units from MCAS El Toro were transferred to MCAS Miramar, San Diego. MCAS El Toro was 7 miles south of MCAS (H) Tustin. MCAS Tustin leased 530 acres to farmers for commercial crop development (Irvine Ranch Company). For many years, agricultural lands surrounded the facility. However beginning in the 1980s residential and light industrial/manufacturing areas developed adjacent to the station.
- In 1991 and again in 1993, under the authority of the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990, it was announced that both MCAS Tustin and MCAS El Toro would be closed. Operational closure of the base occurred in July 1999. However, the north hangar is still used as a storage and repair center for commercial blimps (Goodyear was using it often in the '80s). Of the approximately 1,600 acres (6.5 km2), some 1,294 acres (now known collectively as "Tustin Legacy") have been conveyed to the City of Tustin, private developers and public institutions for a combination of residential, commercial, educational, and public recreational and open-space uses. The remaining 300-plus acres will be conveyed to other federal agencies, the City of Tustin and public institutions for the same uses once environmental clean-up operations have been concluded.
- In 1993, the blimp hangars were designated National Civil Engineering Landmarks by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). There have been talks regarding one of the hangars making it a military museum. The barracks which once housed bachelor enlisted Marines later housed female inmates of the Federal (?) or California prisons system.
- The Orange County Sheriff's Academy is now located on the site of the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station. The facility opened in late 2007 and replaced the old academy on Salinas Avenue in Garden Grove which was no longer adequate due to overcrowding.
Much of the former base has become residential housing.
Photos are of a commanding officer change-of-command ceremony for Major James Walters. Marines are marching in a pass and review parade. The unit is HMH-462, Marine heavy helicopter squadron 462, the "Heavy Haulers".
The photos are courtesy of GySgt Barry Darnell. [email protected] The event took place June 1982.