Somerton Airport

Somerton, Arizona (54AZ)
Airport Manager
Eric Saltzer

Unicom: 123.00

(Phone) 928-580-5618
(Fax) 928-722-5724

Physical Address

3900 W US Hwy 95
Somerton, AZ, 85350

Unicom: 123.00

Yuma Sun Article

Just like Kitty Hawk, Yuma has its own place in aviation history
By Pam M. Smith, Staff Writer
December 17, 2003

       The Wright brothers may have been first in flight, but Yuma holds its own unique place in aviation history.

       It was only a few years after the Wright flight that Robert Fowler landed his Cole Flyer in the present location of The Landing Restaurant, 195 4th Ave., on Oct. 25, 1911. "Fowler was the first birdman to visit Yuma," said Jim Gillaspie, a Yuma pilot and avid historian of aviation. "The Cole Flyer was the first flying machine in the city, and the first airplane to enter Arizona under its own power and not riding in a boxcar. Fowler took off on Oct. 29 to continue his flight to the East Coast. "He flew to Maricopa, Ariz. The flight was approximately 165 miles and took four hours and 26 minutes, and it won him a world's record for time in the air and distance flown." John and Yvonne Peach, owners of The Landing Restaurant, celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Fowler flight in 2001. Yvonne said, "We have a display showing that Amelia Earhart had landed in Yuma twice, once for the first of the Powder Puff Derbies in the late 1920s, and another when she flew one of the first 'helicopters' across the country.'

       But that's not where Yuma's connection to aviation history ends. In 1928, Col. Benjamin F. Fly was instrumental in persuading the federal government to lease 640 acres of desert land southeast of Yuma. This field was the site of the Yuma Army Air Base during World War II, where pilots were trained on AT-6 single engines, T-17 multi-engines and the B-17 Flying Fortress. There was a lull in flight activity at the site after the war ended and the base was closed.

       Yuma also gained national recognition in 1949 with the world record Endurance Flight by pilots Bob Woodhouse and Woody Jongeward. The duo flew a 1948 Aeronca Sedan, named the City of Yuma, continuously for 1,124 hours from Aug. 24 to Oct. 10. The purpose of the record-setting flight was to draw attention to how good the flying weather was in Yuma, and to persuade government officials to reopen the air base. Woodhouse still lives in the Roll area and Jongeward is in Pismo Beach, Calif. Both are retired, but have their memories, as do the "Endurance Brats" - children, grandchildren and other relatives of the pilots. Woodhouse's son, Roddy, said, "My dad was asked over the years if he would do it again and he said no, he was a lot smarter now."

       The plan was successful and the base was reopened in 1950 as Yuma Air Base. It was then renamed Vincent Air Force Base in memory of Brig. Gen. Clinton D. Vincent, a pioneer of bombing techniques. In January 1959 the Navy took over the base. Col. L.K. "Duke" Davis was the first commanding officer of the newly designated Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station. "Auxiliary" was eventually dropped from the name.

       Today, Yuma maintains its place in the aviation world. MCAS continues as a training base for various pilots of many aircraft now being used in the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas around the world. And at Yuma Proving Ground, the Army's Golden Knights parachute teams train. The Somerton Airport was a training place for pilots after World War II, and is a location for skydiving activities. Cropdusters have also been a fixture in Yuma's skies. Marsh Aviation had an airstrip just north of Giss Parkway and east of the Territorial Prison State Park for the dusters. Larry and Madeline Spain also had an airstrip for cropdusters that was later named Bet-Ko-Air at Yuma International Airport. Bet-Ko-Air is still there, but in a different location and with a different type of service.

       Yuma's commitment and continued support to the aviation industry is reflected throughout the city, from the Fowler flight monument at The Landing Restaurant to the modern terminal at Yuma International Airport.

       The Wright brothers would be proud.

(back to the history page)