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Airport In The Sky To Reopen May 3

A 1947 DC-3 Originally Owned By Philip K. Wrigley Will Be The First To Land On The Refurbished Runway

The Catalina Island Conservancy, elected officials and military leaders next week will celebrate the landing of the first plane – a 1947 DC-3 originally owned by Philip K. Wrigley – on the Airport in the Sky’s main runway recently repaired by the Marines and Navy Sailors (Seabees) as a training exercise to prepare them for missions on islands and other remote destinations. In addition to the fist landing, the May 3 private event may include other unique aircraft participation. The airspace will open to the public at 3 p.m.

Through an innovative partnership between the Conservancy and the Department of Defense, a total of nearly 200 Marines and Seabees were deployed to Catalina Island over a three-month period to replace the main runway’s asphalt with concrete for training. Units participating included I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) out of Camp Pendleton, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 (MWSS-373) out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Construction Group One (NCG1), First Naval Construction Regiment (1NCR) and Navy Mobility Construction Battalion (NCMB-25). The Runway Repair Project was conducted as an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project through the Department of Defense. It provided the military with valuable construction training while benefiting the community of Catalina by ensuring the Island’s only airport remains open to the public.

The first plane that will land at the newly named ACE Clearwater Airfield was built in 1944 as a World War II surplus C-47 military transport. It was then converted to a DC-3 after the war. Philip K. and Helen Wrigley, who helped establish the Catalina Island Conservancy and donated most of their family’s Catalina Island property to the Conservancy, bought the plane in 1947. The original chairs, couches, tables and cabinetry are still part of the airplane. The DC-3 was later owned by a museum, an oil company and privately. Alison Wrigley Rusack, Philip K. and Helen’s granddaughter, and her husband, Geoff, purchased the DC-3 in 2013 and, along with an airplane restoration firm, Aerometal International, restored its original 1947 appearance.

The Airport in the Sky is a historical and critical asset that provides access to Catalina Island via air for first responders, travelers, residents and businesses. The airport is the hub for the Island’s U.S. Mail, UPS and other carriers. An estimated 3.5 million pounds of freight, which includes medical and emergency supplies, is also shipped through the airport annually. The airport opened in 1946, and the Catalina Island Conservancy took over its operation in 1972, when the Conservancy was formed. The Conservancy operates the Airport in the Sky as a public airport. It is a favorite destination for pilots, who land and take off from the airport about 14,000 times annually.

The airport’s main landing strip has required frequent patching, costing the Conservancy about $250,000 a year in labor and materials. The California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) Aeronautics Division issues a public use permit for the airport and annually inspects the Airport in the Sky’s runway. Caltrans had told the Conservancy that it needed a long-term repair plan in place by September 2018 to continue to operate the airport as a public airport.

Following two years of planning, military equipment arrived on Catalina in December 2018. Over 100 Marines and Seabees arrived on Catalina Island and began work in January to perform the training mission, with nearly 200 Marines and Seabees participating throughout the project. They lived in a tent encampment at the Airport in the Sky working almost every day – weather permitting – to repair the runway.

(Source: Catalina Island Conservancy news release. Images from file)



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