California Flying

Jets and Jennys at Hollister

October 1, 2002

On March 5, 1846, Mexican Gen. Jose Castro told John C. Fremont, a man known as "The Great Pathfinder," to get out of California. Fremont, along with Kit Carson and 50 others, responded by moving to high ground a few miles south of Castro's home in San Juan Bautista. There they built a crude fort, raised Fremont's personal flag, and, anticipating an attack by Castro's troops, dug in. There wasn't any attack, so when the wind blew over Fremont's flag pole four days later, he took it as a sign to gather up his troops and look elsewhere for more lively proceedings. Any remnants of the fort have disappeared but Fremont's name remains.

The 3,171-foot-high Fremont Peak overlooks the San Benito Valley, home of the Hollister Municipal Airport. Hollister has a long aviation history and is a pleasing destination for fly-in visitors. Hiking, viewing historical sites, exploring nearby geological sites, soaring, skydiving, and playing on the local golf courses are just a few of the diversions that pull visitors to this airport.

Where?

The City of Hollister is located directly east of Monterey Bay in west central California. Hollister Municipal Airport (3O7) is 3 miles north of the city and Frazier Lake Airpark (1C9) is 8 miles northwest of the city.

The airport

Airplanes flew in the Hollister area as early as May 1912. In 1919 a local horse temporarily delayed further aeronautical progress because of its newly discovered appetite for the oiled silk used to cover the aircraft.

An airshow held on May 11 and 12, 1929, had 66 airplanes registered. The opening ceremony featured a dedication address by C.A. Tusch, a woman "recognized by all who fly as the Mother of American Aviation." The show featured a stunt-flying contest and a consecutive looping contest from 2,500 feet to 500 feet. Those were the days.

During World War II, the base was expanded for use as an auxiliary of the Alameda Naval Air Station. In June 1946 the Navy turned NAS Hollister over to the city. Civilian operations, including soaring and parachute jumping, followed soon afterward.

The Hollister airport, located 16 nautical miles north of Salinas, gets pretty busy on weekends. Gliders from Soar Hollister ( www.soarhollister.com), skydivers from Adventure Center Skydiving ( www.1800funjump.com), ultralight traffic, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDFFP) fire-retardant bombers, and other airplane bound for Hollister all use the same runways.

The CTAF frequency (123.0 MHz) can be very congested, especially when flying above pattern altitudes since this frequency is shared with nearby Castle and Chandler airports.

Keep your eyes peeled and listen closely — there may be an ultralight on final and a King Air entering the pattern for the same runway you're planning to land on.

The skydivers drop from a turboprop-powered Beechcraft King Air at altitudes as high as 17,999 feet over Tres Pinos, a small town seven miles south of the airport (it's marked on the San Francisco sectional chart). Radio calls are made prior to, and at the time of, jumper drops. Training for accelerated free fall (AFF) endorsements and tandem jumps is just a small part of Adventure Center Skydiving.

One last word of caution about Hollister operations. The CDFFP fire retardant bomber base is situated near the takeoff end of Runway 31. When a fire call comes, they almost always ignore the prevailing winds and launch on Runway 31 after radioing their intentions and checking with possible traffic on Runway 24.

Fault lines and pinnacles

The San Benito County Chamber of Commerce ( www.sanbenitocountychamber.com) touts this historic town's many attractions. Although the chamber Web site mentions that Hollister is referred to as the "Earthquake Capital of the World," it also reveals that the land along the fault line that is directly under Hollister continually creeps in opposite directions, instead of the more dangerous build-up-and-release type of fault that most people associate with earthquakes. The Calaveras fault has offset sidewalks and curbs in town — the more famous San Andreas fault is clearly visible from the grounds of the San Juan Bautista Mission and state park, located seven miles west of Hollister.

In 1993, downtown Hollister was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The many architectural styles, such as Italianate, late-Gothic revival, neo-Classic revival, and others can be seen by taking the "Historic Hollister, a Walking Tour" through town.

In 1998, a bypass route around downtown Hollister was grafted on to State Highway 156, a busy traffic link between Salinas and the Central Valley over Pacheco Pass. This slowed transient traffic flow through the middle of town to a trickle, resulting in a less hectic pace of life.

Attractions

Fly-in visitors can rent cars from both Hertz and Enterprise. Seven miles to the west of town on Highway 156 is the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park. This unique park is composed of the San Juan Bautista Mission and other restored buildings that surround the original plaza, including Gen. Castro's (Fremont's nemesis) two-story adobe home built in 1840.

The nearby site of Fremont's abbreviated stand is now a California state park that can be driven to by taking San Juan Canyon Road south of San Juan Bautista. This park features astronomical viewing programs on moonless Saturday nights from April through October. For information on observatory programs, visit the Web site ( www.fpoa.net).

Drive south of Hollister on Highway 25 for 45 minutes to Pinnacles National Monument for a look at the remnants of an ancient volcano. This wild place has more than 30 miles of hiking trails.

Frazier Lake — grass and classic airplanes

Eight miles northwest of the Hollister airport is Frazier Lake Airpark. This airstrip is unique in two ways — the 2,500-foot-long Runway 5/23 is covered with a carpet of beautiful green grass, and there's a seaplane channel situated parallel to the runway.

Like pilots at Schellville (see " California Flying: Eaglet Hatches Airport," October 2001 Pilot) and Santa Paula (see " California Flying: Sundays at Santa Paula," August 2001 Pilot airports, the pilots who hangar their airplanes at Frazier Lake open their hangar doors on the first Saturday of each month to display their wonderful collection of lovingly maintained classic, homebuilt, and antique airplanes.

The seaplane channel was installed by one of the airport members for his Cessna 172 on floats — but a word of warning: A de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver splashed down one day only to discover that the depth of water that's required to support a 172 is a lot less than the depth that's necessary for a Beaver.

Back to the Hollister airport

The Ding-a-Ling Café is located on the airport and is open every day except for Tuesdays. During a short walk around the airport I spied three North American P-51 Mustangs, a Hawker Sea Fury, and three or four L-39 Albatross jet trainers sporting red, white, and blue paint schemes. Then I wandered into Air Fab's hangar.

Air Fab restores vintage airplanes. Charles Hall showed me some Irish Linen tapes he had specially ordered for the fabric re-covering of a restoration. The edges had been hand-frayed (instead of cut with pinking shears) because that's the way it used to be done.

Out behind the hangar was a 1939 Ryan SCW that was awaiting attention. Across the road a couple of mechanics were installing new exhaust gaskets on a P-51 in preparation for the Reno Air Races. Then three men drove up in a beautifully restored 1938 Cord automobile. They were on their way to Indiana for a big Cord drive-in but diverted to get a look at the Hollister P-51s as they passed by.

Airport manager Allen Ritter mentioned that the airport has recently built 28 new T-hangars, the city council is pro-airport, and everyone is getting along well.

One of the Air Fab employees — who works part time so he can afford to keep his Monocoupe hangared at Frazier Lake — said, "Hollister is a cool airport — it's got everything from jets to Jennys."

A cool airport, a peaceful small town that shows its history well, and plenty of outdoor activities are good reasons to put Hollister on your list of California airports to visit.


E-mail the author at steve.ells@aopa.org.