August 1, 2004
Steven W. Ells
It's hard to see — most people don't even know there is an airport paralleling Highway 101 until they see an airplane landing, taking off, or circling in the pattern. As Highway 101 flows south out of San Jose it chokes down from eight lanes to six lanes and finally to four lanes in the vicinity of sleepy little San Martin, population 1,713. Airplanes taking off and landing at the San Martin airport have caused many a daydream for the drivers crawling along the freeway at jogging speed. While a glimpse of "those little airplanes" may be all the airport is to drivers, the San Martin airport — South County Airport of Santa Clara County — is more than just a roadside airport.
San Martin is located in Santa Clara County in California. It is approximately 20 miles south of San Jose on Highway 101. South County Airport (E16) is one mile east of San Martin. Runway 32/14 is 3,100 feet long.
South of San Jose — the quick-spinning vortex of Silicon Valley — and north of Hollister — where the San Andreas Fault weaves through the streets of town — is the sleepy town of San Martin. And it is sleepy. A Google search of San Martin yields only a few hits that have any content. Search engines all have hundreds of sites that automatically plug the search topic into their site line, e.g., cheap hotels in San Martin, drug and rehab centers in San Martin, wineries in San Martin, and of course, real estate in San Martin. Lay that keyboard down — everything you need to know is right here.
There aren't any wineries, drug and rehab centers, or cheap motels in San Martin. But the Wings of History Air Museum is located across the road from the airport and it's worth a visit.
Music legend Ray Charles passed on to the big jam session in the sky on June 10. Another important event also took place, this one concerning the South County airport, on June 10 — we'll get to that a little later.
Charles, his band, and his backup singers, the Raylettes, toured the country for a time in a Vickers Viscount. First flown in 1948, the Viscount series of airplanes was produced until 1964. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop powerplants, later-model Viscounts were very capable airplanes that could fly 1,700-plus miles at speeds of more than 330 mph while hauling useful loads of more than 30,000 pounds.
The cockpit and forward section of the fuselage of Charles' Viscount is just one of the aeronautical treasures that are exhibited at the Wings of History Air Museum ( www.wingsofhistory.org).
Located just to the west of the airport abeam the numbers of Runway 32, the Wings of History museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. A few of the more well-known display airplanes include a Wright Flyer that is cited as being an exact replica of Orville and Wilbur's ship, a 1927 Waco 10 three-place biplane with a Curtiss OX5 engine, a 1928 American Eagle with a Curtiss OX6 engine, and a 1934 de Havilland DH-88 Comet. Most airplane lovers have heard of at least one airplane from this lineup but how many have heard of a Marske Pioneer II or a 1939 Security S-1B Airster? It's rare airplanes like these that make a trip to this museum worthwhile.
According to the museum, the 1940 S1-B Airster it has on display is the fourth of seven that were known to have been built by Walter "Bert" Kinner, after he sold the Kinner Airplane and Motor Company to found Security Aircraft.
The Airster is important for two reasons. The Airster is one of the first small airplanes to feature folding wings, and an Airster was the first airplane owned by Amelia Earhart. Because of a power interruption during takeoff in the airplane that she had named the Canary because of its bright-yellow paint job, the Airster was also the first airplane Earhart crashed.
In the H. Bosshardt Restoration Workshop there's a 1930 Peel Z-1 Glider Boat awaiting restoration. Spurred by Lindbergh's record-setting flight, the nation was flight crazy in the late 1920s. During this frenzy the Peel Glider Boat Corporation, of College Point, Long Island, New York, built and sold 30 glider boats. Featuring a duralumin-clad stepped hull and wood-and-fabric wings in a biplane configuration, the glider boat was intended to be towed behind a speedboat until it had gained enough altitude to cut loose from the tow and glide back to the ground. Just the thing to entertain guests during those long summer days at the lake.
Gliders hang from the ceilings of the restoration shop, as well as from the Lamb and the Mattos display hangars. Bowlus gliders are well represented — there's a 1928 Albatross, a 1938 Baby Albatross, and a 1938 Super Albatross glider. The BA-100 Baby Albatross, produced by William Hawley Bowlus, was a wood-and-fabric glider kit. Approximately 100 kits were sold from 1936 through 1942. Gross weight was 505 pounds.
The surprises never stop — there's even a flying wing configuration glider on display. The 1985 Marske Pioneer II displayed in the museum is a woodwing kitbuilt sailplane. For more information on this design, visit the Web site ( www.continuo.com/marske).
The museum isn't fancy but it does house an FAA-certified wood-propeller repair station.
Ole Fahlin contributed to aviation during a long and interesting life ( www.wingsofhistory.org/fahlin). One of the things he became famous for was his handcrafted wooden propellers. Before his death in 1992, Fahlin was able to pass on his knowledge to Guy Watson, who now maintains the Fahlin reputation for propeller craftsmanship in a small workshop located in the museum. There are only a few wood-propeller repair stations left in the United States.
The South County Airport Pilots Association (SCAPA) has a Web site ( www.Q99.org) to assist fly-in visitors. There are a few fly-friendly rules the association would like fly-in visitors to observe. No matter what the wind direction is, all patterns are flown west of Highway 101. Runway 14 is left traffic and Runway 32 is right traffic. Airport altitude is 281 feet. To keep noise under control no crosswind turns should be made before reaching 1,300 feet msl (1,000 feet agl). And no touch and goes between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Maintenance and fuel services are provided on the field by 2 Genes Aviation ( www.2genesaviation.com). The county is in the process of building new hangars.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car has rental cars with prior notification. Call 800/779-3390.
The Lodge at CordeValle is a destination spa and golf resort located nearby. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.cordevalle.com). The Bright Ranch has weeklong kids day camp featuring horse-centered outdoor activities ( www.brightranch.com). Seven miles up the highway is the Coyote Creek Golf Club ( www.coyotecreekgolf.com). You can't miss the two Jack Nicklaus courses — they're the bright-green rolling fairways and greens just to the west of the highway.
Even if Google doesn't get very excited over San Martin, the museum alone is reason enough to type the identifier for South County Airport of Santa Clara County. Oh yeah, the other thing that happened on June 10 — the airport identifier was changed from Q99 to E16.
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