The historic aircraft filling the hangars, museums, ramps, and skies of Southern California’s Chino Airport don’t restore and maintain themselves. A cadre of dedicated owners, pilots, and mechanics keeps them airworthy and exercised. In doing so, they’ve helped to maintain the airport’s history and traditions for the past 74 years.
“I grew up basically at Torrance Airport,” said Les Whittlesey. The son of a military pilot, he wanted to become an airline pilot, but the time he spent flying a Cessna Citation inspired him to go into the land brokerage business. When noise curfews and other challenges drove him from Torrance in 1986, he moved his aircraft to Chino.
In 2008 he completed the Cal-Aero complex on the field, one of four hangar projects he’s done in California. Whittlesey and his wife use one of the eight hangars for weddings and special events; they also host two of EAA Chapter 92’s four annual Young Eagle rallies.
“It’s become a great way to promote aviation,” Whittlesey said. “We want the city folks to like the airport, and see the airport as an asset, not a detriment.” His aircraft—including a Lockheed Electra Junior, Waco ZPF-7, Cabin Waco, and Cessna 140A—add to the vintage aviation atmosphere.
Bob Hayden’s hangar holds a flying Stearman and parts of a Tri-Motor. His father, Robert Hayden, partnered with Bill Stout—designer of the original Ford Tri-Motor—to update the design, which they did with more powerful engines, a slightly larger cabin, and other enhancements. Renamed the Bushmaster 2000, two were built; one is still flying, but the other crashed at Fullerton Municipal Airport in September 2004. Hayden purchased the wreckage and is preparing to rebuild the airplane.
“This airplane has an uncanny effect on people,” said Hayden, whose father got to see him solo the airplane in 2003. “Everybody who I talked to that has flown the Bushmaster said it flew like a truck, not like the other Tri-Motors.” Hayden and his wife will donate the aircraft to Yanks Air Museum, which will restore it; he hopes to fly it for charity events.
Carl Scholl and Tony Ritzman moved Aero Trader to Chino in 1985. In May the specialized warbird restoration firm was working to finish what will be the only flying Douglas A-20. “We’re kind of a unique operation, a big toy shop,” Ritzman said. Although they have aircraft stored on 20 acres in the desert—including six B-25s and a B-29 project—Chino has served their needs well.
Rick Remelin of Costa Mesa, California, flies Stearmans, a T-28, and other warbirds from Chino for private owners. “People buy them and don’t fly them regularly, so I keep them exercised,” he said. “When I fly the Stearman and pull out onto the runway, I have goose bumps run up my legs.” Remelin, an ATP and CFI, reflects on the pilots who trained at Chino and then went off to Europe or the Pacific—and may or may not have made it home. “It’s a real honor and a privilege to be able to fly here.”