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Vintage San Diego: San Diego Takes Flight


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Share your vintage photo of San Diego! Send your pic and story to erinm@sandiegomagazine.com.

By the Numbers

$500 - Initial cost of an aviation course at the Curtiss School of Aviation.

1917 - North Island commissioned as a Naval Air Station.

16 aviation world records broken in 1923 by Lts. Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter, thanks to the new refueling system.

1963 - North Island Station granted recognition as the “Birthplace of Naval Aviation” by the House Armed Services Committee.

23 aviation squadrons currently located at North Island.

317K jobs in San Diego as a result of defense spending

San Diego, the “Birthplace of Naval Aviation,” has much to celebrate during National Aviation History Month this November. When flight enthusiast Glenn Curtiss came to California from New York for a flying exhibition in 1910, he discovered the long, flat, sandy beaches of North Island were ideal for landing planes. Curtiss opened the Curtiss School of Aviation in 1911. Among the first to enlist was Lt. Theodore Ellyson.

Just three years later, the government bought the land to create Naval Air Station. In Curtiss’ spirit, the North Island base continued to advance flight research. In the picture above, Lts. Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter achieve the first successful midair refueling while flying over North Island on June 27, 1923. Other impressive aviation feats launched from North Island include the first seaplane flight and the first nonstop transcontinental flight.

Today Naval Air Station North Island is homeport to aircraft carriers and squadrons, advancing aircraft practice and providing thousands of jobs. (The two carriers alone will pump $1 billion into the economy this year. Cha-ching!)

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