"U.S. Picks Estrella For Base - 1200 Acre Tract To Be Site For Marine Corps Air Field". So read a headline in the 27 August 1942, Paso Robles Press when the government negotiated proceedings to acquire 1,249 acres of land in the Estrella area, some six miles northeast of the city, for a planned US Army air field.
Four months previous, government civil engineers were surveying the selected lands without explaining the reason to owners. Rumors were rampant, but none of them was correct. Finally, when Pacific Gas & Electric Company signed a contract to provide service by the end of the year, it became known that a Navy airfield was in the works, to be built on properties owned by A M Boyer, Otto Kuehl, George Matthew, John Moore, the Padian Estate, William Radloff, Tillie Schlecker, and Lillie Tuley.
A contract was awarded to Doudell Construction Company of San Jose, and within four hours of its signing, men and machinery were on their way to the site. On 3 September, 2,000 construction workers moved in to work two shifts to complete the first stage of the project by 8 April 1943. The new airfield then had two 4,700' runways laid out in a "V," with fuel facilities, but no hangars or maintenance buildings. A housing, administration, and storage facility was also completed across the road south of the runways, with 43 buildings and underground utilities.
The Navy Changes Its Mind
That same day the Navy, favoring their facility at Lemoore, handed everything over to the Army Air Corps, who named it Estrella Army Air Field and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Santa Maria Army Air Force Base, to be used to train pilots in night flying. Initial staff consisted of two officers, Lts Raymond J Goetting and Edgar J McCullough, and 28 enlisted men. By Christmas 1943, some 1,550 military personnel were stationed at Estrella and the Navy auxiliary airfield southeast of Paso Robles, Sherwood Field. These troops participated in large regional military maneuvers early in 1944.
An interesting occasion was later related by Lt McCullogh, who told of the time when two Bell P-59s landed at Estrella AAFB. Those were America's first military jets, and at the time were cloaked in secrecy, but everybody wanted to see the new airplanes that flew without propellers. McCullogh walked towards one of them, but was ordered by one of the pilots to keep away. He then identified himself as the base's provost marshal (which he wasn't), and not only got to see the planes up close, but was also told that they were being used in experimental training to combat the German V-2 rockets that were creating havoc in England. The next day, a local farmer mentioned to him that a couple of planes had come over his field so low and fast that they blew his hay off the stacks.
The Airfield Changes Into Civvies
The airfield was inactivated on 15 October 1944, and on 27 November base commander Capt Roger F Powell announced that the facility might be turned over to the county. County officials considered the proposal and, in mid-December, the board of supervisors endorsed a feasibility study, finally agreeing to accept the property. However, it wasn't until 29 August 1947, that the War Assets Administration transferred the specific 966.8 acres and its attendant structures and improvements with a quitclaim deed to the County of San Luis Obispo, with the stipulation that it be used as a public airport.
A second quit-claim deed to the State on 5 August 1948 added another 90.04 acres, where the buildings would be used for a boys' school. Then in 1973, the county, in an effort to rid its rolls of excess property, sold the air base to the City of Paso Robles for $1.00, and the Estrella Army Air Force Base officially became the town's municipal airport.
-- Data research by M/Sgt Al Davis, USA (ret.).
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4251 Dry Creek Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446