History of Squadron 35
- Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 15:22
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The squadron, originally chartered as CAP Squadron 918-4, was first organized in early 1942. One of its charter members was actor Robert Cummings, the original owner and operator of the vintage 1936 Porterfield aircraft, Spinach, which is currently based In Washington State. The squadron itself was initially based out of El Monte Airport. Operating under the authority of the Civil Defense Agency, it conducted a variety of activities in support of American military forces and national defense. These included Border Patrol, Personnel Transport, Search and Rescue, Airport Security, Forestry Patrol and Courier Flights.
On the 23rd of February 1942, aircraft from Squadron 918-4, led by Cummings, went in search of a Japanese submarine that had shelled an oil refinery at Goleta, California. Though unarmed, they were prepared to follow the example set by the CAP coastal patrol squadrons on the Atlantic seaboard and guide naval and air forces to any targets sighted. Unfortunately, the Japanese submarine had already withdrawn from the area and was on its way back home.
In April of 1943, the Civil Air Patrol was placed under the operational control of the U. S. Army Air Force. It continued to conduct missions in support of National Defense. This included towing targets for the Army as it conducted Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Training. In 1944 the squadron was renumbered as CAP Squadron 35 with Bob Cummings as the first commander under the new designation. Following World War II, the Civil Air Patrol was chartered as a Non-Profit Corporation and designated as the official Auxiliary to the newly formed United States Air Force in 1947. It was assigned three principal missions: Emergency Services. Aerospace Education and Cadet Programs. The Squadron moved its home base to Whiteman Air Park in the early 1950s. It remained there until 1957 when it transferred operations to San Fernando Airport and re-chartered itself as San Fernando Senior Squadron 35.
In the 50’s and early 60‘s, at the height of the Cold War, Squadron 35 was assigned the additional responsibility of conducting Airborne Radiological Monitoring for both the military and the civil government in the event of a Nuclear Attack on the west coast. Much to everyone’s relief, this particular duty was never carried out other than as a part of local Civil Defense Drills and training.
In October of 1962, the members of Squadron 35 planned and partially implemented an emergency deployment of CAP resources during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A forward staging area at Mojave Airport was activated, but fortunately never utilized. Squadron 35’s volunteers once again proved themselves ready to respond to duty on a moment’s notice.
It was also during this period of time that Squadron 35 became well-known in the aviation community for operating a fleet of 12 North American T-6/SNJ-5 Texans, 1 Vultee BT-13 Valiant, 2 Beechcraft C-45 Expeditors and 1 Piper L-4 Super Cub. These aircraft logging over 12,000 hours of search mission time and accounted for 70% of the ‘finds’ made by CAP in the Southern California area. With the exception of the Corporate owned L-4, these aircraft were all privately owned and maintained. As a mark of unity the members pained their aircraft the same yellow and red colors used in World War II, with a few minor personal touches.
One group of pilots even established a four aircraft flight demonstration team known as the Kittyhawks. Though they did not perform acrobatics, they did conduct formation fly-overs at a number of aviation events throughout 1960s. Occasionally Squadron 35 was asked to perform escort missions for vintage aircraft being flown from home fields to regional air shows. Throughout this time the squadron was often referred to by another name, the 35th Air Rescue Squadron, USAF Auxiliary.
During the early 70’s, the squadron’s T-6s were replaced by two more fuel efficient and economical Cessna 0-1 Bird Dogs. Many of the old Texans were sold or transferred to Van Nuys Senior Squadron 135. The Condor Squadron was chartered as both a Civil Air Patrol unit and a private T-6 club, allowing them to continue using the venerable Texans for search and rescue through the 1980s. This group still operates out of Van Nuys Airport, but not as a Civil Air Patrol squadron.
Two major changes occurred in the 1980’s. First, San Fernando Airport was closed and the squadron took up residence once more at Whiteman Airport. The quonset huts that made up the old San Fernando Base facility, Termite Towers, were sold to the film industry and have been featured in a number of movies.
The second change was that the now veteran Cessna 0-1 Bird Dogs were replaced by a Cessna C-182R Skylane, affectionately named “The Road Runner“ in honor of the Squadron 35 logo. A second C-182 was added in the late-eighties and eventually replaced by a Cessna C-206 Stationair for use in not only search and rescue, but light air transport missions as well. Both aircraft have averaged in excess of 400 hours per year on training and Emergency Service Missions.
In 2003, Squadron 35 was assigned the first S.D.I.S. or Satellite Digital Imaging System in Pacific Region. Squadron members pioneered the training program and application of this new technology. Additionally, squadron members have became involved with the deployment of newer search systems, such as the ARCHER, (Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyper-spectral Enhanced Recon), and its operational platform, the Gippsland GA-8 Airvan. Recently the S.D.I.S. and Squadron 35’s C-206 were featured in a 2005 episode of the T.V. series Tactical to Practical.
In addition to its normal search activities, Squadron 35 members have also participated in a number of disaster relief activities:
- In 1971 the squadron conducted aerial reconnaissance and light transport following the Sylmar Earthquake. When power was lost at a local hospital, squadron members provided assistance by hooking up a portable generator to supply the medical center with power.
- In 1994 they repeated many of these services during the Northridge Earthquake, aiding the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Air Division by supplying a portable generator so they could pump fuel to their aircraft. During the month following this disaster, CAP and Squadron 35 members assisted the American Red Cross by supplying communications and transport personnel within the Los Angeles Area.
- In 2001 Squadron 35 personnel were alerted and placed on standby for duty following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Both squadron aircraft, along with three member owned aircraft were ready to be launched on a moment’s notice. Throughout the state of California, some 57 aircraft were fully crewed and waiting for orders. Though not tasked that day, the Civil Air Patrol became the only organization outside of the U.S. military, to fly missions in defense of the United States during the two-week, nationwide grounding of all other aircraft.
- In 2005 Squadron 35 personnel were dispatched to Louisiana to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Squadron members also participated extensively in the Steve Fossett search in September 2007. One member in particular, Captain Ted Ripp, logged over 80 hours in the air during a two-week span of time.
Today, Senior Squadron 35 performs not only its traditional Emergency Services missions, but is active in supporting U.S. Border Patrol activities in California and assisting the U.S. Air Force Western Air Defense Sector in training its pilots for Air Intercept missions, a modern day version of its World War II target towing mission. Most recently, Squadron 35 members are working with NASA as part of the Space Shuttle Recovery Team at Edwards AFB.
Squadron 35 is acknowledged as one of the most professional and active squadrons within the California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. Its membership is a cross-section of the people it serves, from lawyers and teachers to electricians, clergy and businessmen. These people are dedicated to both a love of aviation, and a desire to apply their talents to service to the nation.
Named in honor of former Squadron Commander Major Vern Gibson, a long time pilot and manufacturer at Whiteman Airport, this CAP facility functions as headquarters for three distinct units: San Fernando Senior Squadron 35, which maintains and operates the base, San Fernando Valley Cadet Squadron 137 and Los Angeles Group 1.
The compound was formally dedicated in December of 1999 to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the formation of the Civil Air Patrol. In addition to functioning as a headquarters for several CAP units, it is maintained as an operational Search Base, Disaster Relief Headquarters and Training facility for units in Los Angeles Group 1 and throughout California Wing.
The base was activated on the 11th of September 2001 following the attacks on the WTC in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.. During the next ten days, it functioned as a coordination site for transport flights between Southern California and Oakland when CAP was assigned the task of delivering vital blood supplies for the American Red Cross.
The squadron has an active membership of between 55-60 members, all of whom believe in, and help maintain, that spirit of service that earned CAP the nickname “The Flying Minutemen.”
Shortly after moving to San Fernando Airport, Squadron 35 pilots noticed that whenever they made a take-off run, they could always count on seeing a small flock of roadrunners desperately trying to keep up with the old T-6s through rotation. In spite of repeated failure, they never gave up hope of becoming airborne.
Admiration for these stubborn little avians prompted squadron member, Bob O’Hara, to create a patch utilizing a stylized, aerodynamic roadrunner painted in the same colors as the squadron’s aircraft. The mountains and cactus in the logo represent the range of the squadron’s search activities and its ability to search from the lowest levels of Death Valley to the highest peaks of Mount Whitney, and everything between.
The design caught on and the flightless bird became representative of the squadron’s “Never Say Die” attitude. Such was, and is, the spirit behind San Fernando Senior Squadron 35, Civil Air Patrol, USAF Auxiliary.
Historical Data Compiled by
Maj. Jim Hayden, CAP/USAF Aux
CALIFORNIA WING, LOS ANGELES COUNTY GROUP ONE