Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse exhibit

Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse exhibit

Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse exhibit

Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse: How the Military Shaped San Diego

April 26, 2014 – January 4, 2015


The Presidio to Pacific Powerhouse exhibit tells the story of how the military has impacted every aspect of San Diego’s social, economic and political growth and development. This comprehensive exhibition is a ten-site collaboration that begins at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, with satellite exhibits located at nine other museums, throughout San Diego County.

As one of the satellite contributors, the San Diego Air & Space Museum features the story of the region’s aerospace manufacturing for the U.S. military. Perhaps greater than any other city in the nation, the San Diego area boasts a heritage rich in the military manufacturing culture, encompassing over 100 years of technological advancement. From the birth of Naval Aviation on North Coronado Island in 1911 the San Diego aerospace industry has grown and flourished.  

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation (later Convair), home of such famous aircraft as the B-24 Liberator and the PBY Catalina of WW II fame, the Air Force F-102 and F-106 interceptors, and the Atlas ICBM and space launch vehicle, located here in 1935, and was the largest non-government employer in the county for over fifty years. Ryan Aeronautical Company, manufacturer of thousands of World War II training aircraft and later a long series of military pilotless vehicles, sprouted from Ryan Airlines in the 1920’s. Numerous ancillary organizations as well contributed to this history which will be captured through the San Diego Air & Space Museum exhibits in its Balboa Park and Gillespie Field locations.


Satellite Exhibits:

San Diego Air & Space Museum: San Diego Aerospace Industry: Serving the Military for 100 years

Coronado Historical Association: The History of U.S. Navy SEALs in Coronado

Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation: Marine Air…North Island to Miramar

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton: History of the USMC Base Camp Pendleton

Maritime Museum: A Century of Submarines in San Diego

MCRD Command Museum: MCRD San Diego

NTC, Liberty Station: Chow!

USS Midway: The Evolution of the Aircraft Carrier in San Diego

Veteran’s Museum & Memorial Center: The Army, The Navy and Balboa Park: 1915-1945                          





The San Diego area boasts a heritage rich in military manufacturing culture, encompassing over 100 years of technological advancement. The reason for this is not serendipitous, rather the region’s ideal climate is why San Diego has been at the forefront of America’s military innovation.  Indeed, it was Glenn Curtiss who first recognized the advantages San Diego held. Curtiss had been conducting most of his aviation experiments in New York where weather made it extremely difficult to conduct activities on a year round basis.  When he visited Southern California in 1910 he realized at once that a move west would benefit his business greatly.

Curtiss leased land on North Island and set up his famed Aviation School, where he trained America’s first Naval Aviators and also built and refined his aircraft designs.  Anticipating that the Navy would prefer aircraft that would operate from the water, he used the San Diego Bay to conduct his hydroplane experiments.  The Navy was impressed with one of Curtiss’s designs, the A-1 Triad and purchased an example in May of 1911.  Although the actual aircraft acquired by the Navy was not built in San Diego, the prototype used to sell to the Navy was, and thus the connection between San Diego and aircraft manufacturing had been established.  Curtiss would continue to train pilots and conduct experiments on North Island for several years.

Although San Diego saw no military aircraft manufacturing during World War I, or the period immediately thereafter, the area did remain a center for aeronautical experimentation, much of which would advance military technological development at the time.  In 1923 the first nonstop transcontinental flight landed on North Island, and in the same year the first inflight refueling was performed over San Diego - both feats accomplished by the U.S. Army. The Navy’s first Aircraft Carrier, USS Langley, was also berthed here while carrier-aircraft tactics were being developed.

Following the Great War, it would be innovator-entrepreneur T. Claude Ryan who  put San Diego on the map as an airplane manufacturing mecca. Ryan started the nation's first regularly scheduled airline, offering service between San Diego and Los Angeles in 1926 using Standard J-1aircraft converted for passenger carriage.  Almost simultaneouly Ryan Airways began production of the model M-1, a very reliable monoplane that caught the eye of Charles Lindbergh.  He chose Ryan to build what would become known as the Spirit of St. Louis, a monoplane modeled on the M-1, equipped with extra long range fuel tanks and high lift wing allowing him to successfully fly the Atlantic solo, collecting the Ortieg prize as a result.  Lindbergh’s unparalled triumph brought instant fame to Ryan, and the young company began producing aircraft on a large scale during the late 1920s and 1930s.  In the age of military biplane trainers, Ryan Aeronautical’s (as the company had become known)  beautiful STA model, a two seat low wing monoplane, set the stage for a radical departure from the norm.  The PT-22 "Recruit" was born of the STA and became a staple of the Army Air Corps flight training program.  Before production ceased more than 1,000 examples of the type were built and employed teaching nearly 10,000 pilots the art of airmanship as the storm clouds of war built up over Europe and the western Pacific. 

Spurred on by the reputation fostered by Curtiss and Ryan of San Diego as an ideal location for aircraft manufacturing, Reuben Fleet moved his Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from Buffalo, New York to San Diego in 1935 where he built a large production facility on Lindbergh Field.  Consolidated Aircraft already had strong connections to the military, producing the PT-1 for the Army and the NY series trainers for the Navy.  In San Diego this relationship only intensified. Consolidated produced hundreds of PBY Catalina flying boats for the Navy and  secured a contract for the B-24 Liberator from the Air Force.  As Europe entered World War II, England, in desperate need of aircraft to halt Hitler's advances, was delivered B-24's and PBY's to help the cause.

When America entered the War after December 7th, 1941 San Diego’s manufacturing for the U.S. Military would prove to be vital for the war effort. The size of the Consolidated factory was greatly increased and would eventually produce close to 7,000 B-24s, in addition to 100s of PBYs, B-32s and PB2Ys.  At one point during the War, Consolidated employed over 45,000 people, 40 percent of whom were women. The War caused a boom in San Diego’s population, and the federal government built 3,000 housing units in the Linda Vista Housing Project to help with the demand.  In 1943 Reuben Fleet retired, and Consolidated merged with Vultee Aircraft and the company eventually became known as Convair. 

During the War, Ryan continued to produce training aircraft from an enlarged factory at Lindbergh Field where eventually 8,500 employees worked.  In addition to trainers, Ryan also built the FR-1 Fireball, the Navy’s first aircraft with a jet engine and piston driven propeller.  Although 66 Fireballs were built, they never saw combat. Ryan also operated military flight schools in San Diego, Hemet and Tucson, furnishing the Army Air Corps with 14,000 pilots. 

In addition to Convair and Ryan, San Diego had several other aerospace companies involved in the War effort. At the start of the War, Rohr Aircraft Corporation was a small “feeder plant” which produced ready-to-install power packages for aircraft. As the number of contracts increased, the company moved to a new 30,000-square-foot plant at Chula Vista, where they produced power packages for the B-24 and PB2Y-3, cowling for the PBY and the Lockheed Hudson bomber, and nose and main landing wheel doors for the P-38. 

Another San Diego company, Solar Aircraft, built over 300,000 exhaust manifolds for various airplanes and helped design high temperature components for the first U.S. jet engines. Also, thousands of parachutes used by the military were built by the Standard Parachute Company in San Diego, which hired the Pacific Parachute Company as a subcontractor.  Pacific Parachute was owned by an African-American, Howard "Skippy" Smith, and was financed by Eddie Anderson.

After the War, San Diego continued to supply the military with cutting edge aircraft.  Ryan produced experimental models such as the X-13 Vertijet and the XV-5A Vertifan. Although these aircraft were never produced in large numbers, they did greatly contribute to vertical takeoff and landing research, which would be incredibly useful in today’s aircraft. In 1969 Ryan was acquired by Teledyne and would produce Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in large numbers for the military.  These UAVs would be used as both target drones and for reconnaissance, and are the predecessors to today’s Predator and Global Hawk designs.

Convair was purchased by General Dynamics in 1954, and continued to be a major player in U.S. aerospace defense, producing aircraft such as the F-102, F-106, C-131 and the R3Y in San Diego.  Convair also produced experimental aircraft like the F2Y Sea Dart and the XFY Pogo which although not a commercial success, were impressive research projects.  As the Cold War progressed and fears about Russian aggression increased, Convair developed the Atlas Missile, America’s first ICBM, later a very successful space launch vehicle.  Luckily, the Atlas was never fired in anger, but did launch the first Americans into orbit with the Mercury program.  Convair continued to produce defense products, including empennage structures for both the C-141 and C-5A, as well as the Tomahawk and Advanced Cruise Missile, until the company was dissolved in 1994.

Today, San Diego aerospace corporations continue to produce equipment for use by the military.  Northrup Grumman, which purchased Teledyne Ryan in 1999, continues to produce UAVs, like the Global Hawk.  And San Diego based General Atomics builds the Predator UAV.  In addition, numerous San Diego based companies such as Cubic Corporation continue to provide Aerospace defense technology for the military.  Also, Rohr, later Goodrich Aerostructures and now United Technologies Corporation, continues to build engine nacelles, thrust reversers, and mounting pylons for military aircraft.  The relationship between the U.S. Military and San Diego’s Aerospace companies is now in its second century, and is only growing stronger.

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