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What’s the Deal with All the Planes?!

Santa Maria and its Contribution to WWII Aviation

The most frequently asked question MOXIE receives when greeting new customers is, “What’s with all the planes?” It is either that or some variation of it.  I am here to answer that question.

Most people from Santa Maria, California, are unaware of the military history that surrounds the land. They, of course, know of Vandenberg Air Force Base. It is the hard not to since a good portion of the population works there and all of us have the privilege to watch the miracle of space exploration multiple times a year. So much so, we are actually somewhat bored of it.

The famed Fokker Trimotor, known as the “Southern Cross.”

What most people do not know, or at least know very little,  is the military history of our airport and Allan Hancock Community College. It is our great, local military history that the MOXIE Cafe celebrates, specifically that of the Santa Maria Army Airfield.

There were two pilot training facilities in Santa Maria, the first being the Allan Hancock College of Aeronautics, which was founded in 1927. It was born out of a relatively peaceful time. The field, which is now the site of Allan Hancock College hosted some events of aviation history. One of these was the sponsorship by Captain Hancock of the first trans-Pacific flight by Charles Kingsford-Smith and three other men in a Fokker Trimotor, the “Southern Cross.”

However, the winds of change were bringing the whispers of war. General Hap Arnold, while watching the European theater unfold, was determined that the Army Air Corps of the United States would need assistance in training pilots for a war he was sure the United States could not avoid. Hancock Field was chosen to become one of eight civilian aviation schools to provide training to future military pilots. September of 1939 saw the first class of pilots arrive for training. It would be two years until the war that General Arnold saw on the horizon would arrive at America’s doorstep.

When Everything Changed

After December 7th, 1941, everything changed. The West Coast was suddenly in the crosshairs.

In 1942, a new pilot training facility was opened where the Santa Maria Airport is now located. The training facility was directly correlated with the need for trained bomber pilots for the war effort. The airfield was comprised of 160 acres of land that was originally a dairy farm owned by the local Toy family but would grow to over 3,600 acres. The original plans for the base to train B-25 bomber pilots and crewman was scrapped due to the fact that the runways and taxi strips were not built strong enough to support the massive weight of the large aircraft.

The Santa Maria Airfield would see itself become a training facility for support servicemen until the arrival of the 4th Air Force in September of 1943. The 4th also brought with them the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Nicknamed by the Germans as “the forked-tailed devil” and by the Japanese as “two planes with one pilot”, the P-38 was one of the premier aircraft of World War II. Many a bomber pilot on his way to Frankfurt or Berlin saw his chances of returning increase to nearly 100% with an escort of these powerful aircraft, which were designed to fly as high as the bombers and with the same range.

Capt Carroll Knott: a pilot instructor for the P-38 Lightning
Capt Carroll Knott: a pilot instructor for the P-38 Lightning

The Santa Maria airfield’s new strategic mission was to train fighter pilots prior to immediate transfer overseas. During the two years, the airfield trained 633 fighter pilots. The graduates took the skills they learned at the Santa Maria Army Airfield to the frontlines in both the European and Pacific theaters. Meanwhile, at the Hancock College of Aeronautics, 8,400 students received their primary pilot’s training. Pilot graduates from Hancock compiled an enviable record in World War II in all theaters of the war. For instance, four Hancock graduates took part in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942. One of them, Ted Lawson, is the author of the book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

MOXIE Celebrates Local History

MOXIE Cafe is proud to not only honor our brave servicemen and local military history through our decor but to also incorporate it into everything we do. Our MOXIE parade truck is a World War II decommissioned WC-52 Dodge troop transport and weapons carrier vehicle much like the ones that would have been seen on base at the Santa Maria Army Airfield. Many of our food items are named after famous aircraft of the period such as the Corsair Quesadilla and the B-17 Bomber Breakfast Burrito.

The newest example is the MoxBee! The mascot for our new rewards program actually has historical roots with a local training squadron. In 1944, a contest for the best emblem art was held at the Santa Maria Army Airfield. The emblem was to be used on the base for shoulder patches and as “nose art” for the P-38’s. The winning design belonged to Staff Seargent Fred Meek. The emblem symbolized the many aspects of the facility. The lightning bolt is an obvious reference to the P-38. The instruction manual is a reference to the fact that the 44th was a training unit. The pistol and bomb on the side of the bee symbolized the P-38’s ability to act as a fierce fighter and bomber aircraft. The bee and clouds symbolize flight, while the bee is also a reference to the P-38’s ability to sting the enemy. We took the 440th‘s logo and repurposed it for the MOXIE Lightning Club, switching armaments for delicious food. The original logo can be seen throughout the MOXIE.

MOXIE Cafe is proud of our local heritage and you can expect to see more historical tidbits in the many years to come!

“Thank you to the Santa Maria Museum of Flight for providing much of the above information.”
Written by Daniel Ballew, B.A. in History from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo