Hollister Airmen’s Association assists local aviation

Members of the nonprofit Hollister Airmen's Association are the "caretakers of the airport," who have volunteered to promote aviation and the importance of the airport for 72 years.
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The Hollister Airmen’s Association (HAA) has promoted citizen aviation and the Hollister Airport almost from its inception in 1946. The dwindling membership is still as enthused at the prospect of flying jaunts to nearby cities, but its aging members are slowly letting go of treasured warbirds that flew throughout Europe and the Pacific during World War II. The P-51 Mustangs, once familiar sights as their distinctive engines roared over the county, are down from five to just two. But the nonprofit association still meets regularly and does what it can to assist Hollister Airport Manager Mike Chambless in air shows and other events, as well as promoting the airport itself.

Chambless said he looks at the association members as the true caretakers of the airport because airport managers come and go, but the association has always been there.

“If the airport is not going in a direction that benefits aviation, they are the first to let us know,” Chambless said. “They are our go-to supply for volunteers for air shows and the Fourth of July fireworks. I can always count on them to staff an airplane so the kids can touch it.”

HAA President Ruth Erickson said the Hollister airport started out as a military base during World War II, where Navy aircrews trained in Dauntless SBD dive bombers and Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, and saw action in the Pacific. After the war, returning veterans started the association and then the military turned the facility over to the city in 1947, she said.

“We had members from all different walks of life back then,” Erickson said. “They may have been in the Air Force, or had their own private planes, or they may not have been a pilot at all. Perhaps they worked on planes on an aircraft carrier.”

Over the years, Erickson said the association has provided funds and volunteers for the air shows. When Gavilan College had a presence at the airport, the students participated in various programs with the association members. HAA members often speak to various groups in Hollister about the airport’s history and contributions to the community. She said many residents don’t realize how important the airport is now and could be in the future.

“We primarily promote the airport and provide a venue for people interested in aviation to get together, the same as people who are interested in cars like to get together,” Erickson said. “Even after they’ve sold their planes, they still want to get together periodically to discuss what’s happening in aviation, with the drones and all the new technologies.”

The airport is home to many kinds of aircraft from World War I and II, Erickson said, as well as ultralights, gliders, and now the secretive air taxi developed by Google Co-Founder Larry Page. The air taxi has been sighted numerous times hovering above the airport tarmac.

HAA members often go on field trips around the Bay Area that they can either fly or drive to, in order to visit an air museum or visit an aircraft carrier, Erickson said.

“We listen to talks, learn some things, and have lunch there,” Erickson said. “You may have flown one type of airplane, but you don’t know anything about an aircraft carrier, so you go up Alameda to learn about how they work. You just don’t realize how big those things are, so you’re getting an education.”

The Hollister Airmen’s Association also visited Moffett Field Historical Society Museum in Mountain View, where they learned about the blimps used to protect the West Coast from possible Japanese attacks. Another time, group members flew two planes to Catalina Island in Southern California.

“We just did it to do it,” Erickson said. “There wasn’t a museum there, but we stopped on the way back for dinner at one of the airports along the way. We go to the San Martin Airport where they have the Wings of History Museum. There’s a museum in Oakland and several others in the Bay Area we like to go to.”

From its peak in the 40s, the HAA membership has thinned out as some members passed away. Today, there are about 40 families who volunteer with the nonprofit group. There haven’t been many new members over the years, Erickson said, adding that she has been with the organization for 20 years.

“Our youngest members are in their 40s or 50s,” she continued. “It’s very different now than years ago. If a kid wants to fly, they get on their computer and with a joystick they can fly. Many years ago, a kid could go down to the airport to help out around the hangers and get paid a few dollars. People would say, ‘you do that for me and I’ll show you how to fly,’ and the kid would learn to fly. Now, it’s very expensive and you have to go through pilot classes, ground school, and be certified. The kids can’t afford it.”

The HAA worked with the Experimental Aircraft Association to teach children between six and 17 about piloting aircraft and provided photographs with the plane and pilot, a certificate, and literature about aviation. The group has not been able to offer flights for the last few years due to a lack of volunteer pilots, Erickson said.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]