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Flashback Fridays--20 Years at Burbank for Southwest Airlines

Aviator C

We like to think that all of the 68 airports (soon to be 69 with the addition of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in May) that Southwest Airlines serves are important, but some hold a unique historical distinction, like the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.  Southwest’s history at Burbank goes back 20 years to April 16, 1990. 

Until 1947, Los Angeles International was a minor commercial airport on the edge of the city.  Burbank, along with the long-gone Grand Central Airport in Glendale were the primary commercial airports for the greater Los Angeles area.  And while on the subject of Southern California airports, until the dawn of the jet age, almost every airline passenger in the world flew on an airframe built in Southern California by either Lockheed at Burbank, Convair in San Diego, or the two Douglas plants in Santa Monica and Long Beach.  This week for Flashback Friday, I want to take a look back at Burbank’s long history and at Southwest’s inaugural Burbank flight 20 years ago.  Special thanks  go out to Lucy Burghdorf at the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority for supplying these fantastic early photos of the airport.  To see the airport’s web site, click here.

The Burbank Airport opened with a big air show as the United (Airlines) Airport on May 30, 1930.  As we can see in the photo below, a large crowd saw Army Air Corps airplanes put on quite a show.  Note how rural this part of the San Fernando Valley was 80 years ago.

Because of the Lockheed plant at the airport, the Burbank facility was considered to be a high threat target for Japanese naval aircraft during the first part of World War II.  The factory, terminal building, and parking lots were covered with ingenious camouflage netting that was designed to make the facility look like city streets.  Below, we see the underside of the netting over the parking lot and the terminal entrance.


After the end of World War II, the airport, now known as the Lockheed Air Terminal, was the primary commercial airport for the Los Angeles Area.  As we saw a few weeks ago, Los Angeles International didn’t become the primary airport until late 1947.  The view below is probably from 1945 or early 1946 because of the aircraft depicted. The TWA L-049 Constellation is just a few yards away from its birthplace (to the upper left corner out of the photo), and it is still in the original all-metal livery.  Another clue to the date is the DC-3s belonging to United, American, and TWA. American and TWA replaced their DC-3s on flights to the coast with newer equipment as soon as they could after the war.  (United had local service routes in California up until the mid-1960s.) 

The Lockheed plant, which has been razed, is world famous in aviation circles.  Commercial airliners produced here included the pre-war single-engined Vega; the speedy Lockheed twins; the four-engined Constellation series, which included the ultimate piston airliner, the L-1649; and the turboprop Lockheed Electra II.  (The L-1011 TriStar was built in Palmdale.)  Among the many military aircraft produced here were the P-38 Lightning, the Hudson patrol bomber (the military version of the Lodestar), the U.S.’s first jet fighter, the F-80, and the first versions of the P-3 Orion, the Navy’s patrol bomber version of the Electra—just to name a few.  (Actually, a true aviation historian just reminded me that the Bell P-59 was the first US jet fighter, but the F-80 would be the first "successful" fighter.)  Burbank was the original home to Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” that would go on to design such aircraft as the F-104, U-2, SR-71, and F-117 Stealth Fighter.  The view of the plant below is from the early 1970s.

After the airlines moved to LAX, Burbank became the home to charter carriers like Flying Tigers and supllemental carriers.  With the rise of air travel demand in California, intrastate carriers like PSA had large operations at Burbank.  After PSA was acquired by US Airways in 1988, the larger carrier began a withdrawal from intra California routes.  Southwest opened our operation at Burbank on April 16, 1990, and the photos below come from our own archives.  The first is a view outside of the terminal’s main entrance.

Inside, Herb was talking to representatives from the Los Angeles media.

At the ribbon cutting ceremonies, Herb used a really big pair of scissors.  I don’t know if you can see, but it looks as though dollar bills are part of the ribbon.


Meanwhile, things looked a bit hectic at the checkin gate. Our Employees are working Flight #604 to Oakland.

By our first birthday in Burbank, we had become the airport's largest carrier.  Interestingly, Burbank is the only airport we serve without jetbridges, and folks walk out on the ramp and board the aircraft the same way they have since the airport opened 80 years ago.