Historic Aviation Happenings in Yuma, Arizona

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HISTORIC AVIATION HAPPENINGS IN YUMA, ARIZONA

Known as the ‘Gateway to the Great Southwest,’ Yuma is located between San Diego and Tucson, and borders Mexico. Situated at the narrows of the Colorado River, Yuma was a historic and ideal crossing point for those traveling west during the gold rush, as well as other pioneers and opportunists. Today, the city thrives as a sunny travel destination, an agricultural hub for winter crops, and as a military station. Home to the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, the Yuma Territorial Prison, Colorado River State Park, and a plethora of historic sites and museums, the area is rich in history and is a go-to place for history lovers, including aviation enthusiasts.

On October 25, 1911, the first plane to land in the state of Arizona did so on the site of the Yuma Landing Bar & Grill. This Wright Model B biplane, known as the “Cole Flyer” was piloted by Robert G. Fowler, and was rented from the famed Wright Brothers, who had made their historic flight years before. It was during his flight from Santa Monica, California to the East Coast that Fowler touched down in Yuma near a ball park. About four days later, planning to continue his flight, several locals helped pushed the plane uphill on 3rd Street to give it a “downhill” run. Forty-nine days later the “Cole Flyer” ended its journey by rolling to a halt near the surf of Miami, Florida.

Fifty-two years later Fowler returned to Yuma for the dedication, an unveiling of the monument in his honor. Today a historic marker commemorating the “100th Anniversary of Flight in Yuma” stands in front of the Yuma Landing, as well as a statue of Fowler. The restaurant also has a fascinating pictorial museum featuring over 200 aviation and historical pictures of Yuma. The Yuma Landing is connected to the historic Coronado Motor Hotel where you can make an appointment to visit the on-site Yuma Historical Society Museum of Aviation & Tourism.

In 1929, while she was competing in the all-female pilot National Air Derby (fondly known as the “Powder Puff Derby”), Amelia Earhart damaged her propeller while landing a Lockheed Vega airplane in Yuma.

In 1949, the local Jaycees service club decided to show off the near-perfect flying weather in Yuma, to convince the military to re-open the Yuma Air Base which was closed after World War II. They did this by setting the world record for the longest nonstop flight. Pilots Bob Woodhouse and Woody Jongeward flew an Aeronca Sedan AC-15, named the City of Yuma, continuously for 47 days. The plane was fueled and food and supplies were handed up to the pilots from a moving vehicle. You can see the plane and vehicle in the Yuma City Hall.

In 1951, the Yuma Air Base was re-opened as a U.S. Air Force facility. It was renamed Vincent Air Force Base in 1956, then signed over to the U.S. Navy in 1959. The Yuma Test Branch was also closed in 1949, and it too, was re-opened in 1951, under the control of the Sixth U.S. Army. In 1962, the station was named Yuma Proving Ground and reassigned to the U. S. Army Material Command as an important component of the Test and Evaluation Command. On July 26, 1973, it officially received its full name—U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground. Located on the Colorado River, the Yuma Test Branch conducted testing on combat bridges, amphibious vehicles, and boats. Tens of thousands of mechanized and infantry soldiers were trained at Camp Laguna for duty at combat fronts throughout the world, from North Africa to the South Pacific. Abandoned campsites and tank trails can still be found on the modern day proving ground.

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