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MCAS Tustin Blimp Hangars LTA

MCAS Tustin Blimp Hangars LTA

MCAS Tustin Blimp Hangars LTA
Paul Gavin, Ink & watercolor, 1988

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Mammoth Structures

Paul Gavin Fine Art Tustin Marine Corps Air Station was first commissioned in 1942 as a base for the Navy's LTA (Lighter Than Air) Blimps.

The two blimp hangars, built at the 1942 cost of $2.5 million each, were the largest unsupported wooden structures in the world. Each hangar stood 18 stories tall — 1,088 feet long, 178 feet high, and 297 feet wide. The hangars were so large that they generate their own weather system inside the buildings.

Lit Blimp Hangars

Also see Tom West's photograph of the Lit Blimp Hangars

In 1949, the Air Station was decommissioned for two years and then in response to the Korean conflict it was recommissioned as Marine Corps Air Facility, or MCAF Santa Ana in 1951 for the purpose of training Helicopter Squadrons. The base was again renamed in the 1970's to Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter) or MCAS(H) Tustin and finally in 1985 to Marine Corps Air Station Tustin.

In 1997, the base was closed as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1991. Hangar One, now called the North Hangar, was named a National Historical Landmark and the plan is that it will be preserved by the County of Orange. Hangar Two, now known as the, South Hangar, was slated to be torn down in deference to fiscal and commercial pressures but the city of Tustin is still investigating possible uses in an effort to preserve it.

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The CH-46 at MCAS Tustin
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CH46 at MCAS Tustin

Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor.
Started 1986. Completed 2011.

A veteran CH 46 of the legendary HMM-163 "Ridge Runners" with the "Evil Eyes" on its nose sits on the ramp at MCAS Tustin around 1986 with the legendary "Blimp Hangars" in the background. During Vietnam the turbine powered CH46 Sea Knight "Phrog" replaced the radial piston powered CH34 Choctaw. Still in service, (and many of these from the Vietnam era), the CH 46s are now being replaced by the MV22 Osprey.

Half the USMC helicopter pilots trained at what was then the Marine Corps Air Facility at Tustin, California, also know as "LTA" for "Lighter Than Air" the former Navy Blimp base with its legendary Blimp Hangars.

As a child in the late 1950's artist Paul Gavin started drawing the helicopters and jets that flew over his house daily from MCAS's Tustin and El Toro. Folding almost 100 papers per day for his delivery route in the 1960's Paul saw the same daily front page photos of Vietnam, over and over again, many with the helicopter types he watched flying over his house as he worked.

Fast forward to the late 1970's when he graduated with an Art Degree from the University of California at Irvine where the Tustin Blimp Hangars and the resident helicopters were visible every day from the art studios from them he would do distant sketches. Along with painting landscapes of the whole area, in the early 1980's he began doing work for individual Marines, then the Tustin Open House and then in 1989 he was asked to create art for the MCAS El Toro Air Show.

The rest is history as since then he and his wife Kimberleigh have probably done more military event images than any artists and have raised many, many dollars in support of the Armed Forces and their families.

This is a painting from MCAS Tustin that was done just over 10 years after the Vietnam War ended.

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View from Skyline Drive

The blimp hangars could be seen from Tustin's View from Skyline Drive, as could much of Orange County. Just a couple of miles away from the Tustin base was Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, also decommissioned and now about to become an urban park.

Marine Corps Air Station El Toro

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