MCAS Tustin, aka the Blimp Hangers

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

These two airship hangers are the world’s largest unsupported
wood structures in the world. Each is 18 stories high and
the length of three football fields. Still under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy,
their future use is uncertain

World War II is long past, but as reminders of the role our town played during the hostilities, Tustin still has two majestic airship hangers.

Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) was established as a Navy lighter-than-air (LTA) base and commissioned September 1942. Occupying 1,383 acres of agricultural land acquired from Irvine, the station supported observation blimps and personnel necessary to conduct antisubmarine patrols off the Southern California coast during World War II.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Navy asked the U.S. Congress for authorization to purchase an increased number of airships. By June 1942, Congress had authorized the construction of 200 airships. During the war, Goodyear built a total of 168. At peak production, the company was turning out 11 airships monthly.

Six of these airships could fit into each of the two hangers constructed in Tustin. Labeled the world's largest unsupported timber constructed buildings, the massive structures were built at a cost of $2.5 million each. Each is 1,088 feet long, 178 feet high and 297 feet wide. This translates to being as high as an 18 story building and as long as three football fields. The doors are composed of six leaves, each weighing 26 to 29 tons. The hangers were designated as National Historical Landmarks in August 1978.

The facility served as an LTA base until it was decommissioned in June 1949. During the Korean conflict, the station was reactivated in May 1951, and commissioned as Marine Corps Air Facility Santa Ana. The name was changed to Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter) Santa Ana in September 1969 and finally MCAS Tustin in June of 1985. It was the country's first air facility developed solely for helicopter operations. The name Santa Ana was originally attached to the base because it was located in an unincorporated area.

MCAS Tustin closed in July 1999.  Approximately 1294 acres have been conveyed to the City of Tustin, private developers and public institutions for a combination of residential, commercial, educational, and public recreational and open-space uses. The City of Tustin is developing Tustin Legacy (residential) and The District (commercial) on the property. South Orange County Community College District, Rancho Santiago Community College District, Advanced Technology Education Park, Orange County Sheriff Department training facility and the Orange County Rescue Mission are other occupants.

The Northern Hangar, located near Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road , is currently proposed to be ultimately conveyed by the Department of the Navy to the County of Orange . The current Tustin Legacy Reuse Plan and Specific Plan show the 11 acre hangar facility located on an 84.5 acre parcel identified as a County of Orange Regional Park.  
The South Hangar will be ultimately conveyed to Tustin Legacy Community Partners, LLC, the master developer of 820 acres at Tustin Legacy.  When they choose to redevelop the hangar site, they will be required to comply with the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan which identifies a variety of possible uses. At present the hanger is used for shooting movies & TV programs, including JAG and The X-Files.

Many suggestions have been made for the hanger’s future use, but current maps designate it as “GO,” meaning it will be torn down.

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