Trona Airport

Photo by Wild Bill

My father, H.J. Stevens told me that the Trona Airport was built by the US Army Air Corp and was used for training before WWII.  When the war started the army moved out and shipped all the planes to Europe.  According to him they were all loaded onto a cargo ship that was sunk in the Atlantic before they reached their destination.  If anyone can verify this or contribute more information about the Trona Airport please let me know.

The photo’s on this page were provided by Bill Graffunder.


According to Dr. O. N. Cole in his book Trona Trivia (1) The first Trona airport was due east of the present Trona school.


He writes, “In November 1928 the ‘Pot-Ash’ (newspaper) announced weekend aerial service to Los Angeles, but this lasted only a short time.

“Local aerial activities took an upward turn when Art Cheney arrived in 1930, as he taught flying, did charter work, and carried passengers on short hops.

“Cheney left Trona in 1934 to join one of the major airlines leaving the business in the hands of Fred Austin Jr. (who later went on to become famous with the major airlines).

“In 1935 Austin organized the ‘Cactus Flying Club’ Which numbered among it’s members, Bill Van Dyck (founder of Van Dyck Motors) and Jack Walker, now of Tehachapi.”


Photo by Wild Bill

The Searles Valley Story(2) tells use more about the airport history,

“Airplane were still a novelty in Searles Valley in the early 1920’s. Fred L. Austin Jr., District Transportation Manager — flying for Trans-World Airlines, writes he vividly recalls walking out of elementary school in 1923 to watch an airplane overhead. The pilot landed just about where the first airport was located across Trona Road from the present school….

“Fred Austin told of many pilots who came to teach flying during the late twenties to teach flying, but the first man to make a business of teaching flying, carrying passengers and making charter flights was Art Cheney who came to Trona in 1930. Art joined Western Airlines in 1934….

“During the 1940’s several attempts were again made to establish regular airplane service. The Desert Air Service flew regular flights from Grand Central Air Terminal (Old LAX) to Trona from January to June 13, 1943.

“In January, 1943, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, a branch of the Department of Commerce announced that an intermediate landing field with a radio range and communications system would be built at Trona. The radio range would provide instrument navigation aid and equipped for voice communications in flight. The Army Engineers arrived in Trona April 1943, to build the airport. When this battalion left Trona it was sent to North Africa to build another airport. September 1, 1943, the Civil Aeronautics Administration contracted with American Potash and Chemical Corporation to furnish power to the airport, and the airport was finished. In May, 1968, Stauffer Chemical Corporation contributed the road oil and the Inyo County road crew spread it and leveled off the runway. John Husted was the airport manager from 1955 to ? Hangers at the airport are owned by several individuals.

“Thus we have the progress from a man and his burro to the twenty mule teams, the Renault tractors, trains, buses and airplanes as methods of transportation in Searles Valley.

Photo by Wild Bill

The DC3 was used in a music video May 2000 at Trona Airport. The name of the band was  Corrs’ from Ireland.


Photo by Wild Bill

The writing in the building above was done for a movie production that was filmed in Trona  in 1995. The name of the film is Bulletproof with Damon Wylans and Adam Sadler

Airport Links:

(1) The  Searles Valley Story was written and published by Searles Lake Branch of American Association of University Women in 1975 for the nation’s bicentennial.

(1) The  Trona Trivia was written  by Dr. O. N. Cole and is available from the Searles Valley Historical Society.

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