Belmont Airport was established sometime in the 1930s. Also known as Belmont Landing Field and Central Airport, it was a beehive of aviation activity in the pre-war San Francisco Bay area. A newspaper story describes the first airmail flight from Belmont on May 19, 1938 by pilots Louis Lang and Ted Simon . Theirs was one of over 1700 special one-day-only flights conducted across the nation . Celebrated as part of National Air Mail Week, the festivities that day included an address by Mayor Harold Danforth and an invocation by Rev. Schuyler Pratt of the Belmont Good Shepherd Church.
During National Air Mail Week (May 15-21, 1938) people all over the country were encouraged to send airmail letters as part of a depression era campaign that promoted airlines and the air mail business. Many of the pilots were volunteers who served without pay and were sworn in as government employees for 24 hours . Local postmasters, such as Belmont’s Kathleen Rousseau, designed cachets (shown on the right) that commemorated the occasion and promoted their communities.
The former location of the airport was determined by comparing the above U.S. Geological Survey maps. The map on the left (click to zoom up) shows the neighborhood around the airport in 1949 and the one on the right shows the same neighborhood in 1956. When translated to the present-day street map on the top of the page, we see that the runway ran along Hiller St. and the airport office and hangar were approximately at the corner of Hiller St. and Marine View Ave. This is corroborated by Denny Lawhern of the Belmont Historical Society who reports that he lives on Hiller St., “just about on top of the old runway.”
Belmont Airport was a beneficiary of the explosion of interest in private aviation that occurred after World War II. With the reopening of civilian airports that had been closed at the outbreak of the war and the return of thousands of young men and women that the government had trained as pilots, there was a huge demand for planes and places to keep them. For many of these folks, flying an airplane was as natural as driving a car. Evidence of Belmont Airport’s part in this boom is the 1950 San Mateo County airports master plan that listed 50 planes permanently based on the field, 12 employees, 10,000 hours flown annually, three flying clubs, aircraft sales, repair, and services, and a 3000 foot runway oriented 280-100 degrees .
A postcard from Belmont Airport’s Cessna dealer (Peninsula Aviation) is shown to the right (click on the image to zoom it up). The advertisement promotes the 1947 models of the Cessna 120 and 140 with the tag line Go More Places and See More Things in a New 1947. The 120 and 140 were two-seat taildraggers with the same engine (85 or 90 HP Continental) but the electrical system was optional in the 120 and it did not have flaps. Overall, 7664 units (including sibling model 140A) rolled off the assembly line from 1946 until production ceased in 1951 .
In the 1950s, the social, training and commercial activities at airports such as Belmont’s were commonly reported in newspapers. A story about the 1951 Christmas party mentioned the recent acquisition of a Stinson 150 Voyager airplane for training purposes and the completion of a charter flight to Reno in a Cessna 140 . The opening of a maintenance shop at Peninsula Aviation was announced by Francis Michaud, the company’s co-owner, in a Jan. 1952 article that also described their fleet of five Cessna 140s, and one Ercoupe, an Aeronca Champion, an Aeronca Chief, and a Stinson .
The above photos were provided courtesy of the Belmont Historical Society. The photo on the left (dated 1941 to 1951) shows what the airport looked like when viewed from the western side of El Camino Real. We see numerous aircraft parked on the ramp. A close-up view of the hangar and its surroundings (undated) shows five small port-a-port style hangars as well as one large hangar that could have been used as a maintenance shop and that had an attached office. The image on the right shows the airport and its environs in 1949.
The closure of the airport at the end of March, 1952, after 20 years of operation, rather than being a sad affair instead was welcomed as a transfer to a larger property with plenty of surrounding open space. It was reported that Michaud planned to move five hangars, the engine repair shop, and the administration building from Belmont to 313 acres at San Carlos Airport . Business activities at the new location eventually included tiedown rental, fuel sales, flight training, charter flights, and aerial photography . Even though he was no longer associated with San Carlos Airport by the end of 1955 , Francis and his friends at Belmont Airport brought aviation activity and jobs to San Carlos and were valuable early contributors to the thriving general aviation field we enjoy today.
Belmont Airport Today
For those of us who fly out of San Carlos, when we want to depart to the east off runway 30 we first fly straight out until we pass the diamond shaped waterway and then we make a right turn. The diagram on the left shows that if instead of turning right we would have made a 20 degree left turn (in early 1952), we would have been on a half-mile final for runway 28 at Belmont. When one glances in that direction today from the same position, the previous location of the runway along Hiller St. is unmistakable, as shown in the photo on the right, that was taken from an altitude of about 600 feet.
Thanks to Denny Lawhern of the Belmont Historical Society for the 1938 article in the San Carlos Enquirer, the postcard from Peninsula Aviation, the photos of the airport, and the permission to use them.
. Belmont Dispatches First Air Mail at Central Port, San Carlos Enquirer, May 20, 1938.
. Aerodacious.com, article on National Air Mail Week.
. S. Swain, U.S, National Air Mail Week, May 15-21, 1938.
. Airport Has a Christmas Party and Buys New Plane, San Carlos Courier Bulletin, Dec. 31, 1951.
. Maintenance Shop at Belmont Airport, San Carlos Courier Bulletin, Jan. 7, 1952.
. Cessna 140, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_140.
. Aviation Firm Plans Move to New Field, San Carlos Courier Bulletin, March 17, 1952.
. Carol Van Vliet, History of San Mateo County Airport, Incorporated, San Mateo County History Museum, SM 1562, 1957.