San Carlos has hosted an airport since the earliest days of powered flight. Around the time of World War I, the San Carlos Flying Field was established by J. Paulding Edwards who constructed a five-plane hangar along what is now Terminal Way and he graded a five-acre field south to Cordilleras Creek . In those days, an â€œaerportâ€ was often a rectangular field of grass or packed dirt arranged so that a plane could always be landed into the wind.
A newspaper story reports that the first pilotâ€™s license granted at San Carlos was awarded on July 10, 1917 to a Lieutenant Prince from the United States Aviation School at San Diego . This was in preparation for his eventual deployment to Europe for aerial combat. Sometime later, Mr. Edwards joined the Aviation Corps of the U.S. Army and was commissioned as a Major. He was discharged on Nov. 30, 1918  for conduct unbecoming an officer (insubordination) in a case in which secret documents were taken off-base . Edwards served as an airmail pilot for one month (Dec. 13, 1918 to Jan. 12, 1919) in Cleveland, Ohio  before returning to the Bay Area. In Oct. 1919 he announced that he would â€œreopen the San Carlos Aviation field and will establish there an aerplane service station with complete shop facilities and hangers for fifteen planes.â€ [8, 11]
The field was in active use in late 1919 when a peculiar dispute arose between Edwards and a tenant who kept his plane in the hangar and conducted sightseeing flights at Stanford University. According to newspaper accounts, J. Paulding defaulted on the mortgage for the flying field and Waldo Brazil purchased it at a foreclosure sale. After Brazil allegedly removed some No Trespassing signs, Edwards secured a warrant for his arrest and took up residence at the airport, standing guard over Brazilâ€™s Pathfinder aircraft and demanding payment of $100 for storage charges [9, 10].
The following images show the hangar in the background with the railroad tracks on the left. The San Carlos Speedway was built in 1921 from lumber and hosted only four races before it burned to the ground on June 18, 1922.
San Carlos Speedway with airport hangar in the background (photo courtesy of the San Carlos History Museum).
Close-up view of San Carlos Airport hangar 1921-22 (photo courtesy of the San Carlos History Museum).
The following photo shows an airplane taxiing in front of the hangar.
The hangar and part of the field was later taken over by the Cooley family. Flying lessons were taught by Charles P. Cooley who authored a 24 page pamphlet Instructions on Airplane Flying in 1927 and described himself as follows.
Charles P. Cooley, the author of this book and Instructor at San Carlos Airport, took a thorough course in airplane flying from a World War Pilot. When he had finished his course of instruction, a United States Inspector of San Francisco, California, gave him a rating of 100 per cent. He is known as a daring and successful stunt flier and a most thorough Instructor.
(note: a copy of the pamphlet is in the archives of the San Carlos History Museum. Used with the permission of Ms. Corinne Cooley Derringer.)
Charles P. Cooley on wing, over San Francisco peninsula by bay, out of San Carlos Airport; Sterling Price at controls (photo used with permission of Ms. Corinne Cooley Derringer).
Charles P. Cooley, in Eagle Rock airplane, photo 1930s, San Carlos Airport (photo used with permission of Ms. Corinne Cooley Derringer).
A fire on July 12, 1940 attributed to spontaneous combustion destroyed the hangar and 12 planes, including Charles Cooleyâ€™s Eagle Rock. A newspaper account of the fire said the airport was established around the time of World War I for the purpose of training army aviators and was operated from 1923 to 1935 by Frank S. Cooley . His son Charles operated the flight school during that time. The field was vacant from 1935 until 1938 when Edward C. Watson reopened the airport.
Sometime before that, Cooleys moved their operations to the area currently occupied by the TownePlace Suites Hotel on Twin Dolphin Drive, adjacent to todayâ€™s Piombo parking area. The nearby Ohio Building was used as a workshop and base for various industries. The location with respect to the current airfield is shown in the following illustration from March, 1950 .
After a series of financial transactions, by March of 1952 the Cooleys no longer had any association with the airport and Mr. Francis Michaud, former operator of Belmont Airport and owner of Peninsula Aviation, had assumed control and renamed the field San Carlos-Belmont Airport. He planned to move five hangars, an engine repair shop, and an administration building from the Belmont Airport to his new location. A 3000 foot landing field was planned with the possibility of eventually extending it to 7000 feet .
By 1957, owners of the Airport included Michaud, Piombo Construction Company, and at least six other individuals. Flight and maintenance operations were leased to Hap Harper, later to achieve fame as an airborne traffic reporter, who operated the airport. The field was now called San Mateo County Airport, Inc., in spite of the fact that the County had no formal association with the airport.
The following photos (originally posted in June 2008) are courtesy of Steve Bell, a CFI who flew out of San Carlos Airport in 1966. Steve reports that the trailer on the west side of the approach end of 12 housed West Bay Aviation, where he worked when he took these photos. Steve is now living in Florida and would like to hear from old friends in the SQL community. He can be reached at s8b at earthlink dot net.
Other San Carlos Airport
In about 1941, another airport opened in San Carlos on the West side of the Bayshore highway. A first day cover from the U.S. Post Office indicates that this facility was dedicated on Nov. 2, 1941, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, the ceremony included presentation of the guidon to the 3rd Observation Squadron of the California state guard under the command of Maj. Frank A. Flynn.
The photo on the right shows the flight line at this location sometime in the 1940s. This photo appears courtesy San Carlos History Museum.
When the 3D Buildings option is turned off, we see that that airport was nearly abandoned by autumn 1948, with only two planes visible on the ground. This is in clear contrast with the 1947 photo that shows about 50 planes in tie downs. Unfortunately, the aerial images are not available in Google Earth that would show the current San Carlos Airport.
The locations of San Carlos Airport over the years are shown in the U.S.G.S. topographical map from 1946 that shows Cooley field and the airstrip that was West of 101.
By 1956 the two earlier locations were no longer shown and the present day spot was clearly indicated.
If you have any comments or if you have classic photos of San Carlos Airport that youâ€™d like to add to our collection, please contact webmaster at sancarlospilots.org. We can scan photographic prints if necessary.
1. Carol Van Vliet, “The History of the San Mateo County Airport, Incorporated,” San Mateo County History Museum document number 1562, 1957.
2. San Carlos Courier Bulletin, March 17, 1952.
3. Fred Drake, “San Carlos Had the First Army Airport: Training Flyers for World War I,” San Carlos Enquirer, 1952.
4. “12 Planes Lost in Fire at San Carlos,” San Mateo Times, July 13, 1940.
5. “Pilot’s License Granted Flier at San Carlos,” Redwood City Democrat, July 12, 1917.
6. “J. Paulding Edwards Sued,” Redwood City Standard, Jan. 19, 1919.
7. Smithsonian, National Postal Museum, “PILOT STORIES: Edwards, J. Paulding,” http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/airmail/pilot/pilot_rest/pilot_rest_edwards.html.
8. “Aviation Field at San Carlos to be Reopened,” Redwood City Standard, Oct. 16, 1919.
9. “Plane Trespass Charge in Warrant for Arrest,” Redwood City Standard, Dec. 11, 1919.
10. “Arrest Asked in Dispute Between Aviation Heads,” Redwood City Standard, Dec. 18, 1919.
11. “J. Paulding Edwards Company: announces the commencement of aviation activities at their San Carlos Field, November twenty-fourth,” Oakland Tribune, Nov. 23, 1919.
12. “Airports & Airways: Preliminary Master Plan,” San Mateo County, California, EO County Planning Commission, April, 1950.
13. Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, Suspect: Major J. Paulding Edwards, Case Number 8000-243748, Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922, The National Archives, Roll: boi_german_257-850_0122.
Kudos to Steve Breitenstein for pointing out the Cooley photos on Flickr.