December 7, 2009: Mojave Air and Space Port

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  • Mojave Air and Space Port

In a ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Mojave, California, Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic unveiled SpaceShipTwo. Some 800 people attended the event, among them Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, aerospace executives, future astronauts and the media. The SS2 was intended to carry six passengers and two pilots to the edge of space (62 miles. The two governors jointly christened SS2 as “Virgin Space Ship Enterprise,” in honor of a long tradition of using the word “Enterprise” in the naming of Royal Navy, U.S. Navy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration vehicles and even science fiction spacecraft.

In 1935 Kern County opened the Mojave Airport 0.5 miles east of Mojave, California to serve the gold and silver mining industry in the area. The airport had two dirt runways, one oiled, but no fueling or servicing facilities. In 1941 the Civil Aeronautics Board began improvements to the airport for national defense purposes that included two 4,500 by 150 feet asphalt runways and a taxiway. Kern County agreed the airport could be taken over by the military in the event of war.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States Marine Corps took over the airport and expanded it into Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station Mojave. The two runways were extended and a third one added. Barracks were constructed to house 2,734 male and 376 female military personnel.  Civilian employment at the base would peak at 176. The Marines would eventually spend more than $7 million on the base, which totaled 2,312 acres.

Many of the Corps' World War II aces received their gunnery training at Mojave. During World War II, Mojave hosted 29 aircraft squadrons, four Carrier Aircraft Service Detachments, and three Air Warning Squadrons.  At its peak, the air station had 145 training and other aircraft. Mojave also had a 75 x 156 foot swimming pool that was used to train aviators in emergency water egress and for recreation. The base's 900-seat auditorium hosted several United States Organization shows that featured Bob Hope, Frances Langford and Marilyn Maxwell.  With the end of World War II, MCAAS was disestablished on February 7, 1946; a United States Navy Air Station was established the same day. The Navy used the airport for drone operations for less than a year, closing it on January 1, 1947. The base remained closed for four years until the outbreak of the Korean War. Mojave was reactivated as an auxiliary landing field to MCAS El Toro.  In 1951 scenes from the movie The Las Vegas Story were filmed at the deserted airport. A helicopter chased a car around the base, at several points flying at speed through an open-ended hangar. The control tower shown on the RHS of this article was featured at the climax of the chase.  On  August 22, 1951, the 11th Naval District announced the award to R. R. Hensler, of Sun Valley, of a $1.307 million contract for the extension and strengthening of the runway at the Marine Corps auxiliary airfield.

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