The Catalina Island Conservancy, elected officials, and military leaders will gather on May 3, 2019, to celebrate the reopening of the Airport in the Sky.
The first plane to land on the newly refurbished runway will be a 1947 DC-3 originally owned by Philip K. Wrigley. Airspace will open to the public at 3 p.m. (PST).
The runway was repaired by Marines and Navy Sailors (Seabees) as a training exercise to prepare them for missions on islands and other remote destinations.
Nearly 200 Marines and Seabees were deployed to Catalina Island over a three-month period to replace the main runway’s asphalt with concrete for training. Units participating included I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) out of Camp Pendleton, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 (MWSS-373) out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Naval Construction Group One (NCG1), First Naval Construction Regiment (1NCR) and Navy Mobility Construction Battalion (NCMB-25).
The Runway Repair Project was conducted as an Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project through the Department of Defense. It provided the military with valuable construction training while benefiting the community of Catalina by ensuring the island’s only airport remains open to the public, according to officials.
The first plane that will land at the newly named ACE Clearwater Airfield was built in 1944 as a World War II surplus C-47 military transport. It was then converted to a DC-3 after the war. Philip K. and Helen Wrigley, who helped establish the Catalina Island Conservancy and donated most of their family’s Catalina Island property to the Conservancy, bought the plane in 1947. The original chairs, couches, tables and cabinetry are still part of the airplane. The DC-3 was later owned by a museum, an oil company, and privately. Alison Wrigley Rusack, Philip K. and Helen’s granddaughter, and her husband, Geoff, purchased the DC-3 in 2013 and, along with an airplane restoration firm, Aerometal International, restored its original 1947 appearance.