What was started as thousands of acres of both lemon and orange orchards and cattle ranches evolved into one of the busiest and populous regions in United States. During the 1920s a celery farm was purchased and a private airstrip was built by aviation pioneer Eddie Martin, just south of the county seat of Santa Ana. The airport remained a general aviation field for many years as Orange County was still rather rural and most population growth was taking place in Los Angeles just thirty miles to the north. In 1951, local service carrier, Bonanza Air Lines added Santa Ana as a destination on its multi-stop Phoenix-Los Angeles service using the Douglas DC-3. (Santa Ana was the stop between Oceanside and Los Angeles) Bonanza started "jet-prop" service using Fokker F-27s in 1963, followed by non-stop flights to Las Vegas. The airport received its first pure jet service in late 1967 with flights to Phoenix by Bonanza Airlines. Hometown carrier Air California started operations from Santa Ana-Orange County in early 1967 and firmly put the airport as a viable alternative to congested Los Angeles-LAX to the north. With the increase in passenger flights and the rapid growth of the region, including the Disneyland theme park just miles away, a new passenger terminal was constructed and placed into operation in 1967. Over the next few years, airport expansion remained "in-check" with Air California dominating the services. During the 1980s the airport saw tremendous growth in terms of passengers and new airlines starting service. Orange County had become a top spot for many nationwide businesses and technology firms and the airlines followed suit. By 1985, eight airlines were serving the airport with non-stop flights as far east as Denver, Chicago and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Although considered one of the most sensitive airports from aircraft noise profiles due to the surrounding region, Orange County grew to become a busy regional airport for both general and business aviation as well as passenger carriers.


June 1967
Local service carrier, Bonanza Air Lines had grown from a small, single-plane operation to a profitable airline based in Las Vegas, Nevada during the 1950s. Focusing its efforts on the popular Las Vegas-Reno market, Bonanza eventually added flights From Vegas to Phoenix, Arizona and a multi-stop Phoenix-Los Angeles service with Douglas DC-3s. These pioneering routes placed Bonanza as a popular option for travel to the growing, gambling mecca of Las Vegas. Visionary President Edmund Converse, was always looking for ways to improve passenger travel and comfort over the sometimes desolate distances covered. With the DC-3s starting to show their age, Converse sought new equipment and traveled to Europe when Fokker courted the executive with their new 44-passenger, high-winged F-27 turboprop. Immediately impressed, an order was placed for six of the F-27s in 1957, at a cost of $850,000 each. Named “Silver Darts” after the Silver State, Nevada nickname and the Rolls Royce Dart turboprop engines, the first Fokker F-27 was received in January 1959, and placed on the Las Vegas-Reno route. By November 1960, eight of the F-27s had been received and the last of the DC-3s finally retired which made Bonanza the first all-jet powered airline in America, a phrase they used to their marketing advantage. With the F-27 turboprop, cities in the Bonanza route structure such as Riverside and Blythe, California and Kingman and Grand Canyon, Arizona received modern airplane service for the first time. One of these airports, Orange County-Santa Ana welcomed the F-27 service in late 1959 and Bonanza became the first airline to start “jet” service into the airport. Bonanza would eventually acquire sixteen of the F-27 airplanes before being merged into Air West Airlines in April 1968. Parked on the ramp at Orange County-Santa Ana Airport and awaiting its next load of passengers is N754L, a Fokker F-27A, delivered new to the airline on April 5, 1962.



June 1968
One of the many local commuter airlines that was formed in Southern California during the 1960s, was Cable Commuter based at Ontario Airport. Cable focused on providing feeder flights throughout Southern California and into Los Angeles-LAX airport. Orange County was added to the schedule in May 1968, with no less then ten daily flights to Los Angeles. This convenient "shuttle" service became popular to passengers connecting to larger carriers and flights at Los Angeles International Airport. Cable Commuter only lasted a few years before they were consolidated by Aero Commuter Airlines from Long Beach to become Golden West Airlines a year later in 1969. On the ramp starting its engines for another short "hop" to the north is N17133 "Miss Venita," a de Havilland DHC-6-100, delivered new to the airline on February 26, 1968.



March 1969
The new entrant into the California intra-state market, Air California realized a few years after starting service with the Lockheed Electra that jet aircraft were a necessity to compete with the "Big Guys" on routes within the state. Initially the airline leased two Douglas DC-9s in 1968, then settled on the Boeing 737 for its jet aircraft needs. Air California leased two Boeing 737s from GATX-Boothe Aircraft Leasing after the planes came available after a cancelled order from Pacific Air Lines. The first 737 was delivered in early October 1968, and flights started a few days later on October 7, 1968, on the Orange County-San Francisco route. Seen taxiing outbound toward Runway 19 for an afternoon departure is N467GB, a Boeing 737-293, in the original "Sunburst" color scheme with the black "bandit" nose paint.


March 1970
Santa Ana-Orange County Airport's first airline operator, Bonanza Airlines was merged with two other local carriers, Pacific Air Lines and West Coast Airlines in 1968, to form Air West. The "new" airline continued to serve the airport with daily  DC-9 "jet" flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas, and "Jet-prop" F-27 service to both San Diego and Los Angeles. The airline proved quite popular with travelers as the only carrier to serve two out of state cities from the airport with no direct competition. Parked on the ramp with the very convenient integral air stairs extended and awaiting it's next load of passengers is N9330, a Douglas DC-9-31, originally destined for West Coast Airlines but taken up by Air West on May 27, 1968.



March 1973
With a plan in place to provide passenger flights from Santa Ana-Orange County airport in 1967, Air California started operations with two Lockheed Electra turboprops on non-stop service to San Francisco. Within a few years, the Electra's were placed on "secondary" routes as new jet aircraft took the main intra-state routes. The Electra was still a formidable factor in the fleet during the 1970s and was used on flights from Orange County to secondary cities as well as on charter services. Although the Electra's were slowly being phased out, they got a new lease on life when Air California inaugurated service to South Lake Tahoe in 1975. The mountainous, high-elevation airport was best served by the four-engine "Prop-Jet" and the venerable Electra would maintain this important route into early 1980. Parked on a soggy ramp during a spring storm is N123US, a Lockheed L-188 Electra-C, originally delivered to Northwest Orient Airlines in August 1959 and purchased by Air California in July 1970.



June 1977
Southern California commuter Golden West Airlines continued to grow during the 1970s by adding new cities, routes and increased frequencies. Service between Santa Ana-Orange County and Los Angeles continued to be the most popular route for the airline, however additional routes from the airport to Santa Barbara, Fullerton and Palomar-Carlsbad (north of San Diego) were started and helped bring passengers in from the regional area that wanted to bypass Los Angeles all together using Air California or continue on to major carriers at LAX. Taxiing outbound for take off and wearing the "earth-tone" colors of the 1970s is N64150, a de Havilland DHC-6-200 Twin Otter.



April 1978
Hughes Airwest had the distinction of being the first airline to serve Santa Ana-Orange County, albeit though a series of mergers. Bonanza Air Lines first started flights into the airport as a stop on its Phoenix-San Diego-Los Angeles service using a Douglas DC-3 in 1951. Bonanza was eventually consolidated with Pacific Air Lines and West Coast Airlines to form Air West in 1968. Aviation mogul and billionaire Howard Hughes purchased Air West in 1970 branding the airline under his own name. Next to Air California, Hughes Airwest was the second largest carrier out of the airport and provided all of the flights "out" of California. By 1978, the airline had non-stop services from Orange County to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Parked at the terminal ramp and being prepared to turn around for another flight is N918RW, a Douglas DC-9-31, originally delivered to Eastern Airlines in January 1968, and purchased by Hughes Airwest in October 1977.



August 1978
During the mid-1960s Continental Airlines proposed a concept of flying passengers during the day and cargo at night therefore provided ultimate utilization of new jet aircraft. The airline presented the idea to Douglas as the company's smaller DC-9 jet was perfect for those small markets where both services could be viable. The airline placed an order for twelve of the "Rapid Change" versions, which had a large side cargo door and an interior that could be quickly changed from passenger to cargo version with removable passenger "modules." The idea of a dual role airliner did not fare well for Continental and complaints from passengers were constant about the rattling and creaking of the modules. After only a few years of service, Continental put the aircraft up for sale. Hughes Airwest, seeking to expanded it's fleet, saw a bargain deal and purchased five of the DC-9s and had the passenger interiors converted to a permanent configuration. Parked on the tarmac, awaiting engine start and with the large cargo door still evident on the left side of the aircraft is N9354, a Douglas DC-9-15RC, originally delivered to Continental Airlines in October 1967, and purchased by Hughes Airwest in February 1975.



April 1980
By 1980, Air California was the largest (out of three carriers) and most popular carrier operating from Santa Ana-Orange County airport. The hometown airline had become successful with its frequent flights and no-nonsense service. At the turn of the decade the airline had ten daily flights and was serving nine cities, seven in California and both Reno and Las Vegas in Nevada. Taxiing out to Runway 19 Right in a revised color scheme introduced in the early 1970s (see picture from 1969) is N467GB, a Boeing 737-293, delivered to Air California in October 1968.



February 1981
With mergers abound, Republic Airlines was formed by the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways in July 1979. The new airline focused primarily on services east of the Rockies, into the Midwest and Southeast. Seeking to truly become a National carrier, Republic placed a bid to purchase Hughes Airwest, which was approved and completed on October 1, 1980. With that purchase, Republic became a coast-to-coast carrier and actually took title of the largest airline in the Nation based upon number of cities served (almost 200). With Republic now serving Santa Ana-Orange County, passengers had better connections to an extensive route system. Along with the introduction of service by Republic, the airline added two new routes in early 1981 to both Salt Lake City and Tucson from Orange County. Parked on the terminal ramp during an afternoon turnaround and freshly painted in the "Herman" colors is N921RW, a Douglas DC-9-31, originally delivered to Eastern Airlines in January 1968, then purchased by Hughes Airwest in July 1977. Note the Hughes Airwest DC-9 in the background with hybrid "Republic" titles placed after the merger.


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