The airliners drift through the air, in and down across the eastern suburbs of San Diego. They are headed slowly toward the airport, next door to downtown. It is quite odd, having an airport in the center of the city, instead of somewhere outside, far from the heart of town, but that’s the way it is here.

Once upon a time, when the city was a lot smaller, only twenty or thirty thousand souls, airplanes came and went from a stretch of flattened wasteland where the river used to flood into the bay, right next to the center of the growing city. In the beginning, the air field was called Dutch Flat, but it was soon renamed Lindbergh Field, after Charles A. Lindbergh.

There was another field, Rockwell, across the bay on North Island, where the army and navy flew, and had been flying, since before 1910. My grandfather was a warrant officer in the army air corps, stationed there in the 1920s, and my Mom remembers how one day he came home and announced that there was a “burgher” who thought he was going to fly across the Atlantic!

“Lucky Lindy’s” tiny aircraft – the Spirit of St. Louis – was, in 1927, the first plane ever to be flown non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. That small flying machine was built in San Diego by Ryan Aeronautical Company, and we San Diegans have ever since been very proud that Lindbergh’s “flights” began here.

These days, eighty some years later, I look out at the sky nearly every evening and watch the giant airships drift across the dark heavens, or hear their whining jet motors passing by overhead, slowly dropping down toward the center of town and Lindbergh Field, and I think about how far things have come in less than a hundred years.

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