Also known as Manzanar Airport and Inyo County Airport, the Manzanar Airfield is one of the best-kept secrets of Hwy 395. I chanced upon it by accident, while heading east on Manzanar Reward Road in search of gold mines.
Its origins may also be a well-kept secret, as there are several different stories on how it came into being. One of the main theories is that the airport was built in the early 1940s for bomber pilot training and aircraft emergencies. It could also have been built as a “fallback field,” to be used by U.S. forces in the event of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast during World War II. By mid-1942, the airport was reported to be the largest in the valley, with planes as large as the B-24 seen landing and taking off.
The airfield consisted of two 4,800 foot long concrete runways, one of which has a parallel taxiway. Various hangars, shops and operations buildings were situated along the outskirts. The airfield is located near the infamous Manzanar Relocation Camp; however, it apparently had no connection to the internment center.
Inyo County abandoned the airfield in 1956 and marked off the runways with the large, white “Xs” that signify closed runways. The tower and windsock were removed the following year, and in 1958 all the electrical equipment and obstruction lights were removed.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of being alone in the middle of an airport runway. It’s a bit scary, a bit exciting and a lot of fun. And while I won’t admit to starting at one end of a runway and accelerating as fast as my truck would go, imagining I was a fighter pilot taking off on a bombing mission, it could have happened.