Waco Airplane

Originally Published In Village News September 3, 1998

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

This story came to light one hot August afternoon and being a Thursday the Fallbrook Historical Museum was open so Francis (Gillie) Gillian came into the Museum asking if we would like to have a picture he had in his hand. Upon seeing the picture we became excited about the old picture and the story he related. It is through pictures and stories of this nature that the Fallbrook Historical Society is able to document, preserve and convey our very interesting history of Fallbrook to the public rather than having this information lost in passing of time

The story behind the picture goes something like this:

In 1951 Bill Thurber, the Fire Chief of the Fallbrook Volunteer Fire Department ran across the opportunity to purchase from the Navy a war surplus Waco biplane. Not having the money to purchase it himself, he contacted some of his friends and associates. Four of them (Jack Eberline, Henry Taylor, Floyd Ahrend and Francis Gillian) agreed to join with him. They put up one hundred dollars apiece and took possession of the plane.

The plane was moved to a small airstrip in San Marcos. This location was not convenient due to the distance and time required to travel back and forth, so a search was under taken for a location that they could land their plane in Fallbrook. A location was found and A. H. Anthony consented to their using his land for an airstrip. Gillie, being a heavy equipment operator by trade knew of a road grader that he could utilize and he proceeded to grade a 600 feet runway on the Anthony property.

Upon the completion of the runway the airplane was flown over from San Marcos. Everything went well; the runway was smooth, the winds were favorable and they felt they had the landing strip of their dreams. However what they had not taken into account was with that big "bird" swooping down out of the sky over the neighbors created a great deal of excitement in the chicken pens etc. and thus raised the ire of the surrounding land owners. Thus the unapproved airfield was discontinued and the search for a new landing strip in the Fallbrook area was on again.

It was decided to try utilizing a ridge overlooking the Santa Margarita River off of Santa Margarita Drive known as the Chalmers Ranch. However there was not as much room on this ridge and a landing strip of only 300 feet could be constructed. It was decided that they could land the Waco aircraft on a 300 feet strip. Gillie went to work and graded off the strip. This location proved to be less desirable than the previous one because the unpredictable wind that blew up the Santa Margarita Canyon every afternoon caused problems with controlling the plane on takeoff and landings, however they continued to use it.

Floyd Ahrend used the plane to take aerial photographs of ranches for owners wanting to show off their places and property that Realtors were wanting to sell. As of this date there are many aerial photograph of the Fallbrook area on display or tucked away somewhere for posterity.

It is our understanding that Bill Ahrend of The Fallbrook Camera Shop is still in possession of some the negatives of his dad's old aerial photographs.

We have been told that while Floyd was taking a picture one-day from this Waco plane and he almost fell out of it. During that moment of excitement he almost dropped his camera due to the fact he had unfastened his seat belt in order to stand up to get a better view of the ground.

Bill Thurber being the Fire Chief and Francis Gillian, the Assistant Fire Chief utilized the plane for fire reconnaissance. Not having a radio in the plane it was necessary for two to fly the reconnaissance, one to fly the plane the other would map the fire and give directions as what should be done. When the map was drawn and instructions written they were slipped into a section of clear plastic pipe with a cap on each end the capsule containing the information was dropped to someone waiting on the ground.

One day one of the owners decided to fly the Waco out to the desert to view some property he owned. While landing, he experienced a problem and made a very hard landing. Upon their returning to Fallbrook a thorough examination of the aircraft was made and it was determined that the fuselage had been severally damaged and the plane was no longer fit to fly. One of the owner's sons was a certified aircraft mechanic and he volunteered make the necessary repairs. The plane was move to a suitable location to make the repairs and was disassembled. However for some unknown reason, work on the plane came to a halt. After an extended period of time it was decided that the plane should be sold and the money from its sale donated to the Fallbrook Volunteer Fire Department.

Go To:

Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History

Copyright © 1998-1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Don and Mary Rivers
Last update: 24 January 1999.