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City of Yuma's final runway at City Hall dedicated
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Yumans relived a proud moment in the community's history with the dedication Wednesday of the final runway for the City of Yuma at the same time and on the same day 63 years after the plane set down after staying aloft a record-setting 47 days.
And what more fitting place than Yuma City Hall for the final home of the City of Yuma, said Mayor Al Krieger.
The story of the “Longest Flight” is about two words, he said: vision and inspiration, from the flight itself to the recovery and restoration of the historical aircraft and finally installing the Aeronca Sedan airplane in City Hall's lobby where visitors from around the world can see it.
“It's been a long flight,” Krieger said, “but not like those who were in the cockpit for 47 days.”
Fitting the airplane into the lobby was a close thing, though, with but “a quarter-inch to spare.”
The endurance flight was undertaken in 1949 by the Yuma Jaycees after the draw down following the end of World War II resulted in the closure of the Yuma airfield. They hoped the publicity about an endurance flight would call attention to Yuma's perfect year-round flying weather and attract the military back to the community.
“It's too bad they didn't live to see how their vision changed Yuma,” Krieger said.
Today Yuma is home to two vital military installations: Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Yuma Proving Ground.
To bring home that point, two helicopters from MCAS flew over City Hall during the dedication ceremony.
Maybe the military would have come back without Bob Woodhouse and Woody Jongeward, the two pilots who flew the City of Yuma nonstop for 1,124 hours.
“But I don't think so,” said Col. Robert Kuckuk, MCAS commanding officer. “It was the spirit of Yuma that brought them back, and many are still working hard to keep that spirt alive.”
He noted that all branches of the military have trained here along with America's allies. “There's not an aviator alive today who hasn't trained or will train here. There's no better place to fly and train than Yuma.”
And next month will again be a momentous occasion when MCAS receives delivery of the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet.
YPG also is the grateful beneficiary “of this great event,” said Commanding Officer Col. Reed Young. The military was looking for a place to test aircraft and other equipment, he said, “and the flight demonstrated the excellence of flying here.”
Horace Griffen, who provided the 1948 Super Buick convertible as the refueling car for the flight and drove the morning shift, delighted the audience with his reminiscing of the flight and how it came about. He said he and three other men — Ray Smucker, Frosty Braden and Jongeward — were on a road trip when they got to talking about an endurance flight in California.
Smucker suggested Yuma should have one, and Jongeward said get a plane and he would fly it.
It was a true community effort, Griffen said, with many volunteers and businesses lending a hand and their support.
His daughter was born during the flight, he said, “and I never missed a run.” To that, he was given a standing ovation.
Today the story of the flight lives on with its retelling in a book, “The Longest Flight,” written by Woodhouse's sister, Shirley Murdock, and Jim Gillaspie, who was instrumental in locating and bringing the City of Yuma back home.
Gillaspie died in 2011 but a plaque on the column holding up the airplane in City Hall is in his honor. A second plaque is a tribute to those who made the endurance flight happen, a third lists those who worked on the plane's restoration and a fourth lists the volunteers who installed it in City Hall.
The airplane is now part of a full display in the lobby commemorating the 1949 flight, including audiovisual presentations, a kiosk teaching visitors about the flight and a 3-D wall hanging illustrating a fuel run. The hallway leading to the Parks and Recreation Department is hung with posters of artwork and details about the flight.
A replica of the refueling car is on loan by the Murdock family.