Aerospace Legacy Foundation

Your portal to America's aerospace history

Aerospace Legacy Foundation (ALF) is a community based non-profit organization (501c3) including aerospace retirees and the public at large. Preserving Southern California's Aerospace and Aviation History including Downey's aerospace legacy.

Aerospace History Gallery 2

Southern California Aerospace History

The Downey NASA Industrial Site

Formerly Downey Studios

Emsco Aircraft    Security Aircraft    Champion Aircraft    Vultee Aircraft    Consolidated Vultee     North American  

Rockwell International Space Division     Boeing Space Division

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Above- Vultee Aircraft Plant 1936, Downey, California.

E.M. Smith was a young Los Angeles industrialist who built the EMSCO Aircraft plant in Downey.

E.M. Smith was a young Los Angeles industrialist who built the EMSCO Aircraft plant in Downey.

Bert Kinner leased the Downey plant on Jan. 1, 1933. He was a successful aircraft designer.

Bert Kinner leased the Downey plant on Jan. 1, 1933. He was a successful aircraft designer.

Downey aircraft plant early history


Wealthy industrialist E.M.Smith purchased a 73 acre parcel from James Hughan, who farmed oranges and castor beans on the site. Smith's EMSCO company had a division called Albatross, which manufactured small aircraft. In addition to manufacturing aircraft, Smith saw the former farm land in Downey as a perfect landing field. The oldest buildings on the Downey Site were built in 1929 to support the aircraft manufacturing effort. 


With the Great Depression lagging and poor sales, EMSCO leased the site to Champion Aircraft Corporation who manufactured small, inexpensive 2 seaters meant to fly at low altitudes and low (as little as 10 mph) speeds. Seven months later, Champion also left the site due to poor sales, and the site was leased to Security National Aircraft Corporation. Security was owned by Walter Kinner, who designed and built 2 planes for Amelia Earhart.  


Ownership continued to change hands and in 1936, Aviation Manufacturing Corporation moved their Vultee Aircraft Division into the Downey Site at the suggestion of Gerard Vultee, who once worked for EMSCO as their chief design engineer. Vultee primarily manufactured large military aircraft and sold planes to the governments of China, the Soviet Union, Turkey and Brazil. 

Jerry Vultee was Emsco’s chief engineer in 1929. He returned in 1936 to lease the Downey plant.

Jerry Vultee was Emsco’s chief engineer in 1929. He returned in 1936 to lease the Downey plant.


Vultee was working on a contract with the United States government and was flying back from Washington DC when he and his wife were killed in a plane crash.

Democrat and Chronicle Mon Jan 31 1938 Death in Arizona Vultee

Democrat and Chronicle Mon Jan 31 1938 Death in Arizona Vultee


The company forged on without him, and in the 1940s, the Army Air Corp awarded Vultee Aircraft a contract to make their training planes, the Vultee Valiant Basic Trainer. The contract was the largest order ever placed by the Army Air Corp. In need of additional space, LA Architect Gordon B. Kaufman designed space which would double Downey's size.

BT-13A- 1942

BT-13A- 1942


Then came World War II and security at the plant was increased. In addition to the anti-aircraft gun which was mounted on the roof, the entire plant was camouflaged to blend in with the surrounding farmland. By 1941, the plant's output represented 15% of all the military aircraft produced in the U.S. and boasted the first powered assembly line in the aircraft industry. Among many different types of aircraft, Vultee produced the largest number of heavy bombers (B-24 Liberators) in the country. Timeline Continues - Downey Studios History


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The Downey Plant Aerial Views

Located at 12214 Lakewood Boulevard in Downey, CA


Images- ALF Archive/ Downey Historical Society

North American arrives on the scene

Air Force Plant 16 Downey

12214 Lakewood Boulevard

Above- The front entrance "rotunda" at North American Aviation Downey CA in 1958. Image- Downey Historical Society


Below- Aerial view over Downey's thriving aircraft plant expanded by Vultee Aircraft, also known as Consolidated Vultee

Above- Consolidated Vultee plant in Downey in the 1940. Lakewood Blvd. at Alameda St.San Gabriel River at the top of image.

NASA Industrial Plant, Downey: Chronology of Historical Usage


Below- Aerial View of North American Aviation Downey, CA

North American Aviation Space & Information Division (S&ID) in Downey, California looking east between Lakewood Blvd. and Bellflower Blvd.; Stewart & Gray Road and Imperial Highway. 1960's. Alameda Elementary School is on the lower right. Lakewood Blvd. runs through the center of photo crossing Stewart & Gray Road on the left and Imperial Highway (out of view) on the right. The San Gabriel River can be seen in the distance crossing the image. and the border of Downey and Norwalk, Ca. Image- LAPL

Consolidated Vultee XP-54 

The "Swoose Goose"

Courtesy of U.S. Air Force and San Diego Air & Space Museum (USAF, SDASM)

Slide Show- cLICK < > TO vIEW

Vultee XP-54

"A single-seat, tricycle-gear fighter with a twin-boom configuration like that of the P-38 Lightning, but with a pusher engine."

Vultee XP-54. Image- USAF/SDASM

"The dimensions of the XP-54 tell only part of the story. It had a wingspan of 53 feet 10 inches. It was 54 feet 9 inches long, only ten feet less than a DC-3 airliner. At maximum takeoff weight, the XP-54 tipped the scales at 19,335 pounds, or more than half again the weight of a fully-loaded P-51 Mustang on a combat mission.

It was a single-seat, tricycle-gear fighter with a twin-boom configuration like that of the P-38 Lightning, but with a pusher engine. A little-noticed feature was the “inverted gull” configuration of the wing, like that of the F4U Corsair. Ordered in 1941, the Vultee fighter was designed around the 1,850-horsepower Pratt & Whitney XR-1800-A4G engine and was to have contra-rotating propellers. With this power, the craft was expected to reach a speed of 446 miles per hour. Neither the Third Reich nor the Japanese Empire had anything quite like it, although a much smaller aircraft of almost identical configuration was being developed in Sweden". More here...


Visit our Vultee Aircraft page here...

Who is ALF?

On November 29, 2012, Richard Schave of Esotouric visited Jerry Blackburn, President of the Aerospace Legacy Foundation, to talk about the fascinating history of space flight research in Downey, and the heartbreaking view just out Jerry's window of the ongoing demolition of the buildings in which the Apollo Mission and Space Shuttle were developed.

Bio for Gerald Blackburn


Downey Plant Images- ALF Archive and Downey Historical Society Archive


Where should US space shrines be?

"At a field near Auburn, Mass., where Robert H. Goddard fired the first liquid propulsion rocket in 1926; at White Sands, N.M., where most of the early postwar missile testing was conducted and near-space first brushed; at Cape Kennedy, Fla., where the first space missions were gloriously launched?  Or maybe the Langley Research Center in Virginia where the Apollo plan was conceived or possibly Houston, Texas, where the first message from men on the moon was received?  There are so many, so many significant landmarks along the way to U.S. space capability.  Downey?

Perhaps Downey is the most consequential of all. The plant has been integral in the U.S. missile and space effort from the beginning.  It has been a creative source of space vehicle concepts.  It has been the crucible for dramatically advanced space hardware.  It has performed down at the whip crack end of responsibility for engineering and manufacturing to give substance to the space dream.  From Downey, America went into space and to the moon and soon to commerce and habitation in the cosmos." Cradle of the Cosmic Age (Russ Murray)

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"We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate what ever aroused curiosity." Orville Wright

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North American Aviation's X-15

X-15 Slide Show


The X-15 flew to speeds and altitudes never previously achieved by winged vehicles

On the crisp, clear morning of November 9, 1961, a prospector working any of the many small mining claims in the bleak country around Mud Lake would have noticed the telltale broad white contrail signaling the approach of a strange formation of aircraft. If his eyesight was particularly acute, he might have discerned a giant Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress arrowing through Nevada’s dark blue sky, flanked by two sleek little fighters, a North American F-100 Super Sabre and a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. As he watched, he might have seen a long black dart drop precipitously from the B-52, followed by the sudden boom and crackling rumble of an igniting rocket engine. Boosted by 60,000 pounds of thrust, it leapt ahead of the big bomber and its chase planes. Accelerating upward as it burned a ton of anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen every 12 seconds, it arced into the transatmosphere, its white exhaust trail pointing like a finger toward the future.

Richard Hallion- Aviation History Magazine

Above- North American X-15 design model 1 large


"This joint program by NASA, the Air Force, the Navy, and North American operated the most remarkable of all the rocket research aircraft. Composed of an internal structure of titanium and a skin surface of a chrome-nickel alloy known as Inconel X, the X-15 had its first, unpowered glide flight on June 8, 1959, while the first powered flight took place on September 17, 1959. Because of the large fuel consumption of its rocket engine, the X-15 was air launched from a B-52 aircraft at about 45,000 ft and speeds upward of 500 mph. The airplane first set speed records in the Mach 4-6 range with Mach 4.43 on March 7, 1961; Mach 5.27 on June 23, 1961; Mach 6.04 on November 9, 1961; and Mach 6.7 on October 3, 1967. It also set an altitude record of 354,200 feet (67 miles) on August 22, 1963, and provided an enormous wealth of data on hypersonic air flow, aerodynamic heating, control and stability at hypersonic speeds, reaction controls for flight above the atmosphere, piloting techniques for reentry, human factors, and flight instrumentation. The highly successful program contributed to the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo piloted spaceflight programs as well as the Space Shuttle program. The program's final flight was performed on October 24, 1968." NASA

"Manufactured by North American Aviation, Inc., three rocket-powered X-15s flew a total of 199 times, with North American (and former National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA) pilot Scott Crossfield making the first, unpowered glide flight on June 8, 1959. NASA's William H. Dana was the pilot for the final flight in the program on Oct. 24, 1968. All of these flights took place within what was called the "High Range" surrounding but mostly to the east of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and NASA's Flight Research Center (later called the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center).

Above- The second X-15 rocket plane (56-6671) is shown with two external fuel tanks which were added during its conversion to the X-15-A-2 configuration in the mid-1960's. (NASA)

There were 10 other pilots (also see this- Pete Knight) in the program for a total of 12: five from NASA, five from the Air Force, one from the Navy, and one, Crossfield, from North American. Generally, pilots used one of two types of flight profiles ; a speed profile that called for the pilot to maintain a level altitude until time for descent to a landing, and a high-altitude flight plan that required maintaining a steep rate of climb until reaching altitude and then descending. More Here

Photos Courtesy- NASA, NACA, North American Aviation/ Boeing ( in Astronautics)

X-15 A-2 with test pilot Pete Knight. (NASA)

The X-15 pilots.


Women at Work During WWII

more at On women building B-24 Liberators at Ford's Willow Run plant during WWII. NEW VERSION with improved video & sound: Public domain film from the National Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.

Rare Color Photos - Women at Work During WWII


Meet the Real Rosie the Riveter...

"When millions of men joined the armed forces, women had to replace them by taking jobs that previously had been held by men – such as bank teller, shoe salesperson or even aircraft mechanic. Woman started working in factories – this was called the “Rosie the Riveter” phenomenon. Although we’re blessed of not having to witness the atrocities of World War II, some people take great interest in the history of the period.

Dave Hall, fascinated by the authentic photographs from the time, brings them back to life by color correcting, toning, and sharpening to restore the brilliant texture and amazing sharpness found in the original negatives and glass plates. Most of the pictures come from the Library of Congress, and were originally taken by Alfred T. Palmer who worked for the Office of War Information (responsible for promoting patriotism, war news management and women recruitment). His photos had to lure young women into the factories by showing women workers as glamorous and even fashionable. 

Dave is also running a vintage photo blog, where he publishes his retouched photos. The website is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, who lived over 100 years ago, and today features thousands of high definition images from the 1850s to the 1950s. Some of them could really be confused for contemporary photography!"

We can Do It!

'In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was hired by the Westinghouse Company's War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of posters for the war effort. One of these posters became the famous "We Can Do It!" image—an image that in later years would also be called "Rosie the Riveter", though it was never given this title during the war. Miller is thought to have based his "We Can Do It!" poster on a United Press International wire service photograph taken of a young female war worker, widely but erroneously reported as being a photo of Michigan war worker Geraldine Hoff (later Doyle." Wikipedia


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Rosie the Riveter and More

Lockheed Martin Corporation  

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Lockheed Martin History

"American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers during World War II, as widespread male enlistment left gaping holes in the industrial labor force. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. “Rosie the Riveter,” star of a government campaign aimed at recruiting female workers for the munitions industry, became perhaps the most iconic image of working women during the war." More


North American Aviation Service Recognition Dinner 1964

Mines Field Los Angeles

Los Angeles Municipal Airport- LAX

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"Originally named Mines Field after a real estate agent who brokered the site's land deal, the facility was L.A.'s first municipal airport but not the first airfield to serve the Los Angeles area. Dominguez Field, at the present-day site of Cal State Dominguez Hills, hosted the first U.S. air show, and Rogers Airport at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue (then Crescent Avenue) hosted many air shows as well as passenger air service to San Francisco." KCET

In 1928, the Los Angeles City Council selected 640 acres (1.00 sq. mi; 260 ha) in the southern part of Westchester for a new airport for the city. The fields of wheat, barley and lima beans were converted into dirt landing strips without any terminal buildings. It was named Mines Field for William W. Mines, the real estate agent who arranged the deal. The first structure, Hangar No. 1, was erected in 1929.

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From Mines Field To LAX

Aerospace Legacy Foundation

Preserving Our Past, Focusing On The Future