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. Large collection of artifacts, photos and assets from the former Downey NASA Industrial Site (Boeing/ Downey Studios). Speakers Bureau, Sponsor of Pioneers in Aviation, the Race to the Moon. Downey, California is the home of Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs.

History Gallery

The History of Southern California Aerospace & More

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Downey, California      1929-1949

Some photos courtesy- Downey Historical Society

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"When it comes time to memorialize the origins of space flight, there is an industrial plant in Downey, Calif., that would certainly qualify as a shrine.
This Downey plant was the birthplace, homestead and laboratory for much of America's wondrous space technology- the Space Age's equivalent of Orville and Wilbur's bicycle shop.  It is here in Downey that space structure, guidance and power were prominently pioneered. 
And it is here that the celebrated Apollo command was created and manufactured.

Image sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

The Downey plant was begun in 1929 by the E.M. Smith Company, which built airplanes under the Emsco name until it failed in the 1932 Depression.  The next resident was the National Security Aircraft Corporation, headed by Walter Kinner, a noted producer of sport planes. It was a short stay.  In 1936 the Vultee Aircraft Corporation moved in...Behind the front offices is the saw tooth roofline of the vast factory bay where Vultee assembled over 11,000 military planes during World War II.  The most famous of these was the BT-13, a low-wing trainer that was inspiring christened "Valiant," but suffered the ignominy of its service nickname, the Vultee "Vibrator."  The present occupant, Rockwell International (see North American Aviation, Inc.), entered in 1947.Not so really long ago, in 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, shortly out of quarantine after their world-stirring Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, spoke to an assembly of Downey plant workers.  Said Collins: “the trip to the moon started right here."
In a material sense, that was so.  They laid the keel and constructed the crew ship (command and service modules) of the Apollo space vehicle at Downey, whereupon it was transported to Cape Kennedy and rocketed to lunar orbit.
It took the Apollo astronauts less than two and one-half days to go from earth to moon, but it was a tedious quarter-century of travel along the advanced technology trail before the U.S. could arrive flight-ready for the venture." Russ Murray

Downey NASA Site Timeline (SSD Downey History Timeline) More in the Archive


“Whether outwardly or inwardly, whether in space or time, the farther we penetrate the unknown, the vaster and more marvelous it becomes.” 
― Charles A. Lindbergh


Image sources include: 

Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library,

LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.






North American Aviation and North American Rockwell

 Aviation and Missiles     1949-1960

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Sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

Although North American Aviation's headquarters were in Inglewood, "the Downey division pioneered advances in missile technology that became the cornerstone of America's rocket industry.  The Downey plantproduced the GAM-77 (AGM-28 Hound Dog Missile) Hound-Dog, an air-to-surface nuclear missile carried under the wings of B-52 bombers.
The Downey U.S. Air Force Plant 16/North American Aviation, Inc., occupied the same Downey land that E.M. Smith had bought in the 1920s to found an air field and aviation company, and which Vultee made great during the World War II years. 
The project, the Hound Dog Air-to-Ground Missile Program, was to aid the mighty U.S. fleet of B-52s hit targets while remaining at a relatively safe distance. It used much of the tracking technology already developed for the Navaho Missile. July 1957: Proposal for GAM-77 Hound Dog is submitted to Air Force.   The contract was awarded North American in Oct 1958, two and a half years after the Strategic Air Command had realized its need.  
The Hound Dog was the mainstay of the company through the early 1960s, turning out missiles to arm SAC's 29 B-52 squadrons. Production ceased in 1963."

Image sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

Related Subjects:

AMMS Alumni Page- NAA Missile Division, where the Hound Dog was born      



Image sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing,

USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

What Was Project Mercury?

Gemini IV -- Learning to Walk in Space



Little Joe Rocket

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"In order to test Apollo hardware under more stressing conditions that it would experience during an abort situation at higher altitudes and velocities, a launch vehicle of some sort was needed. In this case, NASA used the Little Joe II. The original Little Joe was developed to perform abort tests in support of the Mercury program starting in 1959. " Little Joe 50th

Image sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

Encyclopedia Astronautica - Little Joe II chronology     Rocket Park- The Little Joe     Little Joe II Launch Vehicle Flight Report   




With Their Eyes on the Stars-

The documentary "With Their Eyes on the Stars," was produced in 1963 by North American Aviation and NASA to encourage support for the Apollo program. John Stewart together with brother Mike's group, "WE FIVE," John Phillips and Scott McKenzie recorded the score using traditional American folk songs as well as songs written by John and Mike. Directed by Cal Reed. Produced by Cedric Francis. (Thanks to Jerry Burgan).

I uploaded this video from the DVD provided by Stan Barauskas of Aerospace Legacy Foundation Museum in the old Rockwell Plant in Downey. Here is the headline of "SKYWRITER", a publication of North American Aviation, dated Jan 17, 1964: DOWNEY PREMIERES LUNAR FILM Jan. 21.


Apollo Space Program

North American Aviation  was the prime contractor for the Apollo Space Program. 

Downey's Space  & Information Systems Division was the "shop" and plant where Apollo was born.

Over 25,000 people worked in and around the Space Division at Downey, CA  during  the 1960's.

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"The Apollo program was designed to land humans on the Moon and bring them safely back to Earth. Six of the missions (Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) achieved this goal. Apollos 7 and 9 were Earth orbiting missions to test the Command and Lunar Modules, and did not return lunar data. Apollos 8 and 10 tested various components while orbiting the Moon, and returned photography of the lunar surface. Apollo 13 did not land on the Moon due to a malfunction, but also returned photographs. The six missions that landed on the Moon returned a wealth of scientific data and almost 400 kilograms of lunar samples. Experiments included soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments." Wiki

"More than 500 contractors worked on both large and small aspects of Apollo. For example, the Boeing Company was the prime contractor for the first stage of the Saturn rocket, North American Aviation for the second stage, and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation for the third stage. The Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation was responsible for the rocket engines and International Business Machines for the instruments. These prime contractors, with more than 250 subcontractors, provided millions of parts and components for use in the Saturn launch vehicle, all meeting exacting specifications for performance and reliability." NPS

Apollo Program Timeline            Apollo Missions              More Apollo Links in The Library



The economy boomed in Downey, Calif., back when Bob Thompson helped build Apollo 11 in the 1960s at North American Aviation. But after a couple of mergers, the Downey plant closed in 1999, leaving thousands unemployed and many local businesses shuttered.
"It happened right here in Downey...."


On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land men on the moon.

Inspire yourself, dream.



Space Shuttle Launch - Best cameras from all angles. CamilleSk


Space Shuttle Orbiter

Manufactured in Downey, CA with final assembly in Palmdale, CA.

Supplied by hundreds of local companies in Southern California and abroad.


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The Aerospace Legacy Foundation

We were born in Downey, California in 1995 and lobbied tirelessly for creation of Downey's Columbia Memorial Space Center. We continue to partner with the space center and call it our home for meetings and related events.  For about 10 years we had our offices and archives at Downey Studios / IRG (now the Promenade of Downey). When the Promenade of Downey deal was signed, we were asked to leave. Our landlord let us stay for many years and because of that generosity we recovered many historical images and artifacts; during those 10 years we also accumulated other assets including office furniture, file cabinets, image panels and much more. We have numerous archive collections donated by former aerospace executives and engineers. Most of this is in storage. We are now without a permanent home and by the generosity of the Columbia Space Center have a place to meet and call home for now.

Downey has always been a key player in our nations aviation history. Over 13, 500 trainer planes were built here at the Vultee Aircraft plant during WWII. Later, with the advent of jets and missiles, the Downey plant became North American Aviation (NAA). By the early 1960's North American got into the "space race" business, signing not only the Apollo spacecraft contract but also the Saturn booster rocket contract too. In the 1960's Lakewood and Firestone Blvd.'s was known as the busiest intersection in the world. The area comprising NAA buildings stretched from south of Imperial Highway to Stewart & Gray Road; from Lakewood Blvd. to Bellflower Blvd. With much of the Space Shuttle orbiter also built and designed in Downey, ALF has been fortunate to have a connection with local retirees who spent much of their life working here in aerospace engineering & spacecraft development. North American Rockwell Space Division pioneered discoveries that have changed the way we live our lives.

Thus...much of today's "Downey Landing" and "Promenade of Downey" was once the "Home of Apollo" and early aviation in Southern California. The buildings along Lakewood Blvd. are very historic and because of "Deed Covenants" cannot be demolished. In the back by Pick up Stix, you can see the rear section of the oldest building still standing (1929) where it was cut off. This is a portion of the original EMSCO Building. 

We are a volunteer, 501c3, non-profit organization. Our mission has always been to preserve and protect Southern California aerospace history, sharing this information through public and private events and with our Speakers Bureau. More on what we do...


High definition footage from the 2010 space documentary Hubble. Storyline : An IMAX 3D camera chronicles the effort of 7 astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Launch date : 11 May 2009, 18:01:56 UTC STS 125 Mission Highlights (NASA Youtube Channel) : This must have been a really amazing motion picture to watch in an IMAX theatre!




► Space Shuttle launch from unique perspective.

Image sources include: 

Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library,

LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress . We strive to add sources to most of our images.

Gallery 2

More Historic Aviation Images

Welcome to the Aerospace Legacy Foundation- Your Portal to America's Aerospace History

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Aerospace Legacy Foundation - A California 501c3 Organization


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