ID : HMT
Facility Key : 01654.*A
Facility Name : HEMET-RYAN (Ryan Field)
Facility Type : AIRPORT
County : RIVERSIDE
City : HEMET (03 miles SW)
State : CA
Lattitude/Longitude : 33.733980555556/-117.022525 (Estimated)
Elevation : 1512 ft. (Surveyed)
Magnetic Variation : 13E
Current Owner : COUNTY OF RIVERSIDE
Current Owner address : BOX 309, RIVERSIDE CA 92502
Current Owner telephone : 909-275-6138
Current Manager : JAKE GODOWN
Current Manager address : 37552 WINCHESTER ROAD, MURRIETA, CA 92563
Current Manager telephone : 909-696-2023
Sectional : LOS ANGELES
Control tower :
Segmented circle : Yes
Beacon : CG
Landing fee : None
UNICOM : 123.000
Orange SPC was a spectacular success that first year with TIME, LOOK and other magazines giving it considerable space on the pages of their magazines. Orange, however suffered the same problems as Lakewood did later on... the weather. PI made trips to Florida and California in search of a winter home and chose Ryan Field in Hemet, California to open their next center in late December 1959. Massachutes or New Jersey weather would not have allowed a winter opening. Lew Sanborn remarked in 1999 that they chose Hemet, California "not only because of the weather, but due to more advanced attitudes about everything in general". Establishing a foothold in California was a good business move but PI didn't anticipate the more relaxed California lifestyle. They saw the 11 million population of Southern California instead. They would make their money primarily from training students.
Hemet is still a small town located due east of Perris and about 90 minutes from San Diego and 2 hours from downtown LA on State Route 74. Ryan Field is actually in the town but at the time there was enough open space to build a huge landing area south of the airport.
PI incorporated Hemet SPC separately as the "Western Sport Parachuting Center" with Lew Sanborn as president and George (The Hawk) Flinn as Secretary-Treasurer. Lew Sanborn was the chief instructor and Dusty B. Smith became Assistant Instructor (Dusty was your webmaster's first jump course instructor and jumpmaster). Miss Kendall Murphy was hired to do administrative and secretarial duties.
At this point we don't believe that
PI built any new buildings but took over existing space. There also
appears to have been a parachute club already at Hemet called Southern
California Sky Divers (headed by Dave Jesse of Santa Ana) and we don't
know if the buildings PI took over were used by or belonged to them or
PI placed the main Orange Norseman, N13340 and the Cessna 180, N2484C "84 Charlie" at Ryan Field for the winter and by summer 1960 was operating a leased Cessna 180 when 84 Charlie went back to Orange. There is also evidence that Norseman "795 Red Lead" also was moved to Hemet for the summer and 340 retyrned to Orange. The two main pilots were Major "Bucky" Walters and Robert Venable with Lew Sanborn in reserve. The leased aircraft was painted in the same PI blue and white scheme as the Orange Cessna 182. There was also a Twi-Beech that was used at the DZ for 15,000' jumps. The Beech could be pre-arranged if you could get 9 experienced jumpers together for high jumps. 795 Red Lead returned to Orange in March 62 along with the staff and gear for the 62 World Meet and it never returned.
PI also moved many of their parachutes and both vehicals (the station weagon and the VW Van) to Hemet which all stayed there till the center closed. No doubt they were used to drive the rigs and other gear to California and possibly some gear went in the Norseman. Remember this was a time period when over half the airliners in the USA were still prop jobs and the Cessna and Norseman trip wasn't that much worse than a DC-7 and certainly more scenic. The aircraft were flown via the northern route through Cheyanne, Wyoming to avoid the Colorado Rockies. The movement of these 4 pieces of hardware is a story in itself.
Hemet opened in December 1959 but not officially. Bugs in the system needed to be ironed out and many of the innovations developed at Hemet found their way back to Orange and especially Lakewood when it was built. The new facility needed publicity and some recognition to set it apart from near by Lake Elsinore DZ (Skylark Aviation). Better facilities were a start, a great LZ (soon copied by Elsinore) and a few records were the main draw card. Lew Sanborn and Dusty Smith made the world's first Double Baton Pass on January 3rd, 1960 at Hemet.
PI also advertised heavily in local papers as well as national magazines. The ad on the left (hover mouse to enlarge and read story) was in the June 1960 SKYDIVER Magazine. The location of of Hemet made it accessable from both Los Angeles and San Diego with only Oceanside and the Elsinore DZ's in competition. (Perris Valley had not opened yet)
Taking on Elsinore (Skylark Field) was no small job. One of the earliest DZ's in America it was owned (at the time) by Mr. and Mrs. Cy Perkins and Cy's brother Larry and since it's opening in Feburary 1958 over 3000 jumps were made there. It was a major sport aviation center at the time offering flying, pilot instruction and gliders as well as parachuting. They had a Cessna 172 and 2 Howards of their own plus others by arrangement. Cliff Winters, Larry Perkins, Cy Perkins and Howard Curtis flew the Elsinore fleet. The facilities were makeshift though and not purpose built like Hemet's. They did however have a covered packing area (as did Perris later on when it opened) which Hemet did not. Elsinore's prices were also about 50¢ to 75¢ cheaper per jump. Doesn't sound like much but when you consider that a hamburger was someplace between 25¢ and 35¢ each (real food not fast food) and gas was 19¢ a gallon it made a big difference to someone jumping on a budget. In todays' money PI's first jump course would have been about $180 to 200.
Also located at Elsinore Field was Para-Ventures. This company had Dave Burt as president, Jim Hall and the famous Bob Sinclair in the company. It trained students and made jumps but what also the major supplier of jumpers for the movie industry including the TV series THE MAN AND THE CHALLANGE, an all parachuting show staring George Nader. Para-Ventures always had the biggest booth in the aviation area at the Los Angeles Internat- ional Sports, Vacation and Travel Show.
There was also competition to the south for the San Diego market. The San Diego Skydivers, located at Santee's Gillespie Field, was a major center which hosted many national events including military and PCA (forerunner of the USPA) events. The San Marcos Skydivers and the Desert Sky Divers didn't help either. San Marcos, which was open every sunday and had their own hanger at McCormick Field, was 80% US Marines and 20% civilians.
Hemet also had a lot of competition
in the gear sales area, more than they ever had before. We don't
believe that PI/WSPC marketed SECURITY Parachute Company products while
in California (Westerners tended to use Security Gear while Easterners
tended to buy Pioneer gear from PI). Elsinore had SKYLARK SALES (right
on the field) owned by Larry Perkins and Lyle Cameron (editor and publisher
of Skydiver Magazine) and just down the road was a mile and a half was
Jack Root's "SPORTSMAN Sales". The LA basin itself had several more
Once opened, the Center was run by Lew Sanborn and was open 6 days a week (closed Tuesdays) to take advantage of the California weather.
PI had established an excellent record for safety and adopted procedures that some Californians considered military regimentation. The lining up for pin checks while standing on numbered boards was common to us in the east and no one thought anything about it but in California that same lifestyle that opened minds to such things as skydiving (remember this is 1959 we're talking about) also found the safety regimentation annoying. Many jumpers after the FJC prefered a looser DZ like Lake Elsinore down the road to the south West.
PI used newer Pioneer sport gear while most jumpers in the area had surplus military gear and some Security Tracker rigs. PI managed to introduce some Pioneer equipment into the area via it's sales and service arm but it was rough going when the companies listed above plus Elsinor was selling new or like new surplus (complete) USAF B-4 rigs (Harness, container, canopy, risers, ripcords and pilot chute) for $30-40 and new 28' C-8 and C-9 canopies for $15. Complete sporterized B-4 rigs with sleeve, D-Rings and reserve ran anywhere from $60 to $100 while a new Pioneer LoPo in a Pioneer main sport rig at almost $400. (Mouse over the photo above to view the gear of the day in California)
One of the ways PI attracted attention to Orange was by running meets and conferences and Hemet followed heavily into that. Hemet's Grand Opening was in fact a Meet!!
The official opening was on Sunday, January 17th, 1960 and it was a huge affair, in fact too huge! Police estimated that over 5000 people were at the opening which created safety and traffic problems.
All five of the PI Partners were there as well as a well briefed and pampered media. The morning started out with a first jump class using the TELSAN Training Method. The class included the owners of the Hemet Valley Flying Service, Mr. Lloyd Venable, Bob and Jim Venable, their wives, and Harold Brister. The centers own personal secretary, Miss Kendall Murphy, made her first jump with this group.
When the official ceremonies got under way, Jacques Istel introduced Mayor James Simpson of Hemet and Chairman of the Riverside Airport Commission. Mayor Simpson then headed the dedication ceremonies. Other distinguished guests on hand were Retired General Joseph Marriot (also of the Riverside Airport Commission), various representitives from California, Federal Election Districts, the Ensenada Naval Air Station and oddly enough some top Mexican Officials of the Baja. What interest the neighbors from South of the border had is unknown.
Next were some exhibition jumps staged by Lew Sanborn, George Flinn, and Dusty Smith beginning with a 30 second smoke jump. Shortly after this, the first official load was flown. The so-called Champaign Flight consisted of 9 jumpers, representing 3 clubs and included: Lynn Pyland, Verne Williams, Walt Pica, Bud Keisow, Don Byran, Bob Sinclare, Bob Highbee, Merle Ruby and Ed Cooley. The group made a one-pass/all out 20 second from the Norseman. PI made sure that there were several multi-colored Pioneer LoPo's or dyed surplus canopies on the load whic seemed to have impressed the crowd even more.
At approximately 2:00 o'clock, a
Meet got under way with 58 entrants. Each entrant received two jumps for
the price of one for entering the contest. As it turned out, there wasn't
enough daylight left for every one to get in their second jump. Consequently
the first jump ruled in the contest, and the winners were as follows :
Those who still had a free jump
coming received jump tickets to be used
Other Opening Day Photos
Hemet was to host other Meets, the first on July 3rd and 4th 1960. (Hover mouse on photo left for full story) Of all the meets, the favorite by far was the "Hit and Run" Meets. In this competition you were scored first on the distance from the target you landed and the instant you landed you were timed as to how long it took you to reach and tag the disk. Hemet went one step farther and installed a buzzer switch at the disk. Hemet held another big "Hit & Run" on December 18, 1960 and it attracted many of the big names of the day. One sneaky way of getting excellent scores was to land on the disk and hope you can find it under you someplace or land next to it and tag it as you landed. It was preferable to land upwind if you couldn't get the disk rather than landing downwind and having to tow your inflated canopy to the target.
Many records were set at Hemet too. The most publicized was the first 3-way baton pass involving a woman. This was set by Lew Sanborn, Sherri Buck and Bob McDonnell. There was a lot of competition between Elsinor and Hemet in the record department. (Hover the mouse over the photo to enlarge it and read the full story).
Hemet also trained it's share of "Boy Skydivers" and three ( Roger Akers, Ralph Barnes and Richard Gore) made the papers by jumping into their graduation ceremony at Mahar Regional High School in June 1960. Hemet was happy to help with the feat after Elsinore trained a group of Montclair High School "lettermen" (football) including Senior Class President Jay Ward. The group formed the first high school team/club in America. Members included Jay Ward, John Serra, Dick Tallette, Bill Beezsley and Part Ward.
After a successful start the center moved the picnic tables over a bit and installed 3 more packing tables. Packing was done in a civilized manner then, on tables not crawling around on the ground. More personel were added, most notable was Denny Manning, son of the famous barnstorming jumper Spud Manning. Denny's son, xxx, also joined the team as a desert rat and shagger.
The Center was closed in March 1961 after 27 months of operation to concentrate all the corporate resources on the 1962 World meet. The Hemet based Norseman (795 "Red Lead") and the staff returned to Orange with all the gear and vehicals and the center was not reopened. By the time it closed, Hemet was well known around the country. It's closure allowed Lake Elsinor to grow and Perris Valley DZ to open.
Hemet Photo Gallery
The original PI building is theone by the road in the lower left. We believe the Landing Zone was south of the airfield in the field acrosss the street.
Hemet airport has grown into a very decent facility (photo above) with over a dozen hangers of various types. We believe that the original PI building is the white structure at the lower left hand corder of the property. The railroad still runs parallel to the runway on the other side of the hangers.
We are not sure where the landing area was, it could be across the road from the airport (south), where the trailer park is now or the rough area by the runway. Aerial photos show absolutely no evidence of the huge ringed circle that was once the DZ.
After PI/WSPC left Hemet, the DZ occassionally operated as a small club on and off over the years and is currently opened again operating a Twin Otter. The current DZ operations at Hemet are at http://??
Anyone having any more information about the history of this DZ or the people, is invited to, if not BEGGED to contribute.
I recently dug up an old negative
(below) that I shot in Air Force Photo School. We were told to take
the contents of our wallets and make a still life style photo on a plain
back ground. I had jump photos and two PI tickets from Lakewood still
I noticed that the clothing/helmet rental ticket had ORANGE and HEMET on it and started to ask around the PI about it. Its also interesting to note that each DZ was incorporated separately according to the tickets.
Lakewood DZ, the next PI drop zone
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Project PI is an online collaborative effort to document the first commercial parachute company, Parachutes Incorporated, its 6 DZ's, it's 15 aircraft and as many of the personalities that worked or jumped there that we can find. Anyone may contribute with stories, information and photographs and are encouraged to do so. Click on the logo above to send e-mail to Thom Lyons, Project coordinator in Melbourne, Australia