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Brown Field Plans, Reality in Stark Contrast

September 16, 1986|GREG JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

Air/Space America's architectural renderings depict Brown Field circa 1988 as a gaily decorated, attractive airfield filled with military and commercial aircraft.

That rosy picture of the future contrasts with the reality of the former Navy airfield that sits on the outskirts of San Diego near the U.S. border with Mexico.

Referring to the growing commercial and industrial importance of the vacant land surrounding the airport, a city official recently described Brown Field as a "sleeping giant that is just about ready to wake up."

In recent months, however, the San Diego Fire Department has torched several ramshackle former Navy buildings for firefighting practice. Many other rickety buildings are destined for demolition to make way for anticipated growth.

Although the field boasts no regularly scheduled flights, it is home to a small fleet of private and charter airplanes. Last year, there were 156,530 takeoffs and landings at the city-owned airport.

The bulk of these operations were generated by private aircraft, along with activity by military units that use Brown Field for training exercises.

Elsewhere, the field boasts an aging restaurant and bar, some flight schools, a Border Patrol station and some airplane maintenance companies.

Visitors to Air/Space America's offices in a former Navy barracks building on Brown Field are greeted by an empty swimming pool and a gazebo that has fallen into disrepair.

In August, carpenters and painters began turning the inside of the government issue barracks building into office space. The remodeling was to be largely superficial because the city's master plan calls for the building to be torn down to make way for new development.

Air/Space America plans to spend more than $4 million for permanent improvements at the airfield and will erect a host of temporary hospitality tents, display areas and corporate chalets. It will also provide amenities for the hundreds of thousands of spectators to be drawn by planned weekend air shows.

At the moment, however, Brown Field--where Border Patrol vehicles circle in search of the illegal aliens that some airfield employees jokingly refer to as their "tenants"--is a far cry from the architectural renderings.

But that same under-utilization made Brown Field attractive to Air/Space America because the runway can accommodate "any known aircraft in the world, or at least in the Western world," according to field manager Mike Tussey, who said Brown has handled takeoffs and landings by 747s and C-5As.

Major municipal airports such as San Diego's Lindbergh Field or Los Angles International could easily absorb the traffic for the air shows that Air/Space America is planning, but airport directors there say they could never allow a show to disrupt scheduled traffic for 10 days.

After Air/Space America establishes itself as a major air show, it plans to push to be host to smaller helicopter and business aircraft shows that are now held annually elsewhere in the United States.

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