Community

Santa Clara Valley Lives: Moffett Federal Airfield stays busy over years


Courtesy of Robin Chapman
Journalist Robin Chapman and her father, William Ashley Chapman, pose at Moffett Field with his Cessna 152, March 25, 1987, the day they took their only flight together.

The recent visit of the president of the United States – also known as POTUS – to our region brought Air Force One to Moffett Federal Airfield, a facility known to pilots by the code initials NUQ. In recent years, U.S. presidents often have used NUQ, as it is the closest runway to Silicon Valley.

Moffett has played host to a range of important aircraft since it was completed in 1933 – from the Navy dirigible USS Akron to the Blue Angels and today’s Google fleet. Actor James Stewart earned his Air Corps wings there in 1941. During the Cold War, Moffett was home to the Navy’s P-3 Orions, whose squadrons hunted Russian submarines in the Pacific. As tensions eased in the 1980s, NUQ also hosted a civil aviation flying club for veterans like my father.

March 25, 1987, when I was home on a visit from my job in the East, my dad and his friend Ollie Frasier offered to take me with them on a flight from Moffett to Monterey, our only flight together. It seemed like a great idea. However, all during the flight over the Santa Cruz Mountains, my dad was jumpy. He kept squirming in his pilot’s seat as if he were looking for a way out of the plane. Egad, I thought; I wonder how my mother will handle losing both of us in one day?

When we did touch down at MRY – Monterey Regional Airport – my father was sheepish. It seems he had changed the batteries in his audio set just before takeoff, placing the old batteries, which were clearly not yet dead, in his back pocket. There, they kept making contact with his keys, causing repeated shocks to his derriere.

After my father died in 2010, I found his pilot’s log, looked up the entry for the date we flew and had a good laugh remembering that trip. A number of pages later, I spotted something else interesting.

Sept. 9, 1993, he and a friend made a flight to Livermore (LVK in the international code) and on the way back, as he noted in his log: “Heard AF1 get landing clearance @ NUQ,” adding, “Saw AF1 and AF2 on the apron.” News archives confirm President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were in Silicon Valley that day for a meeting in Sunnyvale, each, as is standard operating procedure, flying in his own designated Air Force plane.

My father, in his tiny Cessna 152, was a taxpayer who loved aeronautics. From his log it appears he got quite a charge out of seeing two of our nation’s most awe-inspiring aircraft right there on his home turf. And this time, he didn’t need any stray batteries to add to the thrill.

Robin Chapman is a Los Altos resident, journalist, historian and author.

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