Texas Air & Space Museum

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aviators of the future inspired.

 

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The Early Years - Golden Spread Historical Aviation - English Field Collection

Thornton Oxnard

James and Thornton Oxnard played pivotal roles in the development of early aviation in the Texas Panhandle. They were from a well to do Garden City, New York family and were heirs of the Anaconda Copper Mines Conglomerate. Both were highly educated with degrees from Rutgers, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and MIT. During 1923, Thornton studied in Paris France. Both men learned to fly at Curtiss Field, Long Island, New York. Thornton, who had soled in 1925 after logging 8 hours flying time, had a going business transporting students and friends across the country in an OX Standard Bi-plane.

In early 1928, James Oxnard arrived at an Albuquerque New Mexico airport which had just been started by two Santa Fe Railway workers Frank Speakman and William Franklin. James, impressed with Speakman’s work and vision, bought out Franklin’s interest in the airport, renamed it Oxnard Field, formed his own company called Aircraft Holdings Inc. and started vast improvements of the airport.

In the spring of 1928, Thornton, who was very interested in investing in the fledgling air transportation  business, was traveling by air to Albuquerque to be with brother James. Thornton landed at Amarillo’s English-Bivins airport where he met Harold English--manager of the airport. After several days in Amarillo and numerous visits with English, Thornton was taken by the potential of both English and his airport.

Thornton and James concluded that the geographical location of Amarillo--between Albuquerque and Oklahoma City east and west, as well as between Denver and Fort Worth north and south--and the expertise of English and his personnel were air transportation opportunities worth their investment.

In May of 1928, James, Thornton and Harold English formed Amarillo Airport Corp. as a subsidiary of James’ Aircraft Holdings, Inc. and began upgrading all facilities at English-Bivins Airport.

In early 1929, the city of Amarillo, in order to position itself to take advantage of the nation’s growing air transportation industry, acquired land and began construction of the city’s Municipal Airport. In mid-1929, Amarillo Airport Corp offered to lease and operate the new Municipal Airport but was rejected by the city (although, Amarillo Airport Corp was the lowest bidder).

Irate for being snubbed by the City of Amarillo, English and Oxnard proceeded to find and subsequently lease 710 acres of land 7 ½ miles east of the city of  Amarillo and 4 miles east of the city’s new Municipal Airport. Within two months, English and Oxnard had converted their 710 acres into an airport--English Field--with a modern terminal building and hanger. Within three months, Oxnard had, through deft corporate financial manipulation, persuaded the major airlines to transfer their operations from Municipal Airport (which then operated as a private airport for 25 years) to English Field (where the city’s airport has been located, at this writing, for nearly 80 years).

In 1935, Harold English died in an automobile accident.

In 1937, English Field’s terminal building and hanger burned completely to the ground. Oxnard put temporary facilities in place to keep the airlines operational.

In 1939, Oxnard sold the last of Amarillo Airport Corp’s planes. Oxnard and Fred Smith formed Amarillo Flying Service and moved from English Field to the old Municipal Airport where they established a very successful flying school.

In 1940, Oxnard leased English Field to the city of Amarillo, joined the US Army Air Force, flew for the “Fire Ball Express” in support of the China Burma campaign and reached the rank of Major.

Returning from the war, Oxnard sold the sold the last of the English Field buildings and equipment to the city Amarillo and semi-retired in California.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Albuquerque, James’ operation parallelled that of English Field until 1942 when the Army condemned the property for the military for $95,000. Part of the old Oxnard Field is now Kirtland AFB. And, James departed the area to go on a Mediterranean cruise.

 

Additional military and civilian aircraft may be seen at the Texas Air & Space Museum.

 

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