Originally published May 25, 2015 at The Los Angeles Beat
Ever since our dusty town, Los Angeles, was barely newborn, we have had our hands in bigger and better things- including the history of aviation. In 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers made their first famous flight in North Carolina, a field located halfway between L.A. and San Pedro, in Dominguez Hills, was chosen for America’s first ever International Air Meet. This was quite a big deal at the time, featuring early “aeroplanes” and famous aviators. At that point our whole area from San Fernando to Palos Verdes to Glendora hardly had 400,000 people (319,000 in L.A. alone), and some conclude that having the eyes of the world upon us helped our area transform from an agricultural center to a major industrial metropolis.
Over a century later, the growth of both our city and the aviation industry has surpassed anyone’s wildest dreams. LAX airport, once a field of barley and lima beans, was plowed into landing strips in 1928 and has never looked backed, handling over 70 million passengers last year alone. With a history so rich, it only makes sense that we should have a first class museum dedicated to preserving and displaying memorabilia and artifacts. Luckily, the Flight Path Learning Center & Museum located out the back door from LAX and across the landing strips, has stepped up to the plate and provides a fascinating and fun glimpse into the history of flight.
Opened in 2003, Flight Path also functions as an aerospace library and education center, offering flight simulator training. Its museum is spread through many rooms and contains colorful exhibits and timelines tracing the evolution of aviation. From model planes, including a unique biplane collection, to historic photographs and artifacts related to the airline industry and WWII flyers, it is interesting to both airplane enthusiasts and lovers of vintage collectibles. One of the most amazing highlights of the museum is its formidable and well-researched collection of original flight attendant uniforms, the biggest of its kind in the United States. It stretches back to the very first outfit, a forest green woolen dress, with cape and beret, used by United Airlines from 1930-1932. This was when flight attendants were known as stewardesses and were required to be trained nurses.
Totaling over 500 uniforms, these vintage pieces, including flight bags and hats, are a vivid and integral cornerstone of the Flight Path Museum. They do the job of transporting visitors to another time and place, when air travelers were treated as honored guests, smoking was allowed on flights and “stewardesses” were hired as eye candy, their jobs dependent on being single, pretty and under a certain weight. Many cross the line to being costume-like, with sexy little mod numbers from the swinging ’60s, uniforms created by famous designers, including the museum’s most valuable, made by Pucci; paper “air hostess” dresses from 1968 and bright, early ’70s Muumus worn on flights serving Hawaii.
Out the museum’s back door, parked on the LAX tarmac, is an original DC-3 aircraft, which visitors can climb aboard, walk down the aisle and take a captain’s seat at the controls. Built by Douglas Aircraft, a company started in Santa Monica in 1921, the DC-3 revolutionized flight between 1935-1946 with the ability to carry 21 passengers at once and a flight range of 1,500 miles. This plane popularized air travel, allowing passengers to cross the US in 15-17 hours with 3 refueling stops, as opposed to many short flights combined with train travel. It was also an extremely important aircraft used during WWII. There were 455 commercial DC-3s produced by Douglas in their Santa Monica and Long Beach plants and over 10,000 military versions.
Most of the employees at Flight Path are retired flight attendants themselves and are full of amazing stories of careers spent in the air. This museum serves a valuable purpose combining history with a fun factor and is great for all ages.
Flight Path Learning Center & Museum: 6661 W. Imperial Hwy., L.A., CA 90045. (424) 646-7284.
Open Tues-Sat 10am-3pm. Free admission and parking.