A local vintage military aircraft enthusiast announced Thursday that his group is sinking at least $10 million into a refurbishing of an aging east Tulsa airfield.
The 76-year-old Harvey Young Airport, 1500 S. 135th East Ave., is being purchased by DMA Inc.’s Jack Randal, who plans to raze it and rename it Douglas Memorial Airfield after the old Douglas aircraft plant in Tulsa that made World War II planes.
“One of our taglines that we’re using right now is ‘We are the future of Tulsa’s aviation history,’ ” he said in a telephone interview.
Randal and his group were interested in bringing a rare warbird (vintage military aircraft) to Tulsa, and they put it under contract without a place to house it. Research into finding the warbird a landing place, however, segued into establishing an entire facility that showcased iconic airplanes and made them available to the public.
Operated by Douglas Aircraft Co., Air Force Plant No. 3 manufactured WWII aircraft such as the B-24 Liberator bombers and the A-26 Invader bombers in Tulsa from 1942 to 1945.
“Plus, three of our aircraft are Douglas products, anyway,” said Randal, director of Douglas Memorial Airfield. “The two A-26s that are coming in — the A-26 Invaders — both of those were built here at this plant in World War II. We’re returning some of Tulsa’s history back home to where it started. The DC-3 is also a Douglas.”
The project will include a new FBO (fixed-based operator), the lengthening of runways, four hangars, security walls and gates and a new entrance from 21st Street, he said. Long-term plans, which could push the investment to up to $15 million, include a hotel, restaurant, and facilities for the restoration and maintenance of vintage aircraft.
Each of the hangars will be able to accommodate 1,100 people with tables and chairs, making it a haven for large private events. The FBO, which will be able to hold 150 guest for special events, will be fashioned after the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, which is housed in the original art deco Houston Municipal Airport building at present-day William P. Hobby Airport.
“That’s the type of design we’re working on for it,” Randal said. “It’s beautiful. And, of course, it will go with the art deco in the city.”
Randal is scheduled to finish the purchase of the property from Aviation Management Group LLC in late July or early August, and the new facility could be completed in about a year, he said.
Randal came to flight school in Tulsa in the early 1990s and has been involved in restoration projects on aircraft, he said, and a contractor has overseen airfield expansion at municipal airports around the state.
“I’ve been doing this kind of stuff for other people long enough to know what needs to be done and to see where the mistakes get made and decide to do it better ourselves,” he said. “We have a lot of people involved in this project that are longtime experts in their fields.”
Harvey Young acquired the property for the airport in 1941. With the start of World War II and the need for pilots, he obtained a government contract and later estimated that about 5,000 men went through the flight training program at his airport. After the war, Spartan School of Aeronautics leased the airfield for five years for its pilot training program.
Young built a home on the property and enjoyed playing host to picnics and cookouts for his friends. A 1961 story by Tulsa Tribune reporter Jim Downing said Young used the airport as his personal playground, with “many hangars, a comfortable home-office-terminal-clubhouse, a two-acre lake … and one of the finest public music systems in the country.”
After Tulsa annexed the airport in the 1960s, Young often was at odds with local officials over zoning and taxes. In December 1975, a tornado destroyed several hangars and planes and littered the field with pink insulation and debris.
Young suffered a stroke and died at age 67 in February 1985.