Head in the Clouds: Aviator and La Jollan Bill Gibbs celebrates 103 years, lifetime of achievement

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Bill Gibbs holds a Salvation Army certificate of appreciation in front of honors from local organizations like the Kiwanis Club of San Diego. Ashley Mackin photos

By Ashley Mackin

To say that Muirlands resident William “Bill” Gibbs is accomplished is a bit of an understatement. Gibbs, who recently celebrated his 103rd birthday, owned and operated Gibbs Field airport, now known as Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa. He was inducted into the 2011 San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame. He has received several awards from community groups such as the Salvation Army and the Kiwanis Club. He raised a loving family that includes three great-grandchildren.

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If you know a La Jollan who is 100 years old, please call La Jolla Light Editor Susan DeMaggio at (858) 875-5950 or e-mail sdemaggio@lajollalight.com

“They say I’m an aviation pioneer,” he joked, pointing to a poster given to all San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame inductees. His induction statement reads, in part, “His aviation career started in 1931 and has continued ever since.”

In 1930, at age 20, before his official aviation career got started, Gibbs was working at a junk yard where cars were destroyed for 25 cents an hour. Nearby, a lone aviation instructor gave flying lessons. Gibbs decided to take his pay and hand it right over so he could learn to fly.

It didn’t take long before Gibbs mastered flying, and invested in land to build an airport. “In 1938, I went out to Kearny Mesa and bought 25 acres for $250 — $50 down and $25 every three months,” he said, no test to his impressive memory. “In 1940, I leased my airport to the Ryan School of Aeronautics to teach cadets how to fly. I got $200 a month for them to use it five days a week, and I got to use it the other two days.” (The City of San Diego purchased the field from Gibbs in 1947 for $108,000.)

In the 1940s, Gibbs also offered to teach cadets how to fly, which in draft-driven World War II, was a great military service. “The school went from 160 cadets to 720 cadets, with 250 planes and 200 instructors,” he said. “They needed pilots.”

He was inducted into the Air Corps and continued to teach for his military service for four-and-a-half years during the war. During that time, he worked out of a building constructed for the Ryan School. He worked on the third floor of the three-level building, but to get there, he had to cross a landing on the second floor that connected to stairs leading to the third floor. At the end of the landing worked a young secretary named Barbara.

“That’s where I first met her,” he said of his would-be wife. “We were married for 52 years, two months and seven days. I had a very good wife. I don’t know how she stood me the first 18 years, after that I was a good boy.”

It was Barbara who brought the Gibbs family to La Jolla. After living in Mission Beach for 14 years, Barbara (20 years deceased) wanted to move to La Jolla. So in 1959, she started looking, and when she found their Muirlands home, she told Bill, “I found it.” He’s been there ever since.

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