Starting in April 2016, Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa will be renamed the Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport, to honor La Jolla resident Bill Gibbs. Featured in La Jolla Light’s centenarian series, Gibbs lives in the Muirlands area and recently turned 105.
Montgomery Field airport program manager Wayne Rieter said the time had come to credit Gibbs for his efforts to establish the airport back in 1950. “We felt it was appropriate to honor Bill Gibbs because he didn’t just contribute to the airport, he founded the airport,” he said, noting the field was originally named Gibbs Field. “We also felt it was important to keep Montgomery in the name to avoid confusion.” The airport staff circulated a survey among those who use the airport to decide the new name.
The change was approved by the San Diego City Council on Jan. 12 and now proceeds to the Federal Aviation Administration for ratification, so the name can be changed on airport charts.
City Councilmember Chris Cate drove the effort. “As the councilmember fortunate enough to represent Montgomery Field, soon to be Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport, it is an honor to recognize Bill Gibbs. Bill’s legacy in San Diego is one of an accomplished businessman and selfless philanthropist whose contributions have helped students pursue careers in aviation and science,” he said in a statement.
At age 20, Gibbs began flying lessons, handing over every penny of his 25-cents-an-hour-job at a junkyard. Eight years later, having mastered flying, he committed his savings to paying off 25 acres of land in Kearny Mesa. Once the land was his, he developed a single-runway airport and in 1940, leased it to the Ryan School of Aeronautics to teach cadets how to fly. Throughout that decade, Gibbs also offered to teach cadets how to fly, which in draft-driven World War II, was a great military service.
The City of San Diego purchased the field from Gibbs in 1947.
As previously reported in La Jolla Light, Gibbs was inducted into the Air Corps and continued to teach as military service. He taught, and thereby served, for four-and-a-half years during the war. During that time, he worked out of a building constructed for the Ryan School.
Half a century later, in 2011, he was inducted into the San Diego Air and Space Museum Hall of Fame. The Montgomery namesake will remain to honor John J. Montgomery, who is credited with making the first controlled flight in a fixed wing aircraft.