La Verne Magazine
"La Verne's Borders: North, South, East and West"
Cessnas and Celebrities:
Brackett Lands Big-Time Stars With Rural Setting
text and photography by Christie Reed
Resembling Tom Selleck in "Magnum P.I.," Mark Krause, a La
Verne resident and pilot, demonstrates to David Ross (not pictured) how
to check the fluid levels in his chartered airplane, a safety procedure
mandatory before each flight.
Whiskey, gin, vodka and an exotic assortment of beers lined the shelves
that once held paper gliders and model airplane kits. In less than a day,
the quaint shop that the local pilots had grown to depend on through the
years for that last minute quart of oil or chart had disappeared, only to
be replaced with a makeshift bar and a bartender who stood ready to mix
Is Brackett Airport promoting drinking and flying? No, although the
smell of alcohol may have fooled the pilots and flight students who passed
by the building in their everyday ventures at the airport. The pilot store's
facelift was one of many temporary transformations that took place at Brackett
during the filming of Primary Colors, a film starring John Travolta and
Emma Thompson, set to open in late March.
Near penetrating rays of sunshine, more than six inches of snow covered
the concrete outside the terminal on the warm August morning, creating a
layer of steam that lifted above the ground.
"The terminal area became a New Hampshire and a Florida terminal
overnight," explains Craig Rethorn, who oversaw the filming as part
of his job as manager of Brackett Airport.
Even so, it was business as usual for those who worked at Brackett Airport.
Except for the glare of nearly 300 pairs of eyes that intensely watched
the activities of Travolta through the fence, nothing much was disturbed
during the filming.
And even though the quaint coffee shop that entertains many an early
riser was decorated to reflect the 1940s, organizations still met, pilots
still flew out of the airport and a hobbyist still replaced the bearings
in his vintage WWII jet just a few feet away.
Just like the car shows and the annual pilot expo that are held on Brackett
Field, it is not unusual that a special event, such as a movie filming,
puts an ever-so-small crimp in the style of those who frequent Brackett.
"We did a little shuffling of people around," says Rethorn, recalling
the hoopla surrounding the filming of Primary Colors. "But it didn't
affect too much."
Just two months later, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sought Brackett
for a scene in a soon-to-be-released remake of the classic movie "The
"They shot a scene where they got out of a car, went through the
terminal and got in a plane," recalls Rethorn.
The airport manager cannot recall any television shows that have utilized
the facilities recently. He suspects it is because the airport is outside
the range of the shows, with several airports being closer to the studios."It
is strictly movies and commercials where they don't have those travel requirements,"
Aside from the occasional movie filming, the 270-acre Brackett Airport,
located in the city of La Verne on its southern border, accommodates more
than just pilots, hobbyist and actors.
According to Rethorn, there are two helicopter schools, two police agencies
and more than 500 based aircraft that serve the surrounding communities
on a regular basis. "People don't realize what an asset it is to have
an airport right next door," he explains.
Among the typical Lears, Cessna Skyhawks, Falcons and Gulfstreams that
find their homes in the hangars of Brackett, the Forest Service checks in
with heavy lift helicopters during days of extreme fire danger.
"L. A. County brings in heavy lift helicopters during September
and October," says Rethorn, explaining that on a moment's notice the
vehicles can fuel up and fly out. "We have a full service fueling and
maintenance system also."
Aside from the occasional fires during the dead heat of summer and fall,
the devastating earthquakes that rock Southern California also call for
fast-acting emergency crews.
Rethorn explains that when the Northridge earthquake destroyed the 91
Freeway, traveling to the scene by car was no longer an option.
"During the Northridge earthquake, Brackett was the only way of
getting supplies and pilots in and out. They were bringing firemen in by
the busload and flying them over Valencia," says Rethorn, adding that
Brackett is one of the only local 24-hour, all-weather airports. "We
are a real asset during emergencies."
Aside from the assistance provided by Brackett during local or national
disasters, the airport also caters to the needs of business people who own
airplanes and possess travel heavy schedules. Business people are among
the most common faces seen on the grounds, according to Rethorn. The airport
is also centrally situated for those who live in exotic places and wish
to commute to this area. "Places like Mammoth and Catalina aren't within
the normal transportation system," says Rethorn. "We give them
the opportunity to live in areas outside of the basin," he says. One
gentleman who frequents the airport has several vocational schools and often
flies back and forth between them, explains Rethorn. "He and others
can commute to business interests here and there," he says. "While
a businessman may spend three or four hours in the car traveling from Bakersfield,
he will only spend one hour in an airplane."
Walt Morrison, the inventor of the popular Frisbee, rented a hangar
in the 1950s and '60s when he lived in La Verne and owned a hardware store
on Foothill Boulevard, recalls Don McGleen, a flight instructor at Brackett,
who has been with the airport since the 1940s. "He was a familiar face
around the air field," says McGleen.
Nearby Fairplex also keeps Brackett busy and thriving. During popular
events such as the drag races, overflow traffic finds its way to the field.
Also, participants and visitors find flying into Brackett very convenient.
"Several of the race car drivers fly in and out of here," says
What attracts pilots, hobbyists and even movie producers to the small
airport? "It is low key," reminds McGeen, adding that Brackett
is the location that relieves Ontario International Airport.
Although it is 47th or 48th in the country in terms of traffic, and
on any day at 3 a.m. the penetrating lights of a Cessna descending onto
the runway can be seen from miles away, Brackett never loses the rurality
of the baron wheat field discovered in 1911 when Cal Rogers first spotted
a place to land his Vin Fizz.
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