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Aviation Pioneer Eddie Martin

by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, (1994 Heritage Publishing).
Excerpt used with permission.


The story of how Eddie Martin got into aviation at the age of 15 is typical of an era when young boys were free to roam and experiment. In 1916, Joe Buquel, flying an old Curtiss Pusher, gave an exhibition that accelerated Eddie's interest in flying. Eddie started going to Emory Roger's airfield in Los Angeles, near the tar pits, to watch the planes. In 1921, when Eddie was making $30 a week working as a mechanic at the Oldsmobile garage in Santa Ana, he had his first opportunity to take flying lessons. Eddie took his lessons from ex-Army flight instructor, TC. Peterson, and Jack Colvin who purchased a plane with a standard OX-5 motor.


In 1923, Eddie, who loved to race cars, asked his boss, George Calhoun Sr., the owner of a used car agency at 212 N. Broadway, to sponsor him in an American Legion car race. After winning second place in the race that day, Eddie was attracted by a plane called a Jenny being used by Clarence 'Ace" Bougoneur to rake passengers for a ride, for a fee. Johnny, Eddie's brother, talked to the pilot who explained that the plane was owned by a man named Cox from Placentia. Eddie persuaded Calhoun to go with him to Cox's house and make a deal for the plane in exchange for a King 8 automobile. Calhoun sold Eddie the plane for $700, with $75 down and $75 a month. Eddie gave him a motorcycle in trade and $35 in cash. He had his first plane!


Eddie hired Ace Bougeneur to fly the plane on a 50-50 basis. A short time later he fired Ace because he was spending too much time flying his girlfriend around the countryside, with Eddie paying all of the fuel expenses. Eddie and Johnny took the plane down South Main Street to the Irvine Ranch, and began giving rides to passengers. Johnny was still working as a car salesman and Eddie was working as a mechanic. After being a partner for a short time, Johnny continued to work as a pilot for Eddie on weekends until he was hired by Standard Airlines in 1928.


Now Eddie needed an airport. He knew he was trespassing on Irvine property, as did the Irvine family. Eddie and James Irvine Sr. made a deal for a five-year lease on 80 acres for $35 a month. The amount would increase by $5 each year thereafter. The year was 1923, the same year he and Johnny began flying. In the midst of the Great Depression, James Irvine Sr. canceled the lease, which was by that time $700 in arrears, and told Eddie that they would be going back to the old system of $35 a month.


Eddie taught many local people to fly. Up until 1925 all of his pupils were males until Peggy Hall, a pretty young Santa Ana woman, became the first woman to take lessons at the airport. She developed her talents and became accomplished at acrobatics, sometimes appearing in air shows. In 1932 Eddie and Peggy were married.


In 1924 Eddie began the Santa Ana Air Club to promote flying in Orange County. The organization was active for several years, eventually changing its name to the Eddie Martin's Pilot's Association.


It was in 1926 that Eddie was finally able to acquire a hangar for his airport. It was a portable wooden building which sold for $350. Eddie traded a motorcycle for it. Later another portable hangar and two large permanent hangars were built. Eddie and Johnny both took full-time jobs in aviation, and left the running of the airport to Floyd Martin, their younger brother. The story of the three Martin brothers and their impact on aviation is fascinating and holds considerable significance for Orange County.


If you'd like to read more about Eddie Martin, you might be interested in Eddie's autobiography which is now available.

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