And Now You Know: Edgar Brown’s Airport, Brown-Air, opens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 16, 2019

By Mike Louviere

The current Orange County Airport started in 1946 as a private airport built by E.W. Brown, Jr.  

It was a twofold project. Brown had a fleet of small private airplanes he used in his business. He also built the airport with the idea of it becoming a public facility.

The airport was formally opened July 4, 1947, after being in use for about a year. The opening had an estimated attendance of 15,000 people. The Civil Air Patrol, Orange Junior Chamber of Commerce, officials of Brown-Air, and representatives of the Civil Aeronautics Authority had been involved in the plans for the opening.

There were demonstrations of light plane precision flying. The field and facilities were open for inspection by the public. Manufacturers and distributors of planes and equipment had their newest and latest production models on display.

The officials of Brown-Air included L. Slade Brown, president; E.W. Brown, Jr. and Charles Brown, vice presidents; Gray Mills, vice president, and general manager; and John S. Brown, secretary-treasurer.

John S. Brown said there were 25 planes owned by Brown-Air stationed at the airport with six mechanics on duty to keep them in flying condition.

The field was large enough and well equipped enough to handle regularly scheduled flights by large airlines.

At its opening, it was one of the largest and best equipped private airports in the United States.

About a month before the opening, Brown’s newest and largest airplane came to the field. It was a Douglas DC-3. Edgar Brown had bought the plane in 1946 to use for business purposes. The plane was two years old and war surplus.

It was equipped and furnished to carry 21 passengers in comfort. The plane weighed 24, 400 pounds with a 95-foot wingspan and could cruise at 160 MPH. It was the largest plane to use the field. It flew in from San Antonio and had no problem landing and taking off from the new field.

When asked why Brown-Air had invested in such a large private airport, John S. Brown replied, “mainly to give Orange a boost. The fact that she has an airfield available encourages other industries to build plants here. It also gives Orange another form of transportation showing that the city will not lag in post-war development.”

Brown-Air offered to sell the airport to the public and asked the Junior Chamber of Commerce to be the agency through which the offer would be transmitted.

Speaking to the Jaycees, Edgar Brown gave two reasons for going public.

The first was that the county could not get federal funds available to help communities develop airports if the airport was in private hands.

The second was that airline operations refused to include private landing fields in their schedules of operations.

The large field was rated as one of the finest in the country of its type and had grown from a private airstrip to the size at the opening, about 3,600 acres, because of the demand for local airport services.

Brown stated that he constructed the field primarily as a public service and had offered to sell it to the city, the county, or jointly.

He said it would not be necessary for the public to purchase all the facilities. His firm would retain some of them for private operation.

He told of plans for increasing services such as adding a hotel and a retail aviation supply store.

Mills, the general manager, spoke about the big increase in traffic and revenue since the field opened.

Recently Brown-Air had purchased a new Stinson aircraft to add to its fleet of planes for training since so many people were interested in taking flying lessons.

Jaycee president Leland Morrow referred the matter to the Aviation Committee for study and recommendations to be made later.

Presently the airport is public, owned and operated by Orange County.  The old hangar that once had “Brown-Air” painted on the roof still stands.

Though the complete vision of Edgar Brown was not realized, the airport has served the citizens of Orange County much as he intended.

“And now you know.”