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French Valley Airport – A History

Two of Temecula’s most celebrated attractions – balloons and wine – are made possible by the wind climes specific to the Valley. So you might find it surprising that the very climate conditions that we laud today served to shut down the Rancho California Airport in the late 1970s. Its location between the DeLuz foothills and the west side of Diaz Road served both local aero-enthusiasts and property developers commuting from Orange and Los Angeles counties.

As early as 1971, a site proposed for an airport in the French Valley area had been approved in Riverside County General Plan of Airports set forth by County Board of Supervisors. Citing “site, terrain and meteorological problems” with the then Rancho California Airport, officials looked forward to a facility to “serve the commercial, industrial and recreational air needs of the community.” Throughout the decade, fatalities would hasten the decision making process that would put the French Valley Airport solidly on the map.

Photo by Juanita Gates.

By 1983, an airport commission had been organized to identify and select a site best suited to accommodate the growth expected to develop in the Valley. Realignment of highways 71 and 395 under the new title of Interstate 15 was underway and expected to be completed by 1985. The resultant housing boom brought families and businesses to the crisp open spaces of Temecula and Murrieta. Chaired by Bill Harker, a retired Hughes Aircraft engineer, the commission reviewed three final sites in French Valley and, with the support of Kay Ceniceros, Supervisor for District 3, plans began for construction.

Photo by Juanita Gates.

In 1985, the same year of the dedication of Temecula Valley High School, the opening of the California Highway Patrol and DMV offices, and the Old Town Temecula Museum, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution designating the French Valley site as a general aviation replacement for the Rancho California Airport. Using Riverside County funds together with state and federal grants, initial construction of French Valley Airport began in October of 1987 and was completed in April 1989. The property encompasses 261 acres situated immediately east of Winchester Road between Auld Road to the north and Borel Road to the south. The year and the decade closed with the City of Temecula’s coming of age: incorporation of the city followed by popular vote returning the city’s current name of Rancho California to its Native American roots.

Opening ceremonies in April 1990 for French Valley Airport took place with dignitaries Phil Boyer, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Congressman Al McCandless (R-La Quinta), and aviatrix Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout in attendance. Trout set a world record 1929 for a woman sustaining the world’s longest night flight to date. The first round of construction began with a 4600-foot long, 75-foot wide asphalt runway and an 11,500 square foot terminal building. A $4 million expansion in 2003 increased the runway to 6000 feet plus 70 new hangars to accommodate business jets and larger turboprops.

Brian Gallagher of Airmech Inc., has been on-site at the airport since its inception. His company repairs airplanes, and builds experimental and custom aircrafts. He has been a valuable source for this story as has Bill Harker. Both are long-time residents and both have been instrumental in the shaping of the early years of French Valley Airport. Brian shared that shortly after the expansion was complete, a 737 jumbo jet landed on the runway. But most of the planes interacting with the airport are simple twin-engine, general aviation machines. The aeronautic activity is divided fairly evenly between recreational and business use. Flying lessons are available on the site. Call 951.696-2023 for more information.

Photo by Juanita Gates.

Link to an aerial view of the airport.

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