By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
The first airplane to land on the Pajarito Plateau set down in a open field in 1928. It was flown by Ashley Pond Jr., founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School.
Pond had planned to volunteer for pilot training in World War I. He tried to enlist in the army, but at 45 he was turned down because of his age.
Undeterred, he handed over the reins of the ranch school to A. J. Connell and joined the Red Cross. He served in France as a canteen worker near the front lines, so close that he came under fire during the American attack at St. Mihiel. Unwilling to give up his dream of flying after returning home, Ashley eventually began flying lessons in 1928 with Bill Cutter, the year that Cutter Flying Service was started in Albuquerque. What could have been more tempting for Pond than to fly over the school he created and land in the outer fields?
Obtaining a pilot’s license inspired Pond to follow another dream, that of creating an airport. A sectional chart of 1935 shows Ashley Pond Airport—three dirt runways and a single building—located east of the present day Santa Fe Airport. Surviving maps that show his airport indicate that it wasn’t active past 1955, but it was significant in the beginnings of aviation in Santa Fe.
Two descendants of Ashley Pond Jr. were also enamored with flight. His daughter, Peggy Pond Church, experienced her first flight in an airplane in 1929, and her adventurous spirit led her to take lessons. She may have been inspired by her father, but it is more likely that she was influenced by the dynamic women pilots of the era that included Katherine Stinson and Amelia Earhart.
Church was still enraptured by the experience years later when she recalled taking those lessons “back in the days when Anne Lindbergh was in the news!” She continued until the owner of the plane crashed it and was killed. That brought the realization that “the mother of two small children had better practice keeping her feet on the ground.”
A third member of the Pond family took his interest in aviation to greater lengths. Dr. Ashley Pond III, son of the Los Alamos Ranch School founder and an early ranch school student himself, returned from serving in World War II and used the GI Bill to take flying lessons in 1947. He bought a two-seater Luscombe and learned to fly from Robert Lucas of Seven Bar Flying School, another early aviation service in Albuquerque.
The Luscombe was soon traded in for a Beachcraft Bonanza with room for his wife and four children, but that plane had other uses as well as pleasure. More importantly, his planes were used to fly patients from Taos, where he practiced medicine, to such sites in New Mexico as Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Truth or Consequences. He eventually acquired a turbocharged Piper Comanche and became instrument rated so as not to be deterred by weather when medical flights were necessary.
That old photograph of a bi-plane sending a dust cloud across an empty field has produced an interesting trail through history!
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. All articles were originally published by the Los Alamos Daily Post.