A small-scale celebration was held to celebrate the life-long career of a former Santa Monica resident named Don Adams at the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport. Adams was the official Douglas Aircraft Company photographer throughout the 1950s, the halcyon heyday of the aviation industry.
Adams, together with members of his family plus museum director Steve Benesch and
curator Mike Machat gathered at 3100 Airport Avenue on Saturday morning to listen to tales of hair-raising adventures, many of which involved hanging precariously out of an aircraft hatch and snapping pics at 10,000 feet.
Copies of photographs that Adams has taken of all types of Douglas aircraft, including everything from prototypes to passenger planes, already feature in the Museum of Flying and they influenced a very young Machat, who would later go on to become museum curator and celebrated aviation artist.
“I remember as a kid seeing these amazing photographs in magazines so then I wrote to Mr Douglas when I was 12, because I was already drawing airplanes and I said, ‘when I grow up, I want to be an artist for your company,’” laughs Machat.
“After a while, I received a reply from the Douglas Aircraft Company on company letterhead paper, with an address on it that said ‘Corporate Headquarters, Orchard Park Boulevard, Santa Monica,’ wherever the hell that was, because I was growing up on Long Island in New York. But they included stacks of photographs and prints, which was enough to get this 12-year old well and truly hooked,” Machat said, adding, “That became the wallpaper in my bedroom and those images were forever etched in my mind.”
The photographs and prints that Machat had been kindly sent were almost all taken by Adams. But the story has another twist. Machat produces a YouTube channel called Celebrating Aviation with Mike Machat.
“It covers a lot of different topics and it really is just a celebration of the aviation industry,” Machat said. “And then one day, totally out of the blue, I got a phone call from a gentleman named Don Adams who told me he enjoyed my videos before explaining that he was a former photographer for Douglas.”
The two met for lunch and as fate would have it, they lived just 10 minutes drive apart in the San Fernando Valley. And of course Machat learned that Adams was responsible for taking the original photographs that changed the course of his life.
“We sat and talked for hours,” Adams said. “We knew so many people that had worked there, I was there in the 50s, but he was there in the late 70s and early 80s. We couldn’t believe how many of the same folk and so many of the same stories that we both knew.”
Adams, now aged 92, says that his primary interest was always photography first, aviation second. He worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company photo labs from 1951 to 1967, when the company merged with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation and became McDonnell Douglas, at which point Adams joined the Eastman Kodak Company based in Hollywood, where he worked for 33 years, before retiring in 2000.
“When we met, I’d say to him [Adams] ‘how did you take this particular photograph’ and I’d ask jokingly, ‘was it another DC-6 with the emergency exit taken out?’ to which he replied, nonchalantly, ‘oh hell no, I was in a B-25, hanging out of the tail.’ It is such an amazing experience getting to know him,” Machat said.
Adams not only flew in the B-25 camera plane, but also in the Super DC-3 and Bell 47G helicopter and the Lockheed TV-2. And it’s really not until you remind yourself of the level of technology at that time, then look at the quality of these photographs, you only begin to realize the scope of his ability and the size of his aplomb.
The incredible artwork painted by Machat and the photographs taken by Adams can be found throughout the museum, but the eight new and original photographs kindly donated by Adams are located on the wall by the staircase adjacent to reception and opposite the gift shop.
The Museum of Flying is located on the grounds of Santa Monica Airport at 3100 Airport Avenue and is open from Thursday- Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s well worth a visit if you’re a history buff, propellerhead or even just a little bit curious about how the Douglas Aircraft Company shaped the Santa Monica that we’re so familiar with today.