How the Military Hid the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant

During World War II, officials at Burbank's Lockheed Air Terminal took the unusual but highly effective step of covering the entire terminal with strategically placed camouflage netting in an effort to disguise the facility and ward off enemy fire. From the air, the entire area looked like a rural subdivision. With the help of set designers, painters, landscape artists, carpenters, lighting experts and prop men from MGM, Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and Universal Pictures, the area looked like a suburban neighborhood. A small farm — complete with animals, a barn, a silo and other buildings — was erected. In other sections, scattered decoy aircraft made of canvas scraps, ration boxes, and burlap on chicken wire, as well as flattened tin cans, dominated the landscape. None of these aircraft looked real up close, but appeared to be real from a distance. Fake runways were made by burning grassy strips. Maintaining the illusion of a neighborhood required signs of life and activity, so workers emerged periodically to relocate automobiles and take walks on hidden catwalks. Some took laundry down from fake clotheslines, only to replace it later at scheduled times. Parked automobiles were moved to indicate drivers were using their cars daily and returning home from work. The disguise of California ceased to be critical when the U.S. Navy dealt a smashing defeat to a Japanese carrier task force at Midway Island. The threat of a serious attack against the West Coast diminished, and the air terminal disguise vanished.