October 4, 2017 Edition

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Air Field milestone nears

Seventy-five years ago, the new Walnut Ridge Army Air Field received its first class of 123 aviation cadets and student officers on Oct. 10, 1942. Training began two days later, Oct. 12, at 1 p.m.

"There were 59 instructors and 140 airplanes," Harold Johnson, president of the Wings of Honor Museum Board, said. "Most instructors had only 150 to 200 hours more than the students."

To honor those who trained, served and worked at the Air Field, the museum has invited several WWII training aircraft to the air field on Oct. 14.

"Weather permitting, we expect at least two, and perhaps several planes to show up," Johnson said. "If you would like to view these WWII training planes, they are expected to be on the ramp between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m."

"Plans are to launch a commemorative flight featuring a WWII training aircraft at 1 p.m. to fly over the cities of Hoxie, Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas to remind residents of the benefits the air field brought to our area, and the sacrifices made by so many people to preserve our freedom."

In addition, the museum will be open its regular hours on Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

History shared

Johnson shared more of the history of the air field:

"The ramp was unfinished and only one of the three runways, 4-22, was ready for use. Airplanes were parked and serviced on the dusty ground near the runway, and great clouds of dust filled the sky when the powerful engines of the BT-13s were started.

"The eight operations buildings were unfinished and dispatching was done from one building near base operations. Auxiliary fields were not ready, and there was a shortage of ground (academic) instructors. Night lighting was crude, and landing facilities were limited which cut landings per student to 100 compared to 160 which they later received.

"When training began, there were only six link trainers, and the department operated 18 hours daily to provide the minimum training requirements. But the U.S. was at war and these pilots had to be trained in a hurry!

"Gradually things improved. Wood sidewalks were added, the ramp was completed, all runways were paved, night lighting was improved, and the five auxiliary fields were finally operational. Instructors gained more experience, and more operations buildings were completed. Finally, 27 Link Trainers were available, which permitted students to receive more hours - and the department could work fewer hours.

"At the peak of training, some 250 aircraft, primarily BT-13s, were in use at the air field, and the flying school had over 150 flight instructors. In 1943, scores of new buildings were completed, including 260 new and modern apartments.

"Construction on the air field facility and its 500-plus buildings and structures continued throughout 1943. In fact, a new clay-tile Base Sales Store opened for business on Dec. 31, 1943.

"At the time the Walnut Ridge Army Air Field was completed, it was the largest training facility of its type in the Southeast Training Center, with the main air field covering 3,096.22 acres, and the five auxiliary fields another 2,623.8 acres.

"During the course of 22 months in which flight training was conducted, 5,310 pilots entered the school. Sadly, 42 young men (students and instructors) were killed in training accidents. Despite its crude and trying beginnings, the Walnut Ridge AAF graduated 4,641 pilots to serve in WWII.

"On the brighter side, 82 babies were born in the base hospital, including 42 baby boys! By May 1, 1944, 110 marriages had been performed at the Base Chapel, 76 Protestant and 34 Catholic.

Fly-in set

In addition to the commemorative flight, the Walnut Ridge Airport, Hardage Aviation and the Wings of Honor Museum are sponsoring a fly-in for pilots on Oct. 14. The fly-in will feature a FAA Safety Meeting at 10:30 and a fish fry lunch.

For information on the fly-in, contact the Airport Manager Stacy Hoggard at 870-886-5432. For information on the Wings of Honor Museum, contact Harold Johnson at 800-584-5575.

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