History of the Naples Airport

History of the Naples Army Airfield

 

History of Naples Army Airfield During the early days of aviation in Collier County, Florida, planes landed on a golf course or the beach. But, that all changed in December 1943 as World War II clamored for more pilots, more gunners, and more aircraft. They built the Naples Airdrome, and suddenly the skies over Naples, Florida were filled with P-39s, P-40s, B-17s, and RP-63s. The orange “Pinball” (RP-63) participated in the Army Air force’s flexible gunnery training program. Hundreds of pilots and gunners were trained for combat and sent to the Pacific or European fronts.

 

Established in 1942 as Naples Army Airfield by the United States Army Air Forces. Assigned initially to the Southeast Training Center (later Eastern Flying Training Command). Provided basic (level 1) flight training to flight cadets by Emery-Riddle Co; Fairchild PT-19s were the primary trainer used. Along with the flight training, was a sub-base to Buckingham Army Airfield for flexible gunnery training. Inactivated on November 1, 1945, being turned over to the War Assets Administration for conveyance to civil control as a public airport.

They used the Naples Army Airfield for Training along with the Buckingham Airfield. Located 10 miles east of Ft Meyers Which was the main training Base and Naples Army Airfield was a smaller Base under Buckingham’s Control, there were others that all worked together to train Bomber pilots Gunners and Fighter Pilots for the Pacific Theater.

Buckingham Army Airfield is approximately 10 miles east of Fort Myers, Florida. It was active during World War II as an Army Air Forces Training Command airfield. They closed It on 30 September 1945.

Buckingham Army Airfield was a training base, established in 1942 under AAF Eastern Flying Training Command, and when active, was the largest airfield in the State of Florida.

Its primary mission during World War II was to train the aerial gunners who would defend bombers. In 1942 and 1943, most American fighter planes didn’t have the range needed to keep up with the bombers, so this would leave the bombers, and their crews unprotected on lengthy flights over enemy territory. Sitting in turrets and standing behind openings in the fuselage of the bomber, it was their job to shoot down attacking aircraft was critical to the United States’ success in both the European and Pacific theaters.

Besides the gunnery students, Buckingham AAF was also the primary training center for gunnery instructors at the Army’s other flexible gunnery schools, the term meaning that the aerial gunner had a flexible mount at the station or in the turret of the aircraft, rather than the fixed aerial gun of fighter aircraft.

 

Beginnings of Buckingham and the whole project

 

The field’s beginnings was a land purchase in 1941 by a group of Fort Myers and Lee County, Florida officials, and then leased the land back to the War Department for the establishment of an Army Air Corps airfield. At the time of its purchase, they used the land for cattle grazing. The new base would create thousands of jobs, increase property values, and bring a business boom to the local economy. Construction of the airfield began in February 1942 at the cost of $10 million on a total of 7,000 acres (28 km2) of swamp land, which had to be drained with an extensive system of newly constructed drainage canals, by itself an impressive engineering achievement. By mid-June 1942, construction of the airfield was underway, and by August, almost 500 buildings were under construction.

The airfield was a large and expansive facility and originally was constructed using the “eight-star” layout parking ramp, capable of hundreds of aircraft. The airfield was initially constructed with three runways, as the base grew, then it was expanded to six. It consisted of a single 5,000′ N/S (00/18) runway; two parallel 5,000′ NE/SW (05/22) runways; two parallel 5,000′ E/W (09/27) runways, and a 5,000′ NW/SE runway (14/32), initially all concrete, with numerous taxiways. Parts of the runways later had an asphalt surface.

For gunnery training, there were two oval tracks of the Ground Moving Target Range, located to the west of the airfield, as well as nearby skeet ranges & trap ranges. In addition to the main base, Buckingham also operated Naples Army Airfield (Now Naples Municipal Airport) as an auxiliary landing field. Also, they constructed two crash boat bases; one at Marco Island and the other on the Caloosahatchee River near the Gulf of Mexico.

The 75th Flying Training Wing was a flying training wing of the United States Army Air Forces. At the time, a wing controlled several multi-squadron groups. It was last assigned to the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command, and was disbanded on 15 June 1946 at Buckingham Army Airfield, Florida.

History

The wing was a World War II Command and Control organization, initially part of Eastern Flying Training Command. The mission of the wing was to train aerial gunners. Fixed gunnery training for air cadet pilots was carried out at Eglin Army Airfield, while flexible gunnery training for enlisted gunners was carried out both at Tyndall Army Airfield in northern Florida and Buckingham Army Airfield in Southwest Florida. As the men graduated from flexible gunnery school, they were assigned to combat crews either forming in the United States or as replacements to overseas combat units.

As training requirements changed during the war, schools were activated and inactivated or transferred to meet those requirements.

Lineage

  • Established as 75th Flying Training Wing, on 14 August 1943
Activated on 25 August 1943
Disbanded on 16 June 1946.

Assignments

  • Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command, 25 August 1943
  • AAF Western Flying Training Command, 15 December 1945 – 16 June 1946

Training aircraft

The schools of the wing flew two types of aircraft. Gunnery trainers and gunnery targets.

  • The trainers used for fixed gunnery training for pilots was the North American AT-6 Texan
  • The trainers used for flexible gunnery training for aerial gunners were the AT-18 Hudson and non-combat rated B-24 Liberators.
  • Aerial gunnery target two planes were Vultee BT-13s
  • Non-combat rated P-40s, P-39s and P-63s, modified for aerial targets were also used.

Assigned Pilot Schools

Apalachicola Army Airfield, Apalachicola, Florida
AAF Flexible Gunnery School
Opened: September 1942, Closed: October 1945 (AT-6, AT-18, BT-13)
Operated AT-18 Hudsons for gunnery trainers; used modified AT-6s for aerial gunnery targets; Sub-base of Tyndall AAF
Buckingham Army Airfield, Fort Myers, Florida
AAF Flexible Gunnery School
37th Flexible Gunnery Training Group
Opened: March 1942, Closed: October 1945 (AT-6, AT-18, BT-13, B-24)
Operated AT-18 Hudsons and B-24 Liberators for gunnery trainers; used modified AT-6s for aerial gunnery targets;
Eglin Army Airfield, Valparaiso, Florida
AAF Fixed Gunnery School
Opened: October 1941, Closed: October 1945 (AT-6)
Fixed gunnery school operated AT-6s; also home of Proving Ground Command; now USAF Eglin Air Force Base
Naples Army Airfield, Naples, Florida
714th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron
Opened: January 1944, Closed: August 1945 (P-40, RP-39Q RP-63)
Sub-base of Buckingham AAF; operated modified single-engine fighters as aireal gunnery targets for flexible gunners in training at Buckingham AAF
Tyndall Army Airfield, Panama City, Florida
AAF Flexible Gunnery School
37th Flexible Gunnery Training Group
Opened: August 1941, Closed: December 1945 (AT-6, AT-18)
Operated AT-18 Hudsons for gunnery trainers; used modified AT

Stations

  • Buckingham Army Airfield, Florida
  • Naples Army Airfield, Naples, Florida
  • Eglin Army Airfield, Valparaiso, Florida
  • Apalachicola Army Airfield, Apalachicola, Florida
  • Tyndall Army Airfield, Panama City, Florida

References

  • United States Air Force portal
  • Military of the United States portal
  • World War II portal