History of the Naples Army Airfield
History of Naples Army Airfield, During the early days of aviation in Collier County, Florida. All incoming planes landed on a golf course or the beach. But, finally that all changed in December 1942 as World War II clamored for more pilots, more gunners, and more aircraft. That’s when they built the Naples Airdrome. Suddenly the skies over Naples, Florida were filled with P-39s, P-40s, B-17s, and RP-63s. These Aircraft all participated in the Army Air force’s flexible gunnery training program. As a result, hundreds of pilots and gunners were trained for combat and sent to the Pacific or European fronts.
Established in 1942
Naples Army Airfield was established by the United States Army Air Forces in 1942. It was assigned to the Southeast Training Center (later Eastern Flying Training Command). Providing basic (level 1) flight training to flight cadets by Emery-Riddle Co. Therefore primarily using Fairchild PT-19s trainers. Along with the flight training, Naples Army Airfield was a sub-base to Buckingham for flexible gunnery training. As it was inactivated on November 1, 1945, And Therefore turned over to the War Assets Administration for conveyance to civil control as a public airport.
Buckingham Airfield is approximately 10 miles east of Fort Myers, Florida. 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. It was active during World War II as an Army Air Forces Training Command airfield. Consequently, they closed It on 30 September 1945.
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 swampland, 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
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.
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. 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.
- Established as 75th Flying Training Wing, on 14 August 1943
- Activated on 25 August 1943
- Disbanded on 16 June 1946.
- Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command, 25 August 1943
- AAF Western Flying Training Command, 15 December 1945 – 16 June 1946
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 used.
Assigned Pilot Schools
AAF Fixed Gunnery school opened
- 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
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