Pilots, Pinballs, and Politics -The History of Naples Municipal Airport
Nancy F, McEntee, Ph.D.
Pilots, Pinballs, and Politics
Today, the Naples Municipal Airport is a fine-tuned machine. The parts of General and Corporate Aviation, Air Traffic Control, Fire and Rescue, Mosquito Control and other tenants work well to offer the best in aviation to a unique community. But, that was not always the case. The airport had a rocky beginning.
In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt was looking for a way to enter World War II. Charles Lindbergh had cautioned him that America’s air power was sadly outdated, compared to the German Luftwaffe’s mighty forces. America was not ready to enter the European war. Roosevelt was determined. He ordered the War Department to start building airfields, particularly in Florida. In June 1941, the Naples Town Council received an inquiry from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), the future Federal Aviation Administration would Naples consider having a runway/airfield for military auxiliary purposes?
With a sense of excitement and urgency, the Town Council agreed, and the Collier County Commissioners also got into the arena for a future airfield. By the end of summer, Florida Senators ensured the government would choose the Naples area. Soon the CAA allocated $300,000 for the clearing and construction of the airfield. Now, where would this airfield be developed?
In 1941, the town of Naples resided mostly between the Gulf of Mexico and the Gordon River. The Tamiami Trail was bringing more traffic and more residents. The population of the city was a little over 1,200. Definitely, the airfield should be built, to the east, across the Gordon River, where the alligators, panthers, ibis and water moccasins reigned. Several sites were suggested with the final decision made by local politicians, all looking for a way to benefit financially and publicly. Two large pieces of land would make up the final area for the airfield. Discrepancies between the purchase price of the side-by-side plots of swamp remain puzzling. In the end, the Town of Naples paid one-third of the cost: $4,155.59. Collier County paid two-thirds of the cost: $8,311.18. Now the waiting began.
What began as an urgent and exciting process to acquire an airfield, came to a grinding halt after the purchase and survey of the land in October 1941. All the frantic activity to get the airfield approved, surveyed and ready for construction took a backseat to the uncertainty and lack of direction by the governments and politicians. It would take the attack on Pearl Harbor to really slow the project down.
Tractors and bulldozers
Finally, midway through 1942, tractors and bulldozers began ripping up the cypress trees, palmetto palms and dislodging hundreds of water moccasins and alligators. Clearing 636 acres for runways was a major problem with drainage, critters, swamp grass, heat and humidity, and snakes. The first effort at building runways was a disaster. The relentless and rugged palmetto proved immovable its formidable roots kept growing under the newly constructed runways. Besides the runways had not been built to handle the weight of large bombers. The resurfacing and reconstruction of the runways cost another $392,437.50.
Buildings, barracks, storage sheds, a mess hall, and guard house completed the task initially of readying the airfield for occupation. Yet, the military was busy elsewhere. In Ft. Myers, Buckingham Airfield was receiving all the attention.
Naples Airdrome was at the bottom of the list. It would be another year before the airfield was operational. The military had other problems to solve. America had entered the war in December 1941. Men, money, and machines were in demand elsewhere. Buckingham Airfield was prominent in the plans of training gunnery pilots and staff, not Naples Airdrome.
Though a small contingency of men was stationed at Naples to guard the vacant runways and buildings, no airplanes were parked on the tarmac. No pilots were assigned duty there. The Officers in Ft. Myers was creating a program to train gunners and pilots.
Naples would become a sub-base of the Flexible Gunnery Training Program, a training that taught men how to demolish moving targets. Finally, on December 23, 1943, the Naples Airdrome was officially opened, complete with 12 AT-6s parked on the ramp. A wooden control tower lurked next to the apron, looming over distant runways and woods. Approximately 75 enlisted and officers became the first to settle into the new airfield. The ‘Pinball,’ a nickname for the RP-63 trainer, arrived later.
Pilots, Pinballs, and Politics
In 2003, the book, Pilots, Pinballs, and Politics: a History of the Naples Municipal Airport was published, describing the full and detailed history of the airport. The above story was taken from the book.
Now, due to requests and more requests, the author has completed a 2nd edition of the book, available now on Amazon.com. The book takes the reader through a year and a half of military history on the base, including the planes, the men, the disasters, and the day-to-day details of the gunners and pilots.
To complete the early history of the airport, the author continues the journey, revealing further disasters, complications, politics, and stories of the men and women who were part of aviation in Southwest Florida. If you are a lover of aviation or history, Pilots, Pinballs, and Politics is a unique look at an extraordinary time and place. You can purchase this Book at Amazon.
Here is a Link
–This post was edited for this website by Commander Web
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