It Happened Here: Ellensburg Airport Served as an Air Force Base During WWII | Come

North of Ellensburg is the Kittitas County Airport, also known as Bowers Field, which serves both private aviation and Central Washington University’s aviation program.

But the estate came into its own during World War II, when it served as a training base for Army Air Corps pilots, as well as a base for women recruited into an Army flying program. army.

The airport’s origins date back to 1926, some 23 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Local airmen used a private golf course as an airstrip.

Four years later, a graded track was built by the county and local pilots. A crosswind runway, on a roughly northeast-southwest axis, was built in 1936, with funding from the Civil Aeronautics Authority, a precursor to today’s Federal Aviation Administration. Labor was provided through Depression-era labor programs.

The land was sold to the city of Ellensburg in 1938 as activity at the airstrip increased. What was then the Central Washington College of Education began a civilian pilot training program in 1940, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to create a pool of potential military pilots as war loomed.

The program provided ground training at the Ellensburg campus. The Ellensburg Flight Service, created by Laurin Lamb, gave student pilots flight time at the airfield. Lamb was one of Ellensburg’s first pilots.

The demand for pilots would increase dramatically after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor dragged the United States into World War II. The training program expanded to accommodate more students, who would go on to the Army Air Corps.

At one point, 200 air cadets completed the program, with pilots earning 10 flight hours before being certified as pilots.

The CAA expanded the area through its National Defense Airstrip Development Program, making $300,000 in improvements – that’s $4.8 million in today’s money.

The field was also renamed Bowers Field in 1942, in honor of Navy Ensign Robert Keith Bowers, the first Kittitas County resident to die in World War II. A graduate of Ellensburg High School, Bowers enlisted in the Navy Reserves while a medical student at the University of Washington in 1939 and trained as an aviator.

He was serving as a seaplane pilot on the battleship USS California when the ship was hit by torpedo bombers during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Accounts state that he was last seen descending into the ship’s hold, either to rescue sailors trapped below or to help bring ammunition to the ship’s anti-aircraft guns.

Bowers was among 102 sailors killed on the ship, and his remains are believed to be among 20 from California that have yet to be identified. His name is inscribed in the Courts of Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

Bowers’ name was temporarily removed from the field when it became an Army Air Corps base. As the Army already had Bowers Field, it was renamed Ellensburg Air Force Base during the war. With the designation, the runways were extended to one mile and other improvements were made so that it could serve as a bomber base.

But with a shift in strategy during the war, the land became home to a squadron of P-38 Lightnings, the long-range twin-engine fighter that was one of the iconic aircraft of World War II. The Ellensburg Flight Department, along with all military traffic at the airport, moved to a constructed strip in the Reecer Creek area, where it continued to train pilots.

In 1944, the Army withdrew the P-38 Squadron, making it a sub-base for the 21st Tow Squadron based at Ephrata, which fired targets at what is now the Yakima Training Center for shooting practice.

Members of the Women’s Air Service Pilots were also sent to the base to fly C-45 transport planes.

As the war ended, the use of the land and the demand for pilot training also increased, and by 1945 only a small military detachment remained there.

Two years later, the base was declared surplus property and sold to Kittitas County. Many military buildings were removed from the land and turned into barns, houses and stores in the area.

The field once again became the home of Ellensburg Flight Service, which would become Midstate Aviation, which continues to provide flight training to this day.

The airport changed hands again in 1957, when it was transferred to Ellensburg, which in turn returned it to Kittitas County in 1965, and it has remained in service in the county ever since.

About Theresa Burton

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