The Bartow Air Base ( originally named “Bartow Army Airfield” ) was constructed during WWII as a training field for the US Army Air Corps with its commission for construction commencing on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Construction was completed by the fall of 1942 and the Bartow Army Airfield was operated as a Fighter Replacement Training Station, providing facilities for a fighter group and two fighter squadrons flying P-51 aircraft. The P-51 aircraft were delivered to Bartow from the North American Aircraft factory in California by the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
The P-51 aircraft of the 56th and 57th Fighter Squadrons pilots were trained in aerial combat maneuvers, gunnery and dive bombing.
The base also has historic ties with the famous Tuskegee Airmen "Red Tail" squadron, flying the P-51C aircraft in the hosting of deployment mission training exercises before being deployed to Europe throughout WWII.
The base included three runways, barracks, hangars, airfield operations building, dispensary, mess hall, chapel, gymnasium and skeet range. In 1945 the base was deactivated by the U.S. Government and turned over to the City of Bartow until 1950 when the U.S. Government again re-activated for military flight training.
The airfield was renamed BARTOW AIR BASE and was used as a primary USAF flight training facility for the Air Training Command from 1951 to 1960. The 3303rd Pilot Training Group operated the T-6 Texan, T-34 Mentor and T-28 Trojan, training both commissioned USAF officers and USAF aviation cadets. It was during this time that several notable NASA astronauts were trained to earn their cadet pilot wings before advanced jet training and assignment during the Korean War. Among them were Ed White and Buzz Aldrin.
In 1960, the Air Force discontinued the contract primary pilot training concept and began phasing out T-34 and T-28 training in favor of the USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) system that was being put in place at larger air force bases that could readily accommodate the T-37 and T-38 Talon jet trainers then coming on line. The T-37 “Tweet” was the first jet trainer to be based at Bartow Air Base and continued operations until the USAF deactivated the training mission at Bartow Air Base and officially closed in 1961.
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