AKA Sweetwater Army Airfield
Training facility for
the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs)
I-20 West 6 miles from Sweetwater
to the Texas State Technical College campus
Price, December 2007
many of Texas’ current municipal airports were postwar gifts to the host communities,
the case was reversed in Sweetwater
where the existing municipal airport became a training facility in May of 1942.|
The transfer was a tremendous help to the war effort since it only required
expansion and improvement of the field, which had been in use since the late 1920s.
The name was chosen from a contest sponsored by the local newspaper.
Expanded to a total of 920 acres by the city of Sweetwater,
the War Department leased it for a token payment of $1.00 per year.
Former Avenger Field location at Sweetwater's Airport|
the necessary pilots and personnel for a two-theater war was a daunting task and
during the first months of the war, instructors were often civilian contractors.
This was the case with the first class to graduate from the facility – a single
class of British RAF cadets. After that, ten classes of American aviation cadets
graduated and then three classes of enlisted student pilots (most pilots were
lasting legacy of the field was formed from February 21, 1943 until December 20th,
1944 when the base became the training facility for the Women's Airforce Service
Licensed female civilian pilots were recruited and
trained to fly military aircraft, ferrying them from factory to shipping point
and on occasion flying damaged planes back for repair. This enabled more male
pilots to be sent into combat.
Airforce Service Pilots Historical Marker|
Service Pilots Historical Marker Text |
Airforce Service PilotsJacqueline
Cochran, one to the most famous women pilots of the Twentieth Century, persistently
lobbied U.S. Army Airforce General Henry "Hap" Arnold to establish a flight training
program for women during World
War II. Hard-pressed for pilots by mid-summer of 1942, General Arnold requested
that Cochran return from England and put her women airforce pilots (WASP) plan
A WASP flight school, opened at Houston's
in late 1942, outgrew its facilities and was relocated to Avenger Field in Sweetwater.
The school operated here from February 20, 1943 to December 7, 1944, during which
time it became the first and only all-women military flying school in the world.
The program successfully trained women to fly every kind of overseas duty.
Of the 25,000 women who applied for WASP flight training, only 1,830 were accepted
to the program. Of this number 1,074 went on to gain their silver wings and fly
over 60 million miles on operational duty; 38 of them lost their lives serving
their country. Considered civilian employees during the war, WASP pilots finally
gained military benefits after special legislation passed in 1977.
The unit was led by aviatrix
Jacqueline Cochran, a natural-born pilot who held more speed, distance and altitude
records than any other aviator, male or female.
A friend of the soon-to-be-missing
Amelia Earhart, Cochran was part of "Wings for Britain" prior to the U.S. entry
into WWII. Delivering American
aircraft to Britain, she became the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic.
She first worked for the British, her job recruiting qualified U.S. women
pilots to fly for the British Air Transport Auxiliary. After the U.S. became a
combatant, it was Cochran who proposed a unit of female transport pilots in the
Houston’s Howard Hughes Field (see
the 1940 Houston Air
Terminal Museum) had been a WASP training facility, but heavy fogs and civilian
air traffic necessitated the move to Sweetwater.
Avenger Field trained both men and women for a brief period, but beginning in
April of 1943 it was designated the only all-female air base in history (excepting
male instructors, maintenance and communication crews).
graduated 1,074 pilots during its tenure and the pilots learned to fly everything
from trainers to the new B-29 Superfortress. In 1945 the field became a training
base for P-47 Thunderbolt pilots, the pursuit planes that escorted B-17s over
their bombing runs over Germany.
In November 1945 ownership reverted
to the City of Sweetwater.
It was reopened briefly as an auxiliary field for Big
Spring's Webb Air Force Base during the Korean War.
WW II WASP Memorials
| "The memorials
are located at the airport in a stand alone hanger at the south end of the airport,
with the large monument at the TSTC grounds toward the north west part of the
field." - Mike
Price, photographer, December 08, 2007 |
of WASPs on display|
of statue in preceeding photo.|
"To the best women pilots in the world." - General "Hap" Arnold
Sign showing the wings wore by WASPs|
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were a little known group of female pilots
who performed many duties short of combat during WW
II. Their story makes pretty good reading for those interested in WW
II. All were trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater.
Subject: Sweetwater WW II WASP Memorials
While the army was forming the 509'th group (to deliver the atomic bombs)
the men pilots did not want to fly the large and complicated B-29 which had a
reputation for problems. The commanding officer brought in two WASP pilots and
in a couple of days trained them to fly that plane and they proceed to shame the
men into flying.
The only flying B-29, owned by the CAF in Midland,
carries the nose art name of FIFI. - Mike
Price, December 08, 2007
Statue of "Fifi" (Finfinella) is in the Nolan
County Courthouse lobby. The mascot design was supplied by the Walt Disney