A fully intact abandoned fuel tank, a rusty relic of the World War II era, was safely removed from a spot near Scottsdale Airport on Wednesday, making an 86-year-old former flight instructor who trained pilots there wonder.
"It's a real mystery," Lowell Armstrong said of the discovery Tuesday of the 15-foot-long, 6-foot-wide metal canister, linked to the airfield's former status as Thunderbird II Field.
"If the tank did have any connection to Thunderbird Field, I have no way of knowing it. If kerosene was really in the tank, it was way too large to be used for cleaning airplane parts," said Armstrong, who lives in Westbury, N.Y.
"As I recall, there were fuel tanks near Hangar 1, but that wasn't close to where they found the tank in the ground."
Road construction crews came upon the tank while widening Thunderbird Road east of Scottsdale Road. For 60 years, it had rested about 2 feet underground on the south side of Thunderbird near 73rd Street, near the southeast corner of the airport.
Estimated to hold up to 4,000 to 5,000 gallons, the tank, covered only with surface rust and marked with the words "Hazardous Material," was about half full kerosene and a sandlike material to dilute it, according to Tiffani Nichols, spokeswoman for the Scottsdale Fire Department.
Army Air Corps cadets learned to fly at Thunderbird II Field from civilian air instructors during World War II, according to Armstrong, who trained about 100 pilots at the airfield in 1943 and 1944.
Armstrong, father of Tribune photo editor Brad Armstrong, said Wednesday he does not know of any other surviving flight instructors from Thunderbird II Field and last attended one of its reunions about 20 years ago.
"I feel like I'm the last man standing," Lowell Armstrong said.
The tank likely was used to store fuel for planes used for training at the facility, Armstrong said.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality was also on hand Wednesday to examine the tank, and the department determined there were no contaminants inside it, according to Nichols.
A tanker truck drained the tank before loading it onto a trailer and taking it away, according to Andrew Kocisky of the Scottsdale Environmental Office.
"It was in great shape for as old as it could have been," Kocisky said. "It was never registered with the city, so it was likely from Thunderbird Field."
Jo Ann Handley, director of the Scottsdale Historical Society's Little Red Schoolhouse Museum, believes the tank was a relic from Thunderbird II.
"The entrance to the field used to be where they found the tank," Handley said.
Scottsdale Airport began June 22, 1942, as Thunderbird II Field, a training facility for about 5,500 World War II pilots, and was deactivated in October 1944, according to the city's Web site.