Falcon Field Airport is again welcoming friends from across the Atlantic for its 80th anniversary commemorative events this month.
“In 1941, the United States was not in the war yet, but Britain was embroiled in a war. Learning how to fly in a war-torn environment, especially in Europe with the weather the way it is, was difficult and inefficient. The U.S. had an agreement with Britain for training and support, so that meant that places like Falcon Field were built to train Royal Air Force cadets,” said Mike Doyle, pilot and member of the Wings of Flight Foundation.
On Sept. 14, 1941, the No. 4 British Flying Training School opened on an empty expanse of desert on the undeveloped northern edge of Mesa, one of six pilot training bases created in America to train Allied pilots.
The Wings of Flight Foundation pilot group is reuniting school members by researching and inviting them and their families to Mesa for the milestone anniversary.
They have located 20 living pilots, 33 widows and over 95 families and will host some of them for a week of activities.
The reunion will culminate in a dinner gala on Nov. 13 in an original 1941 hangar surrounded by vintage military aircraft, including some used in Falcon Field training between 1941-1945.
“When we moved into the historic hangar, we were gifted a box of memorabilia by Mesa Vice Mayor Jenn Duff. She is a descendant of a British Royal Air Force navigation instructor who trained cadets at Falcon Field,” said WOFF member and reunion organizer Jocelyn Condon. “The box included documents from the 50th celebration back in 1991.”
British cadet descendant Kathryn Masters and RAF pilot descendant John Barber of Tempe researched and contacted pilots and their descendants.
They also included U.S. citizens who supported the training mission at Falcon Field as aircraft mechanics, air traffic controllers, and administrative staff with the help of Carolyn Wischler McDaniel, daughter of Joe Wischler who was the Chief Mechanic at Falcon Field from 1941-1945.
““I think it’s important for future generations to know how Mesa participated in World War II and what the ‘greatest generation’ gave up for our freedom,” said Anne Beeby, whose father Ken Beeby received RAF pilot training at Falcon Field.
Events and activities related to Falcon Field Airport’s history and 80th Anniversary:
• Wings of Flight Foundation has created an archive in partnership with the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England for the pictures and stories about the No. 4 British Flying Training School: americanairmuseum.com/unit/4175 .
• Documentary film producer Kelly Sallaway of Rushbrook Media is filming a series about each of the six British training flying schools. A preview of her film will be shown at the gala.
• Wings of Flight Foundation has been working with local museum curator Steve Hoza to develop an educational display for the historic hangar at Falcon Field.
• Daryl F. Mallett, author of the Falcon Field book in the Images of America book series by Arcadia Publishing, has created a Facebook page where descendants of Royal Air Force pilot cadets can connect: facebook.com/FalconField/
• Members of the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field Airport will provide a fly-over during the East Valley Veterans Parade.
• The Mesa Chamber of Commerce will host Aviation Fascination at Heliponents, 4930 E. Falcon Dr. at Falcon Field Airport, 5-7:30 p.m. Nov. 12. The free public event will feature a display about Falcon Field history, information booths by aviation businesses and organizations, static aircraft displays, raffle prize drawings, music and food tastings by local restaurants.
• The Royal Air Force Cadet Memorial scheduled at 10:45 a.m. Nov. 14 will honor the 23 pilots of the No. 4 British Flying Training School who lost their lives while training from 1941-1945 at Mesa›s Falcon Field. This free public service has been held for more than 30 years at the Mesa Cemetery. The event will also feature remarks by Mesa and British officials, music and a wreath laying at the grave sites.
• The Commemorative Air Force Museum will host its popular themed event A Night in the 40s Big Band Dance 5-10 p.m. Dec. 4 in the museum, 2017 N. Greenfield Road. Many guests wear period uniforms and costumes, and swing dance lessons are included. Specialty food trucks will offer food and beverages for sale. Tickets are available at azcaf.org/event/night-at-the-40s-dance.
Falcon Field was originally to be called Thunderbird Field III by its developers Jack Connelly and Leland Hayward, whose stockholders were some of Hayward’s Hollywood friends, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, and Ginger Rogers.
They had intended to launch a regional passenger air service, but like so many other plans of the era, the war changed that. England was under almost constant attack by Luftwaffe bombers and fighters in 1941, making it a dangerous place to train RAF pilots. An arrangement was made to train cadets at six U.S. bases, including Falcon Field.
Watch the video produced by Visit Mesa celebrating the No. 4 British Flying Training School: youtube.com/watch?v=2zZzoXdIEbk