During World War II, Kansas became a training hub for the United States Air Force, which was then called the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). Pilots, aircrews, fighters, and bombers were trained on these numerous airfields before being sent to complete missions in the war effort in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific region.
These airfields were all constructed within a four-year period between 1940 and 1944. Kansas, like other areas of the Midwest, was chosen due to its ample flying conditions year-round. The areas chosen were sparsely populated and overall, were prime locations to set up aircraft training centers complete with runways and hangars.
In total, there were 16 USAAF Airfields constructed in Kansas. Most of these bases are considered abandoned because they’ve either been deserted or repurposed into something else. Long story short, most of these airfields are no longer used for military purposes.
Let’s find out a little more information about each of these important, yet now abandoned military bases in Kansas.
Coffeyville Army Airfield
The decision to build Coffeyville Army Airfield outside of Coffeyville, Kansas came in early 1942 and the base had completed construction eight months later. It included four runways, three hangars with a parking apron, 212 buildings, and the ability to hold 5,000 people.
Coffeyville Army Airfield was the first of its kind to be established in the state of Kansas and due to the rush in construction, it saw some issues at the start. It actually wasn’t until around August 1943 that construction was officially completed.
The base trained cadets in basic or second-stage flight training and it was initially called the Army Air Forces Basic Flying School. It also held training for photo reconnaissance pilots.
On October 1, 1945, the base was set to be temporarily inactivated and the city of Coffeyville took over jurisdiction of the area in July 1947. Now, two of the three runways and the three original hangars are still in use as the Coffeyville Municipal Airport. Some of the original streets and buildings are still there but are all abandoned.
Dodge City Army Airfield
Originally slated to become Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School, Dodge City Army Airfield eventually became the training site for B-26 Marauder medium bomber transitions. Construction began in 1942 and they built four runways, six taxiways, and four auxiliary fields.
Additionally, Dodge City Army Airfield held training for Free French Air Force pilot trainees and contingents of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Then as the war died down and fewer missions including B26s were sent out, training died down and the airfield became inactive in July 1945.
Dodge City Army Airfield was placed on reserve status and became Dodge City Air Force Base in 1948 but it was unmanned. Excess buildings and demilitarized equipment were eventually sold off and the area became the Dodge City Municipal Airport in 1949. Then, sometime around 1962, the airport became known as the Dodge City Regional Airport.
Fairfax/Rosecrans Army Airfield
Fairfax Army Airfield was actually an airport before it was used in the war effort. Built in 1921, named Sweeney Airport in 1925 and re-named Fairfax Airport in 1928, this area in Kansas City was used for a few various military purposes.
The area adjacent Fairfax Airport was used as a Naval Reserve Air Base from 1935 to 1942 which acted as a Naval Elimination Air Base from 1940. The USAAF leased the Fairfax Airport in 1941 and improved the runways and parking apron.
It seems to have mostly functioned as a maintenance and repair hub for the military and was discontinued in 1945. The Fairfax Airport closed completely in 1985 and is still abandoned.
Garden City Army Airfield
Garden City Army Airfield was one of pilot training centers built in Kansas to support the Allies’ efforts in World War II. Construction was completed in 1943 and it included five runways, five taxiways, and three squadron hangars.
Before construction was fully finished, training commenced in 1942 with a basic pilot school. It also was a training ground for WASPs. In only a few years, the need for basic training of pilots lessened and cadets were transferred elsewhere.
In 1945, Garden City Army Airfield became a storage depot for strategic aircraft to be kept in fly-ready conditions. The airfield became inactive on October 29, 1946, and on March 15, 1947, it was officially closed and ever since, it’s been used as Garden City Municipal Airport.
Great Bend Army Airfield
Serving historical significance as one of the first USAAF B-29 Superfortress bases to train on that specific type of aircraft, Great Bend Army Airfield was built in 1942. Some of those trained there became part of the 58th Bomb Wing, who sent some of the first attacks on Japan during World War II.
The base contained three runways, three hangars, and over 200 buildings. It also became one of the first redeployment installations in the country. After victory reigned over Japan, Great Bend Army Airfield became rather useless and training stopped in 1945.
It became the temporary home of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses for a while and sometime between 1949 and 1950 became the host to an Air Force reserve unit, but Great Bend Army Airfield was officially inactivated and jurisdiction was given to the city in 1951. Now, it’s used as the municipal airport.
Herington Army Airfield
Built in 1942, Herington Army Airfield had three runways, three squadron hangars, and about 100 buildings to create a small base that could hold up to 2,500 people. Units stationed there included the 503rd Base Headquarters and Air Base, the 1161st Guard Squadron, and the 399th Army Air Forces Band.
The mission of the base was to complete the final processing of heavy bombardment crews and their equipment as a final stop before deployment. Herington Army Airfield was officially deemed inactive in November 1945. Now, it operates as the Herington Municipal Airport.
Independence Army Airfield
Independence Army Airfield started construction in 1942 which was completed in 1943. It was activated as a basic flying school for the USAAF during World War II. Cadets trained with North American BT-14s and Vultee BT-13 Valiants aircraft.
When flight training was dissolved at Coffeyville Airfield, those students were transferred to Independence and the final class who trained there graduated in January 1945. By March of that same year, Independence was placed on standby and used as storage.
Independence Army Airfield was declared surplus in December 1947 and is now used as a municipal airport.
Liberal Army Airfield
During World War II, Liberal Army Airfield was used as a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber training facility for the USAAF. The airfield had six runways, five hangars, three large warehouses and storage facilities, school buildings, and ample housing.
The first training group started at Liberal Army Airfield in 1943 before full construction was even completed. After victory in Europe, though, training schedules became erratic and the operation closed in 1945. Plus, the B-24 Liberator aircraft became obsolete. Now, the area operates as the Liberal Municipal Airport.
Pratt Army Airfield
Along with Great Bend Army Airfield, Pratt Army Airfield was one of the first USAAF B-29 Superfortress bases and was part of what formed the initial 58th Bomb Wing. This is significant because this was the first wing to complete a long-range strategic bombardment of Japanese forces during the war.
Pratt Army Airfield was built in 1922 with three runways and five hangars which could hold about 2,460 enlisted men. The base was shut down after the war in November 1945 and was converted into Pratt Regional Airport.
Schilling Air Force Base
This area was known by two previous names, Smoky Hill Army Airfield and Smoky Hill Air Force Base, before becoming Schilling Air Force Base. It was originally constructed after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942 and was assigned to the Second Air Force Group.
The mission at Schilling Air Force Base was to complete Second Phase Heavy Bomber Operational Training Unit duties. The airfield was closed after the war ended and became Salina Regional Airport where Steve Fossett, who completed the first nonstop solo circumnavigation of the earth in a Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, took off and landed in 2005.
Strother Army Airfield
To act as a USAAF Central Flying Training Command base in Kansas, Strother Army Airfield was built in 1942. It included four runways, four taxiways, and four auxiliary fields along with various institutional buildings and housing for the cadets.
Strother Army Airfield is located near Winfield and Arkansas City, KS and had two missions: first to train cadets in basic flying techniques and later, in 1944, to train them in fighter command. After World War II ended, Strother Army Airfield became inactive and soon after became known as Strother Air Force Base and acted as a housing function for the military.
Eventually, the base was fully closed in 1958 and is now used as the municipal airport to Winfield and Arkansas City. Part of the area has also been redeveloped into Strother Field Industrial Park.
Topeka Army Airfield/Forbes Air Force Base
From 1942 to 1973, Topeka Army Airfield, which later became Forbes Air Force Base, supervised military components including the Second Air Force, Continental Air Forces, Air Material Command, Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and the Air National Guard.
In April 1976, there were still a few areas controlled by the Air National Guard but most of it was turned over to the city of Topeka, Kansas. Now, the area is known as Topeka Regional Airport where both military and civilian air traffic is maintained.
Walker Army Airfield
Walker Army Airfield is the third base, along with Pratt Army Airfield and Great Bend Army Airfield, who contributed cadets to the 58th Bombardment Wing who went on to complete one of the first long-range strategic bombardments on the Japanese during World War II in 1944.
It was constructed to assist Smoky Hill Army Airfield to process aircraft for their shipment overseas. Basically, Walker Army Field started out as a satellite field and ended up conducting bomber training.
When the Japanese were defeated in 1945, missions at Walker Army Airfield started to taper off. After a few changes in command, the airfield was eventually closed in 1946. Today, Walker Army Airfield is abandoned and reminiscent of a ghost town.
Of the 16 original USAAF airfields that were constructed in the state of Kansas, only three are still operational as military bases. Most of these former Air Force training sites are now used as municipal or regional airports and only a few seem to be fully abandoned.
Overall, these efforts by what was then the Army Air Forces made huge contributions to the war effort in the 1940s. Even though these were often rushed projects that welcomed cadets before construction was fully complete, these missions helped train the first pilots of what is now known as the United States Air Force and aided to the defeat of the Axis Powers during World War II.