During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), which would later become the U.S. Air Force, built 11 training centers in Nebraska for pilots and aircrews. Due to the relative isolation of Nebraska as well as having weather that made for excellent flying conditions year-round, it was deemed to be an ideal location for their training ranges.
None of the initial 11 airfields are still in operation in the same capacity that they were built for during the World War II era. Some became civilian airports, others were sold to private companies, and some were used for their exceptional farmland.
Here, we’ll go through each of these abandoned World War II-era Army airfields in Nebraska to find out what made them important and what has become of them today.
Ainsworth Army Airfield
Ainsworth Army Airfield is located just north of Ainsworth, Nebraska. Sixty-four buildings were built in 1942, creating a complete base. Most of the people who worked on its construction were Native Americans.
The base was commanded under the 353rd Army Air Force Base Unit of the Second Air Force Unit that was based in Colorado Springs. Ainsworth Army Airfield was the training center for aircrews flying Boeing B-7 Flying Fortress aircraft, Bell P-39 Airacobra aircraft, and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft, to name a few, before the crews were sent to Europe.
Ainsworth Army Airfield Base was closed on December 31, 1945, and was mostly abandoned except for civilians manning the Fire Department and the Weather Squadron. The Army airfield then became the Ainsworth Municipal Airport in late 1948. This airport was first used for charter flights, aircraft rental, and flight lessons before a year or two of scheduling airline flights with Frontier DC-3s.
In the 1980s, the old Ainsworth Army Airfield was used for balloon missions through the National Scientific Balloon Facility but these efforts were canceled shortly thereafter. Now, it’s simply your average municipal airport.
You can still find relics of the World War II-era littered around the area and one of the old hangers is still in use.
Bruning Army Airfield
Located in northeast Thayer County in Nebraska, Bruning Army Airfield was also built in 1942. It was constructed on top of farmland in which the previous owners were given only ten days to evacuate.
The base consisted of three runways, three hangers, and 231 support buildings. Bruning Army Airfield was officially activated in 1943 when the first training groups arrived.
Under the command of the Second Air Force Group in Colorado Springs, Bruning Army Airfield base was the final training spot for Consolidated B-24 Liberator Heavy Bombers and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Fight-Bombers.
The airfield was placed on reserve status in February 1945 and was closed by November of that same year. As it was dismantled, 174 of the buildings were torn down and six of the runways were commissioned by the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics in 1948 to be used by the state.
Nowadays, Bruning Army Airfield is mostly abandoned with only a handful of buildings still intact. Parts of the runways are used as a large commercial cattle feedlot called the Mid-America Feed Yard. There is a Nebraska State Historical Monument dedicated to Bruning Army Airfield on Highway 4 near the site.
Fairmont Army Airfield
Construction of the Fairmont Army Airfield began in September 1942 as a training ground for military aircrews. Its first set of military personnel arrived a month later, in November. The base was operated by the 241st Army Air Force Base Unit of the Second Air Force Group based in Colorado Springs.
The base housed nearly 6,000 officers and enlisted men and was a training installation for 27 bombardment squadrons. In fact, in September 1944, Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets visited Fairmont Army Airfield’s 393rd Bombardment Squadron to join the 509th Composite Group at Utah. This was the group that dropped both atomic bombs on Japan.
Fairmont Army Airfield closed on December 31, 1945, and the buildings there were either sold, dismantled, or moved. Due to being one of the best remaining examples of these 11 Nebraska World War II Airfields, the Fairmont Army Airfield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Grand Island Army Airfield
Grand Island Army Airfield was constructed over an existing airport called the Grand Island Arrasmith Airport where 173 buildings and constructions were added. The airfield, located in Grand Island, Nebraska, opened in 1942 and was officially activated on April 1, 1943.
Commanded by the Second Air Force Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Grand Island Army Airfield was used in the early years of the war to train aircrew bombers and later was a staging area for bombing crews to enter Guam and Tinian in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
The base was also a Strategic Air Command in 1946 and a site equipped to perform major repairs for B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft and B-29 Superfortress bombers.
Grand Island Army Airfield closed on October 31, 1946, and is now used by the city of Grand Island as what’s now known as the Central Nebraska Regional Airport and an industrial park. In the 1960s, the Air Force began using the base for military purposes. Yet, these missions lasted only until 1968. Only about a dozen of the original buildings from the base still remain.
Harvard Army Airfield
Like the other ten Army Air Force installments in Nebraska, construction for Harvard Army Airfield began in 1942 at Harvard, Nebraska. On the base, 277 buildings were constructed with five hangars. The base held 26 bombardment squadrons who were training in flying.
By early 1943, the base was conducting training 24 hours a day preparing to enter the European and Pacific Theaters at the center of World War II. About 6,000 officers and enlisted men were stationed there.
Harvard Army Airfield remained active for a while even after the Japanese surrendered, but it was eventually declared surplus on May 21, 1946. Other than the four hangers that still remain, most of the buildings on the base were either demolished, moved, or sold for their lumber.
In 1983, three of those hangars were destroyed by a fire and only a handful of the structures from what was the Harvard Army Airfield still exist. Most of the land is now used for agriculture and the old hangar used for grain storage.
McCook Army Airfield
McCook Army Airfield near McCook Nebraska included three runways, five hangars, barracks large enough to hold 5,000 men, and 110 buildings. The three divisions on the base were Base Services, Maintenance and Supply and Training.
The base was officially active on April 1, 1943, under the command of the Second Air Force Headquarters in Colorado Springs. It became one of the largest bases out of the original eleven airfields with over 15,000 service members and 500 civilians stationed there. Those training at McCook Army Airfield were deployed to North Africa, Europe, and Pacific Theater Operations.
The airfield was first put on reserve status before being officially closed on December 31, 1945, and then acquired by Nebraska in 1947. Initially, the city of McCook used the area as a municipal airport but it was determined to be inconvenient.
Now, the land is owned by farmers and the Nebraska Bureau of Land Management. A handful of the old buildings are still there including all the hangars.
Scottsbluff Army Airfield
Initially used as a satellite to Casper Army Airfield in Wyoming, Scottsbluff Army Airfield is in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and became occupied in October 1942. It was under the command of the Second Air Force Group and acted as a training center for military aircrews. At one point, it was also a camp for prisoners of war.
The base was dissolved on December 31, 1945, and most of its original buildings were either sold or removed but the area was still used for air training until 1950. Now, it is used as the Western Nebraska Regional Airport, also known as William B. Heilig Field.
Scribner Army Airfield
In the agricultural area of Scribner, Nebraska, Scribner Army Airfield was built in 1942 as one of the eleven training airfields in the state during World War II. It was originally a satellite base for the Sioux City Army Air Base in Iowa but became its own entity in 1943.
Scribner was also a camouflage school. The entire base was created to look like an average American farm as to go undetected by intruders.
The base was closed on December 31, 1945, and although there were talks of using the area as the site of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1951, the plans were abandoned. Instead, the Air Force installed an ionosphere sounding station which is still in operation, although unmanned, at a site known as Offutt AFB.
These days, what was Scribner Army Airfield is operated by the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics and a U.S. Air Force Communications Center is located there.
Alliance Army Airfield
Alliance Army Airfield was built between 1942 and 1943 in Alliance, Nebraska and had 775 buildings and other structures. It was built as a temporary base and was where paratroopers and air commanders trained during World War II.
Opened in 1944, Alliance Army Airfield was divided into four groups: air operation, quartermaster, troop cantonment, and gunnery ranges. It was the training center for nine different troop carrier groups before being deployed to the European Theater of Operations.
Alliance Army Airfield was then temporarily deactivated on October 31, 1945. Even though there was chatter about Alliance potentially becoming a permanent Army installation, it was declared surplus in December 1945.
After some back and forth negotiations between the U.S. government and the city of Alliance, it took a while to decide what would happen to Alliance Army Airfield. In the end, it eventually became Alliance Municipal Airport.
Kearney Air Force Base and Lincoln Army Airfield
The final two of the 11 World War II Army Airfields built in Nebraska have a lot less information floating around about them. Let’s start with Kearney Air Force Base.
Kearney Army Airfield was a B-29 training range used during the 1940s and was the Strategic Air Command F-82 Twin Mustang Fighter base. It closed in 1949 and became the Kearney Regional Airport in Kearney, Nebraska.
Lincoln Army Airfield was also a World War II aircrew training field and was deactivated by the Army Air Force in 1946 yet it was still used by the military, just not in the same way. It’s since been used by both the Army National Guard and by the Navy as Naval Air Station Lincoln.
Lincoln Army Airfield has been partially reactivated as an Army National Guard Base and has been used jointly as a military and civilian airport since 1952.
These 11 pivotal Army Airfields made countless contributions to the war effort in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific realm during World War II and they’re all located in Nebraska. Although they’ve mostly been abandoned in a military sense, it’s hopeful to see that they’re often still used as airports and farmland.