Part two – With the attack on Pearl Harbor the proposed airbase and training center at Kingman, a town with a population of less than 5,000 people, became a priority. In what must have seemed like the blink of an eye, the sleepy little desert town nestled along Route 66 and the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad found itself at the very center of a whirlwind of change and transformation.
Port Kingman, a small rural airfield initially established by Charles Lindbergh, became the temporary hub for the new base. War planes destined for foreign shores were temporarily stored here before being picked up by members of the Brazilian and Chinese air force. Cadets from Kelly Field in Texas arrived by train to begin training with new P-40 Mustangs.
Construction crews flooded Kingman and housing became an issue with every motel, apartment complex , and home with a spare room to rent, filled to capacity. Traffic jams became a new phenomena as military men, construction crews, equipment, and materials flooded into Kingman by rail for transport to the proposed site for the training center on the Neal Ranch in the Hualapai Valley east of Kingman along Route 66.
As construction continued, the Army Air Corps began utilizing the airfield at Needles to facilitate the growing needs of cadet training and Route 66, as well as the railroad, became important links between the two cities. Adding to the importance of this transportation corridor was the development of auxiliary fields at Yucca, west of Kingman, and at Site 6, now the island at Lake Havasu City.
In June of 1942, construction, under the auspices of the Los Angeles District Office of the Army Corps of Engineers, on what would become the Kingman Army Airfield commenced and by the end of July, completion of streets, sewer and water lines, and a railroad spur were well underway. On August third, construction of the runways and airstrips began.
Military police began enforcing a no camera policy at the new airfield as well as at Port Kingman, and all pilots, cadets, and construction workers were issued identification cards. The Harvey House in Kingman became the temporary headquarters for the new airfield with Lieutenant Colonel Huglin as commander.
On August 4, 1942, under General Order #59, the Army Air Force Flexible Gunnery School at Kingman received official recognition. Additionally, under order #66 issued on August 12th, the field at Yucca was to be developed as an axillary gunnery range. On the first of September construction of the base hospital commenced, and the first contingent of foreign trainees, pilots from the Canadian Air Force, arrived on the fourth.
In November, approval for construction of several axillary and emergency fields was given; Site 1 near Red Lake, a dry lake north of Kingman, Site 5, near Topock, Site 7, south of the Yucca Aerial Gunnery Range. On December 1, the headquarters was relocated from the Harvey House to the new field.
On December 9, 1942, the delayed work at Davis Dam on the Colorado River near present day Bullhead City, was given an official stop work order so all crews and equipment could be relocated to Kingman to expedite construction. On December 26, the first flexible training squadrons (1120th, 1121st, 1122nd, 1123rd) assigned to Kingman arrived.
On the 27th the Kingman Army Airfield became the first to accept an African American unit for training, the 334th Aviation Squadron. The following day all manner of training aircraft began to arrive.
On the 3rd of January, the airfield received a new assignment, the training of gun crews for the B-17 flying fortress. This would result in an addition of 300 hundred students in each class.
In mid January, 1943, the base was awarded an official mascot, Bugs Bunny. In the same month the airfield became the subject of a War Department investigation that would eventually transform the facility into one of the largest Army airfield training centers in the nation.
In late January the estimates of cost, and the engineering reports, for construction of a railroad underpass were completed. The project was not deemed a priority and as a result was placed on hold, a decision that would have devastating consequences in late 1943.
On February 12th it was announced that Port Kingman would be temporarily closed as a civilian airport and that all training would now take place at Kingman Army Airfield. Port Kingman never reopened.
To be continued –