The United States Interior Department recently placed two World War II-era hangars at Mesa’s Falcon Field Airport on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This historic designation is a great point of pride for the city of Mesa,” District 5 Mesa City Councilmember David Luna said. “It is especially meaningful to receive it in the year of Falcon Field’s 75th anniversary and to use this occasion to remember all those British and U.S. veterans who worked and trained here.”
“It was a two-year effort to have these hangars and the airport recognized for their contributions to the Allied cause during World War II,” said Edward F. Murphy of the Falcon Field Tenants and Users Association. Construction of the airport began 75 years ago in July 1941, and it was fully operational in September 1941.
“Leland Hayward, a well-known Hollywood director, producer, and pilot, recognized the need for flight schools to train the thousands of pilots who would be needed to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan,” Murphy said. “With the financial backing of other Hollywood luminaries including Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, and Ginger Rogers, he started Southwest Airways (SWA) for the sole purpose of obtaining a government contract to train aviation cadets.”
Several air training bases were opened in the Phoenix area to train U.S. Army Air Corps and international cadets from Allied countries. One of them was east of the farming community of Mesa. Originally designated as British Flight Training School No. 4, the name was soon changed to Falcon Field to honor the British cadets who trained there. The first training flights from Falcon Field began on Sept. 27, 1941.
According to Murphy, Falcon Field graduated more than 2,000 U.S. Army Air Corps and British Royal Air Force pilots during the war years. Training operations ended in September 1945 as the war drew to a close. Ownership of the airport was transferred from the U.S. government to the city of Mesa in August 1948 to be used as a public airport, and Falcon Field has been operating as such since then.
Over the next 50 years, as Mesa grew into one of the largest cities in the U.S., Falcon Field grew with it. Today the airport is home to more than 700 aircraft and is one of the most active general aviation airports in the United States.
Murphy said he began the process to have Falcon Field recognized for its contributions to World War II in May 2014. With assistance from William Collins and Vivia Strang at the Arizona State Parks State Historic Preservation Office, the necessary application was finalized and required approvals were obtained. In March 2016 the application was submitted to the Interior Department. Approval for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places came in June 2016.
“Placement of the hangars on the National Register of Historic Sites protects the history of Falcon Field and will preserve its strong traditions for generations of pilots for years to come,” Murphy said.
“As Falcon Field continues to evolve, it is important to honor its past,” Airport Director Corinne Nystrom said. “The fact that the two original World War II hangars are still in use today indicates that while Falcon Field’s focus over the years has changed to providing services to business and general aviation, the airport’s unique place in history still plays a role in what the airport is today.”