Have you ever wondered what your local airport looked like during World War II? To some, this question might bring a “why!?” or an eye roll, but to many aviation enthusiasts and researchers information like this is what gets us excited.
Recently I added 3 new manuals to AirCorps Library that may have gone unnoticed. In late 2017 the Combat Air Museum at Forbes Field in Topeka Kansas kindly let us take home and scan their 3 volume set titled “Airport Directory of the Continental United States”. These volumes were published by the Army Air Force in 1944, and might sound pretty boring at first, but are actually a treasure trove of information. Each volume clocks in at around 1,000 pages and is cataloged alphabetically from Alabama to start volume 1, to Wyoming at the close of volume 3.
Combat Air Museum, Topeka KS
Each state, or “chapter” begins with a divider that is followed by an alphabetical list, by airport name, of all the functioning airports at the time of publication. The list of airports is also given a numerical value, and any alternate or superseded airport names are indicated by an asterisk at the start of the index. The airport name is then followed by the city it is located in, and an index code that corresponds to its location on the state map that follows the index. The index codes read like a normal map, and are comprised of a single letter followed by a dash and numeral.
The state maps indicate cities and towns with a black circle, and “airports and seaplane anchorages” with a red dot and number that corresponds to the number listed with the airports in the index. In the case of a large city or congested area, an insert is removed and shown in more detail – such as Los Angeles (seen in the circle below).
After the state map, each airport in the state is then given a single page of information, following the same alphabetical order as the index. Each page contains a dated photo of the specific airport if available (there are a handful of airports throughout the volumes with no photo). Information on location, altitude, and city population is followed by a description that includes size, shape, runway length, obstructions, and lighting. General and radio facilities are also covered, along with information on weather tendencies including temperature and prevailing winds. Transportation options such as railways and roads precede owner/operator details.
It’s interesting to look through to see how some of the larger airports have changed – or stayed the same, since the war, how some of the smaller airports have grown, and how many airports don’t even exist anymore!
Because our on-staff historian, Chuck, is always looking for connections to our current P-47 (42-27609) restoration project, we decided that it might be interesting to use the directories to find the airports that it would have visited before it left the country on the 21st of April, 1944. Using the aircraft history card (pictured at right), we can see that 42-27609 left Evansville on 24-March-1944 and flew to Midland Texas to refuel. It also made a stop in Long Beach, CA on the 25th of March before arriving in Alameda on the 29th.
The photo of the Evansville Municipal Airport in the directory was taken on November 17th, 1943, just 4 months before our P-47 took flight! Interestingly, there is no photo available for the Alameda Naval Air Station, it makes you wonder if certain airports chose not to have a photo included for security purposes.
Evansville Municipal Airport, 17-Nov-1943
It’s great to make these connections to our project, especially as the airframe is really beginning to take shape. In the past several weeks the guys have been working on attaching the tail cone that was completed this summer. Learning more about the backstory of the project really makes the restoration come alive!
Currently all three volumes of the directory can be viewed under the “General Manuals” portion of the AirCorps Library website. However, we will be working to extract the individual pages so that each airport can be searched for by name. This is a great research tool for anyone looking to know more about WWII era airports stateside, and we are happy to have it as part of the site! If you have any questions related to the Airport Directory volumes, or AirCorps Library in general, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org