An intriguing historic mystery

Published by The Bee News

March 26, 2023

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When the Kingman Army Airfield in Kingman, Arizona was placed on official stand by status on August 2, 1945, it marked the closing of a chapter in Mohave County’s rich aviation history. But just as with the inaugural Laughlin Bullhead Air Show at the Laughlin Bullhead Air Show on April 1, 2023, it was also the dawn of a new era. 

In May of 1945, VE (Victory in Europe) Day was celebrated throughout the country. On June 8, command at Kingman Army Airfield received orders to inactivate the base and to initiate an airfield survey that included an inventory of all equipment, buildings, and aircraft.

Classes for trainees on the base were terminated, and transfers were issued. This was followed by the transfer of non-essential personnel. In the blink of an eye of the once vibrant base was transformed into a ghost town.

On September 25 command was transferred to George Adams, supervisor of the Surplus War Aircraft Division of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the airfield was designated Storage Depot 41. The first aircraft to be mothballed arrived on October 10. 

Some of the planes were flown directly from the factory. War birds complete with battle scars and colorful nose art were also flown to Kingman, and a special sand landing strip was constructed to accommodate planes with malfunctioning hydraulic systems. 

By the end of the year there were 4,693 aircraft, mostly heavy bombers, B-17, B-24, and B-32, along Route 66 reflecting the desert sun. Soon the number would grow exponentially, and an article in Arizona Highways published in 1947 noted that it was the largest collection of military aircraft in the world. 

A bid process was established but surprisingly there was little initial interest in the purchase of aircraft even though an operational B-17 could be purchased for $13,750! In June of 1946 a bid was accepted to scrap 5,540 aircraft stored in Kingman. 

Using descriptive word pictures Jerry McLain, author of Warbirds Swansong published in the May 1947 issue of Arizona Highways, described the haunting sight at the former airfield. “The bald faced steer kicked up puffs of dust with one hoof as we approached. Then begrudgingly it seemed, the critter deserted the little patch of shade beneath a wing of the giant warbird and ambled away among the sparse grass in the hot desert sun.”

 He noted that the more than 7,000 plane “air force graveyard” covered five square miles with the Hualapai Mountains as a backdrop. One row of planes lined the railroad that paralleled Route 66 for more than four miles. 

And he gave brief histories of some of the battered warbirds. “There’s Hi Ho Silver, a B-17 which on 130 bombing missions bagged four Nazi planes. The Milk Wagon that flew 129 missions was adorned with that number of small milk bottles.”

An intriguing historic mystery is also found in this article. “Kingman will get one of the big planes to commemorate its war heroes and the great record established at its airfield, a flexible gunnery base which once had an army population of 17,000 officers and men.” For perspective it should be noted that in 1946 the population in Kingman was a mere 2,200 people!

A new chapter at the Kingman Army Airfield began at down on the morning of July 1, 1948. The planes had been sold, scrapped, or transformed into ingots of aluminum and so the former base was transferred to the control of Mohave County. 

Tangible links to this chapter in Mohave County aviation history abound at the Kingman airport and industrial park. One of the last WWII era control towers still cast long shadows over the apron. Hangers, bunkers, foundations, and event the building that houses the charming café hearken back to the time when Kingman was an integral component in America’s arsenal of democracy.  

We hope you can be part of our next chapter in Mohave County aviation history and join us on April 1st for the Laughlin Bullhead Airshow. To learn more visit their website www.LaughlinBullheadAirshow.com

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