Aviation History of Mohave County, AZ

Published by The Bee News

February 14, 2023

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On July 28, 1935, a revolutionary four-engine plane took off on its maiden flight from Boeing Field in south Seattle, Washington. It was designated Model 299. In describing the newly developed heavy bomber, Seattle Times reporter Richard Smith noted the multiple machine-gun mounts and proclaimed the plane to be a “Flying Fortress.” 

Recognizing a tremendous marketing opportunity, Boeing trademarked Flying Fortress for the aircraft that the U.S. Army Air Corps designated as the B-17. Financed entirely by Boeing, the now legendary aircraft went from design board to flight test in less than one year as the Army had fast tracked a program to develop a large, multi-engine high altitude bomber.

With war clouds looming, in 1940 the United States Army Air Corps initiated a site evaluation study for seven new bases that would serve as primary training schools for gunnery crews on the B-17. Ideal locations would be rural with small populations, would have access to primary transportation corridors, and would have a climate that allowed for year round training without interruption. 

After initial evaluation of several hundred sites Kingman was designated a leading contender. The first airfield in the city had been established shortly after WWI. That airfield had been used as a base for the first aerial survey of the Grand Canyon. 

Western Air Express had established a terminal in the late 1920s. Transcontinental Air Transport, the first coast to coast passenger airline, had also established a terminal and airfield in Kingman. And the town was located on a principal rail corridor that connected Los Angeles with Chicago as well as Route 66 Route 66.  

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, development of the base that would be designated Kingman Army Airfield was made a priority. In April 1942 construction work was suspended on Davis Dam and crews as well as equipment were relocated from the Colorado River Valley to Kingman. 

Lt. Colonel Harvey Huglin was assigned to serve as the first base commander. The Harvey House hotel and restaurant in Kingman was designated a temporary headquarters, and the first cadets that arrived by train used the TAT Port Kingman terminal for initial training. 

Incredibly the new Kingman Army Airfield was operational by August 4. As the base complex developed Mohave County was transformed.  

A “colored” USO club was established in Kingman after the 334th Aviation SQ (segregated African American squadron) was assigned to the Kingman Army Airfield. A flexible gunnery range was established north of Route 66 across from the main base. Six auxiliary fields were established for use as emergency fields or as secondary training facilities after the Kingman Army Airfield also began training navigators. 

Site #1 was established as a rudimentary emergency landing airfield at Red Lake, a dry lake north of Kingman. A similar field designated Site #3 was established near Antares Point along Route 66. 

Site #4 was built at Yucca and evolved into subbase designated Yucca Army Airfield. In the early 1950s this mothballed airfield was purchased by Ford Motor Company and repurposed as a test facility for new cars and trucks. 

Site #4 was established near Topock. Site #6 that also developed as recreational center for cadets was built on what is now the island in Lake Havasu City. By late 1944 the Kingman Army Airfield complex was one of the largest training centers in the country. 

A new era at the base began on February 25, 1946, when it was officially deactivated. Equipment and buildings were dismantled or sold. And shortly after the base was designated Storage Depot 41, it became home to the largest collection of military aircraft in the world.   

The past and future of Mohave County’s rich aviation history will be on full display when the Laughlin Bullhead Air Show at the Laughlin Bullhead International Airport in Bullhead City, Arizona takes place on April 1, 2023. 

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America

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