Eighty years ago with the world at war, the city of Mesa opened its arms to young men from Britain and forged a bond that continues today. Mesa’s Falcon Field Airport is again welcoming friends from across the Atlantic for its 80th anniversary commemorative events this November.
“In 1941, the United States was not in the war yet, but Britain was embroiled in a war. Learning how to fly in a war-torn environment, especially in Europe with the weather the way it is, was difficult and inefficient. The U.S. had an agreement with Britain for training and support, so that meant that places like Falcon Field were built to train Royal Air Force cadets,” Mike Doyle, pilot and member of the Wings of Flight Foundation, said in a release.
On Sept. 14, 1941, the No. 4 British Flying Training School opened on an empty expanse of desert on the undeveloped northern edge of Mesa, one of six pilot training bases created in the U.S. to train allied pilots for the war effort. The other bases carried the name Thunderbird, but the British boys wanted to name their base for a more familiar mascot. They chose the falcon. Today, we still honor that tradition as Falcon Field Airport.
The Wings of Flight Foundation pilot group is reuniting school members by researching and inviting them and their families to Mesa for the milestone anniversary. They have located 20 living pilots, 33 widows and more than 95 families and will host some of them for a week of activities in November that includes the U.S. Veterans Day holiday.
The reunion will culminate in a dinner gala on Nov. 13 in an original 1941 hangar surrounded by vintage military aircraft, including some used in Falcon Field training between 1941 and 1945. Mesa and area residents are invited to meet and welcome the British pilots and their descendants at the gala. Tickets are on sale through Oct. 28 at the Wings of Flight Foundation website, wingsofflight.org/events.
“When we moved into the historic hangar, we were gifted a box of memorabilia by Mesa Vice Mayor Jenn Duff. She is a descendant of a British Royal Air Force navigation instructor who trained cadets at Falcon Field,” WOFF member and reunion organizer Jocelyn Condon said in the release. “The box included documents from the 50th celebration back in 1991. That hatched the idea to have an 80th anniversary celebration and to try to find as many pilots/descendants as possible to tell their stories before they pass on and it’s too late.”
British cadet descendant Kathryn Masters and RAF pilot descendant John Barber, a Tempe resident, have researched and contacted pilots and their descendants. In their research, they have also included U.S. citizens who supported the training mission at Falcon Field as aircraft mechanics, air traffic controllers and administrative staff with the help of Carolyn Wischler McDaniel, daughter of Joe Wischler who was the Chief Mechanic at Falcon Field 1941-45.
“For many decades I’ve watched Falcon Field Airport grow into a valuable aeronautical facility,” District 5 City Council member David Luna said in the release. “It started as a training base and continues to be the place of choice for many schools preparing our future pilots. I’m truly honored to be part of this anniversary gala.”
“I think it’s important for future generations to know how Mesa participated in World War II and what the ‘greatest generation’ gave up for our freedom,” Anne Beeby, whose father Ken Beeby received RAF pilot training at Falcon Field, said in the release. “My father fell in love with Arizona, returned after the war and became a proud U.S. citizen. Falcon Field played a treasured role in his life.”
Events and activities related to Falcon Field Airport’s history and 80th Anniversary include:
Watch the video produced by Visit Mesa celebrating the No. 4 British Flying Training School in Mesa at youtube.com/watch?v=2zZzoXdIEbk.
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