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Falcon Field Airport honors veterans with 80th anniversary events

Posted 10/26/21

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 …

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Things to do

Falcon Field Airport honors veterans with 80th anniversary events

Commemorative Air Force flew a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell Bomber and C-47 Skytrain -- all of which flew service in World War II.
Commemorative Air Force flew a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell Bomber and C-47 Skytrain -- all of which flew service in World War II.
Arianna Grainey
Posted

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:

  • Wings of Flight Foundation has created an archive in partnership with the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England, for the pictures and stories about the No. 4 British Flying Training School. Go to americanairmuseum.com/unit/4175.
  • Documentary film producer Kelly Sallaway of Rushbrook Media is filming a series about each of the six British Training Flying Schools established in the U.S. to train British Royal Air Force and allied pilots during World War II. Her film crew traveled to England to interview cadet families and collect their stories. A preview of her film will be a highlight of the Nov. 13 gala.
  • Wings of Flight Foundation has been working with local museum curator Steve Hoza to develop an educational display for the historic hangar at Falcon Field that includes pictures, first-hand stories and memorabilia depicting what it was like to be a pilot cadet training at Falcon Field during World War II.
  • Daryl F. Mallett, author of the Falcon Field book in the Images of America book series by Arcadia Publishing, has created a Facebook page where descendants of Royal Air Force pilot cadets can connect. It is @FalconField.
  • Members of the Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field Airport will provide a fly-over during the East Valley Veterans Parade that is scheduled at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 in downtown Mesa.
  • The Mesa Chamber of Commerce will host Aviation Fascination at Heliponents, 4930 E. Falcon Drive at Falcon Field Airport, 5-7:30 p.m. Nov. 12. The free public event will feature a display about Falcon Field history, information booths by aviation businesses and organizations, static aircraft displays, raffle prize drawings, music and food tastings by local restaurants.
  • The Royal Air Force Cadet Memorial scheduled at 10:45 a.m. Nov. 14 will honor the 23 pilots of the No. 4 British Flying Training School who lost their lives while training from 1941-45 at Mesa’s Falcon Field. This free public service has been held for more than 30 years at the Mesa Cemetery. It is an opportunity for Mesa residents to welcome families who travel from Britain to attend. Wings of Flight Foundation pilots will perform a fly-over at the service. The event will also feature remarks by Mesa and British officials, music and a wreath laying at the grave sites.
  • The Commemorative Air Force Museum will host its popular themed event A Night in the 40s Big Band Dance 5-10 p.m. Dec. 4 in the museum, 2017 N. Greenfield Road. Many guests wear period uniforms and costumes, and swing dance lessons are included. Specialty food trucks will offer food and beverages for sale. Tickets are available at azcaf.org/event/night-at-the-40s-dance.

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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