July 21, 1941
The basic infrastructure for a U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) airfield in southern California was completed as part of a rapid-construction project. This infrastructure included runways, airplane hangars, and a control tower for the recently designated airfield, which was located nine miles (14.5 kilometers) southeast of the city of Taft.
This construction milestone took place only about a month after the USAAF had been officially created to replace the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) as the Army’s aerial service. (The USAAF would be replaced by the U.S. Air Force in 1947 as the leading air service of the U.S. military.) The USAAF facility built near Taft, California, in 1941 was named Gardner Army Airfield in memory of USAAC Major John H. Gardner, who had been killed in an aviation accident in Kansas in 1938.
Gardner Army Airfield was formally dedicated on October 26, 1941. More than 10,000 people attended those inaugural festivities. With the United States’ entry into World War II on the side of the Allies less than two months later, this airfield took on added importance as a place for training pilots for the global fight against the Axis powers.
By January 1945, a total of 3,050 soldiers and 8,916 cadets had undergone pilot training at Gardner Army Airfield. Tragically, a total of 26 cadets and 11 training officers were killed during flight lessons at Gardner Army Airfield. The number of crashes in relation to the overall number of hours flown at that airfield, however, was low compared with similar facilities across the United States during World War II. Gardner Airfield remained in operation until being inactivated on February 28, 1945.
The most famous person to learn how to fly a plane at Gardner Army Airfield was Chuck Yeager, who enlisted in the USAAF in September 1941 at the age of 19. In 1947, Yeager made aviation history as the first person confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound during a level flight.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on Gardner Army Airfield, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardner_Army_Airfield