Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dale Mabry Airfield Project Paper #12

Dale Mabry Air Field Once upon a time there was no Tallahassee Community College. In 1928 the city of Tallahassee, Florida purchased land for its first municipal airport. This airport was named after Dale Mabry, a captain in the United States Army Air Service and native of Tallahassee. Dale Mabry died while test piloting a dirigible for the army. The airfield consisted of one grassy runway until 1937 when two paved runways and an actual hangar were built.

In 1938, the United States Army Air Corps launched a contract flying school out of Mabry airfield. Sometime after in 1940, this airfield was made an official air force base by the Army in preparation for America’s entrance into World War II. The sole purpose for this air force base was the training of pilots for the war. The base had two paved runways and one sod runway, barracks, officers’ quarters, a mess hall, several hangars, a mess hall, a church, a hospital, and even a bowling alley. The airfield practically tripled in size once it became an official air force base. In January of 1941 the base was activated and placed under the jurisdiction of the Third Air Force. T

he first flying organization to come through the base was the 53rd Pursuit Group who remained at Mabry field briefly before heading to South Carolina for overseas deployment. However, the first unit to train at the field was the 79th Fighter Group in early 1942. They were later replaced by the 81st Fighter Group who wound up being deployed to Egypt. The first permanent operational training unit, the 58th Fighter Group, arrived in March of 1942 and provided advanced training to new pilots. In June the 58th was chosen to become a combat group was moved to another airfield for more combat training. The Third Air Force then formed the 338th Fighter Group to replace the 58th at Mabry field. In 1942 and 1944, Chinese Air Force and the Free French Air Force cadets trained at the base. Dale Mabry Field was also one of the air force bases that served as detention centers for German prisoners-of-war from 1944-1945. At its most, Mabry field held 150 POWs.

Training at Dale Mabry field ended in May of 1945 but was not fully returned to civilian control until March of 1946. Up until then the airfield was declared a surplus and maintained a communications facility for the Air Force. Over 8,000 pilots from the U.S., Europe, and China trained at Mabry field throughout World War II. After the war, the barracks were used as dorms for the students attending the Florida State University for Women until the university became coeducational. Dale Mabry airfield was the airline airport for Tallahassee until the late 1950s when it began to encroach on the city’s urban area. Tallahassee Regional airport opened in 1961 and Dale Mabry field was closed. The land was redeveloped and is now Tallahassee Community College.