Everyone from Tallahassee knows there is an unspoken rule that all the locals are “required” to know the old stories regarding the city. Many times have I been driving on Tennessee Street with my buddies and love hearing their reactions when I inform them they are riding on an old WWII tarmac.
Every good citizen of Tallahassee knows and takes pride in the fact that an Air Field used to sit where the airport and Tallahassee Community College sits today. That Air Field was called Mabry Field after the WWI era Tallahassee native, Capt. Dale Mabry.
Captain Mabry was born March 22, 1891 to a Florida Supreme Court Justice. He decided to join the booming field of aeronautics in the Army Air Corps as a dirigible pilot during World War One. He was involved in what was considered the worst aeronautical disaster of the time when his dirigible went down over Norfolk, Virginia during a training exercise. This event took the lives of 34 other Corpsmen and they were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Many people loved Dale Mabry and his family helped carry on his name in his home state. Along with Mabry Field, his name is also on the highway in Tampa, Florida where the Buccaneers’ stadium is.
Mabry Field was bought by the City of Tallahassee in 1928 as a municipal airport. It originally had 3 runways made of dirt and grass. The airport offered flying lessons and photo tours around the city. There is an old WWII pilot in my hometown that fell in love with flying through these lessons offered at the airport. He would love telling his stories about the origins of flight and how it evolved from him “hitting the engine of his plane with a wrench before takeoff” to the advanced jet fighters we have today. He also told me that pretty much anyone who wanted to fly could just go up to the Tallahassee airport and just “hop on in.” He also told me many of the people at the airport owned their own planes and he bought his for around 400 dollars. In 1938, the airfield had a visit from the biggest name in piloting after WWI, Eddie Rickenbacker. Eddie was an ace pilot with 26 aerial victories and a Medal of Honor who did a lot in the advancement for what will be known as the Air Force.
In 1940, Mabry Field was converted into a military airbase. It specialized in fighter training for the war. The 3rd Fighter Command training pilots, including some of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, and transformed the dirt field into an actual paved airfield. They had 90 days to train groups of potential Airmen in the ways of Aerial Combat. They had Chinese pilots, Free French pilots, and US pilots. The most famous Airmen to come out of Mabry Field were the Tuskegee Airmen. They used older planes and less equipment than the rest of their fleet and were still very successful in their dogfights. Perhaps the good ol’ boys from Tally’ trained them well!