Let’s Learn to Fly!

Every year Ponca City has one of the largest, most widely attended Veterans’ Day Parade.  You could say that my hometown loves the veterans and you would be correct.  It isn’t just that though.  Ponca City, though it is most widely known as the birthplace of Conoco Oil Company and the home of the 10th governor of the state of Oklahoma, E.W. Marland, it has been home to a few important parts of history when it comes to the military. For example, Ponca City was home to the Ponca City Military Academy that was open between the years 1940-1979.  The academy is no longer there as the Marland Children’s Home is now there.  However, there is a monument and a scale model of the academy near where the school once stood.  Speaking of schools, Ponca City also housed the Darr School of Aeronautics that opened in 1941.  This school, as odd as it sounds, was kind of important during WWII.  How so?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Let’s find out!

During the early years of WWII the Army Air Corps became known as the Army Air Forces.   While the name change wasn’t overly significant, it didn’t change the fact that the Air Force was still classified as a part of the Army.  That didn’t change until after WWII when they became the United States Air Force.  That being said, Oklahoma became home to three major air force bases during the first years of WWII.  Those were: Tinker Air Force Base and Vance Air Force Base, both built in 1941, and Altus Air Force Base, built in 1942.  Tinker was originally called the Midwest Air Depot as it was located in Midwest City.  Vance was called one of two things, depending on who you asked.  It was technically called the Enid Army Flying School since that was one of the primary pilot schools in the country.  However, it was also called Woodring Air Field or just Woodring Field for short.  Altus, on the other hand was called Altus Army Air Field and after WWII was over, it was used as a scrap yard and considered inactive until the Korean War broke out.  During WWII there were a total of 15 military airfields in Oklahoma.  Tinker was the air technical service command.  Ardmore Army Airfield was the home of the Second Air Force in Oklahoma.  The Third Air Force was spread out between Muskogee Army Airfield, Will Rogers Field, and Woodward AAF.  The later also housed part of the Second Air Force at one point.  Air Transport Command in Oklahoma was found at Tulsa Municipal Airport.  There were numerous training commands throughout the state.  These were: Altus Army Airfield, Chickasha Field, Cimarron Army Air Field, Enid Army Airfield, Frederick Army Airfield, Hatbox Army Airfield, Miami Municipal Airport, Mustang Field, and Ponca City Central Flying Training Command.

Ponca City Central Flying Training Command was located at the Ponca City Regional Airport and the surrounding area.  In 1941 the Darr School of Aeronautics was opened and the area became known as the home of the British Flying Training School #6 on the 23rd of August.  Some of the cadets that lost their lives during training are buried at the local I.O.O.F. cemetery.  This Darr School allowed for basic flight training for the Royal Air Force and they were trained with mostly the Fairchild PT-19s.  That being said, PT-17 Stearmans and P-40 Warhawks were also used.  In addition to the single runway that Ponca City Regional Airport has, they also had set up two other air fields in the area.  Auxiliary Field 1 was about five miles west of the area and Auxiliary Field 2 which was about 6 miles North-West of the area.

During the 33 months that the Darr School operated they trained over 1,200 students in groups of about 50; 1,113 were of the pilots British and 125 were American.  Their training took place in the 17 buildings, the Ponca City Regional Airport, and the two auxiliary fields.  The area around the Darr School was functionally a city in its own right.  It had a post office, library, infirmary, cafeteria, recreation areas, barracks, and a variety of other places in addition to the classrooms.  The citizens of Ponca City were happy to have the young pilots around the town and raised more money than the cost of a plane by over $200,000.  This plane was called “Miss Ponca City” and would have cost about $10,214,716 today. That’s a lot of money!  However, Miss Ponca City was taken down over Berlin and all but three of the crew were killed.  Those three were kept as POWs in Germany until April of 1945.

After WWII, the airport was given back to the Ponca City government for public use.  It still operates today and has one of the more widely known restaurants in the area, Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant.  Every month they have a fly-in breakfast The site of Darr School of Aeronautics is now a manufacturing company, but up until the opening of that company the area was used for rifle training.  The two auxiliary air fields are now used for agriculture in the area and any remnants are difficult to find unless you know what you are looking for.  I have actually found those places and they aren’t very exciting.  If you would like to learn more detailed information and see pictures from when it was operated, there is an exhibit housed at the Marland Grand Home on Grand Ave.