During the early days of aviation in Collier County, Florida, planes landed on a golf course or on the beach. But, that all changed in December 1943. World War II clamored for more pilots, more gunners, and more aircraft. The Naples Airdrome was built and suddenly the skies over Naples, Florida were filled with P-39s, P-40s, B-17s, and RP-63s. The orange “Pinball” (RP-63) participated in the Army Airforce’s flexible gunnery training program. Hundereds of pilots and gunners were trained for combat and sent to the Pacific or European fronts.
Established in 1942 as Naples Army Airfield by the United States Army Air Forces. Assigned initially to the Southeast Training Center (later Eastern Flying Training Command). Provided basic (level 1) flight training to flight cadets by Embry-Riddle Co; Fairchild PT-19s were the primary trainer used. Along with the flight training, was a sub-base to Buckingham Army Airfield for flexible gunnery training. Inactivated on November 1, 1945, being turned over to the War Assets Administration for conveyance to civil control as a public airport.
Here are some of the Planes stationed here at The Naples Army Air Base, used for Training along with the Buckingham airfield 10 miles east of Ft Meyers Which by the way was the main training Base and Naples Army Airfield was a smaller Base under Buckingham’s Control, there were others that all worked together to train Bomber pilots Gunners and Fighter Pilots for the Pacific Theatre.
Buckingham Army Airfield is approximately 10 miles east of Fort Myers, Florida. It was active during World War II as an Army Air Forces Training Command airfield. It was closed on 30 September 1945
Buckingham Army Airfield was a training base, established in 1942 under AAF Eastern Flying Training Command, and when active, was the largest airfield in the State of Florida.
Its primary mission during World War II was to train the aerial gunners who would defend bombers. In 1942 and 1943, most American fighter planes didn’t have the range needed to keep up with the bombers. This would leave the bombers and their crews unprotected on lengthy flights over enemy territory. Sitting in turrets and standing behind openings in fuselage of the bomber, it was their job to shoot down attacking aircraft was critical to the United States’ success in both the European and Pacific theaters.
Besides the gunnery students, Buckingham AAF was also the primary training center for gunnery instructors at the Army’s other flexible gunnery schools, the term meaning that the aerial gunner had a flexible mount at the station or in the turret of the aircraft, rather than the fixed aerial gun of fighter aircraft.
Beginnings of Buckingham and the whole project
The field’s beginnings was a land purchase in 1941 by a group of Fort Myers and Lee County, Florida officials, and then leased the land back to the War Department for the establishment of an Army Air Corps airfield. At the time of its purchase, the land was used for cattle grazing. The new base would create thousands of jobs, increase property values, and bring a business boom to the local economy. Construction of the airfield began in February 1942 at a cost of $10 million on a total of 7,000 acres (28 km2) of swamp land, which had to be drained with an extensive system of newly constructed drainage canals, by itself an impressive engineering achievement. By mid-June 1942, construction of the airfield was underway and by August, almost 500 buildings were under construction.
The airfield was a large and expansive facility, and originally was constructed using the “eight star” layout parking ramp, capable of hundreds of aircraft. The airfield was initially constructed with three runways, as the base grew in size, it was expanded to six. It consisted of a single 5,000′ N/S (00/18) runway; two parallel 5,000′ NE/SW (05/22) runways; two parallel 5,000′ E/W (09/27) runways, and a 5,000′ NW/SE runway (14/32), initially all concrete, with numerous taxiways. Parts of the runways later had an asphalt surface.
For gunnery training there were 2 oval tracks of the Ground Moving Target Range, located to the west of the airfield, as well as nearby skeet ranges & trap ranges. In addition to the main base, Buckingham also operated Naples Army Airfield (Now Naples Municipal Airport) as an auxiliary landing field. In addition, two crash boat bases; one at Marco Island and the other on the Caloosahatchee River near the Gulf of Mexico were construed.