U.S. Army Air Force North American AT-6C-NT Texan trainers flying in formation along the Caloosahatchee River above east Fort Myers, Florida (USA), to the Buckingham Flexible Gunnery School’s range over the Gulf of Mexico, 1942. Plane “FM 202” carries the tow target at which the gunners would shoot from the rear seat of the planes.
Photo Credit: Original photo by the United States Army Air Force. Photo obtained from the University of Florida Wartime photo archives
On Wednesday, September 9, Florida Gulf Coast University Associate Professor of U.S. History, Erik Carlson, will lead a discussion on Naples and Fort Myers role in readying United States airmen for World War II at the Collier County Museum. “Training in the Sun: Naples Army Air Field 1943-1945” will examine the role the Naples Army Air Field held during the war, acting as grounds for flight training for United States Army Air Forces cadets, and as a sub-base of Buckingham Army Air Field (10 miles north of Fort Myers) and its flexible gunnery training program.
During WWII, the primary mission of Buckingham Army Airfield, and the Naples Army Air Field, was to train aerial gunners, the mainline of defense for heavy bombers. Before long range fighters were developed, long range bombing strategies from 1942-1943 offered heavy bombers little defense, with target destruction often trumping evasive strategies. For the most part, large numbers of bombers were deployed per mission, given orders to proceed direct to the target without performing evasive maneuvering for worry of missing the target—a missed target would simply mean a second mission. For a heavy bomber crew, the chance of completing their 25th mission—the number needed to finish a tour, allowing for leave and/or a ticket home (the novel Catch 22 lampoons this)—was extremely low, which was why bombers were equipped with flexible-mounted or turret-mounted machine guns along the aircraft. The primary mission of NAAF and Buckingham was to train aerial gunners—the operators of these machinegun turrets—for active duty, helping defend heavy bombers on their long-range runs deep behind enemy lines.
Juda target railway gunnery training car.
Photo Credit: United States Army Air Force
In addition to the flexible gunnery school, NAAF was also home to basic, level 1, flight training for fighter pilots. Primarily flying Fairchild PT-19s, a non-combat training plane that earned the nickname “Cradle of Heroes,” for many young WWII cadets, their first flight was over the Paradise Coast, taking off from NAAF. Now known as the Naples Municipal Airport, the X-shaped airfield serves air charter carriers and is home to a 900-foot Museum of Military Memorabilia, paying homage to the airport’s military beginnings.
- Carlson will discuss NAAF’s history and role in WWII, as well as its continued impact to the Paradise Coast at the Collier County Museum on Wednesday, September 9 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and registration is suggested; call 239-252-8738 to RSVP. For more information, visit colliermuseums.com.