Jake’s Base

This is one of a few research posts I’ve been working on. Everything I read about in Babu’s pages and Jake’s letters makes me want to know more. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to do more than a basic google search, but even that can drudge up some neat information. One of my rabbit holes is wanting to know more about the base where Jake learned to fly.

I believe the base he was stationed on was called Van De Graaff Field. I found a wonderful link that talks, among other things about the history of the base.


Here is a quote from this source, but truly, the whole thing is worth a read.

On June 30, 1939, directors of the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics, based in Tuscaloosa, were officially notified that the U.S. government had granted a contract to the school for the training of flying cadets in the U.S. Army Air Force Corps.

It was the first primary flying school in the Southeast Air Corps Training Center and one of the original nine such schools in the country that were operated by civilian personnel under the supervision of the Army Air Corps.

The training field was part of an intense period of growth in the U.S. military, which was on the brink of World War II. In 1937, only 184 pilots graduated from Army Air Force advanced training. That number increased to 4,500 from 1939-1941. Because it lacked facilities to train such a large number of cadets, in mid-1939 the AAF contracted with nine of the best civilian flying schools to begin training military pilots.

The training consisted of three phases: primary, basic and advanced. Once leaving the primary training school, cadets from Tuscaloosa were sent to basic training at Army Air Force bases in Selma or Columbus, Miss. Each training phase lasted nine weeks.

“It was kind of a speedy program,” said Bill Cadenhead, a crewman at the Tuscaloosa flight school. “In 1941 and 1942, they needed pilots real bad, and we were pushing them through. We flew through every kind of weather you could have.”

Cadenhead, who was 16 at the time, worked at the flight school from 2-10 p.m., going to the airport after he’d attended classes at Tuscaloosa County High School. He was paid $20 a week for his work.

He said the airfield had its own community, including cadets from Great Britain, France and Norway. The first class of cadets in Tuscaloosa were West Point graduates. By 1941, however, the school was almost exclusively training British pilots for the Royal Air Force. In 1943, a number of French cadets entered the school. With war in Europe, pilots from those countries were sent to the United States for training.

In this letter from May 7, 1941, Jake shares his own scribbled ground plan of the base since he felt for some reason it was important for Babu to know.

Also, here are the pictures he shared with her that I shared with you in a previous post.

This place, according to my research is now the “Tuscaloosa Regional Airport.”


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