Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
(Rankin Aeronautical Academy Contract
Flying School, Rankin Field Prisoner of War Branch Camp)
Rankin Field circa
Rankin Field was established by Tex Rankin in 1940 when he signed
a contract with the War Department contract to open a school
to train United States Army Air Corps flight cadets. The "Rankin
Aeronautical Academy, Inc." was established and in February
1941, the school began basic (level 1) pilot training in February
1941 at Mefford Field, located about six miles west of the still
under-construction Rankin Field. Classes were moved to Rankin
Field in May 1941. The airfield was an all-direction turf/soil
surface; consisting of a 2,300' x 1,800' rectangular landing/takeoff
field. It had a total of five auxiliary airfields for emergency
and overflow landings/takeoffs.
In 1939, when war broke out in Europe,
Army schools had the capacity to train only 750 pilots a year.
Recognizing the need to drastically expand, Hap Arnold initiated
a program under which civilian schools provided the first 60
hours of flight time to Army Aviation Cadets. The new program
was so successful that the U.S. was able to train pilots faster
than it could produce aircraft. While Germany lost air superiority
because it was not able to replace pilots killed in combat, Arnolds
program began tapering off nine months before D-Day.
Rankin Field became one of the 62 civilian-owned
flying schools in the U.S. that taught 1.4 million World War
II Army pilots to fly. It was assigned to West Coast Training
Center (later Western Flying Training Command). Known sub-bases
and auxiliaries were:
Its primary training aircraft was the
PT-17 Stearman, of which over 200 were assigned. The cadets at
the school received both ground and flight instruction; with
a ratio of one instructor to one cadet for the nine-week course.
The mission of the school was to train the best pilots possible
for the USAAF, and this was done with a highly rigorous and demanding
course of which many cadets were unable to complete satisfactory.
In addition to pilots, a ground mechanic school was conducted
with the same high level of training and demands on the students.
With the end of World War II, Rankin Academy
closed and the airfield was inactivated on 30 September 1945.
10,000 pilots were graduated during its existence, to include
12 Aces. Among those trained at Rankin were two Congressional
Medal of Honor recipients, Major Richard Bong, who went on to
become the top Ace of the United States Army Air Force, shooting
down at least 40 Japanese aircraft, primarily in P-38 Lightnings
in the Western Pacific, and Captain Frank Furey.
The airfield was sold after the war, being
used as a private airfield. Today a hangar and some of the wartime
era buildings still remain. Today, Rankin Field now operates
as the Rankin Field Weapons Range, a shooting range operated
by the Tulare County Sheriffs Association.
Data Card - Post Camp Station and Airfield: Rankin Field Prisoner
of War Branch Camp
US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields (January 1945)