Airport

Blythe Airport

Blythe Airport is a public airport located six miles (9.7 km) west of Blythe , serving Riverside County , California , USA . The airport has two runways and is mostly used for general aviation .

Blythe Airport has two runways:

  • Runway 8/26: 6,543 x 150 ft (1,994 x 46 m). Surface: Asphalt
  • Runway 17/35: 5,800 x 100 ft (1,768 x 30 m). Surface: Asphalt

History

Prior to World War II, Blythe Airport was established by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the late 1930s as an emergency landing field on the Los Angeles to Phoenix airway. A commercial airport was opened in April 1940.

The airport was leased by the United States Army in 1942, and between 1942 and 1944, the U.S. War Department acquired 4,248.12 acres in fee from various private parties, 6.54 acres of public domain land via transfer, 282.61 acres by lease from the County of Riverside, a 1.98-acre easement, and a 0.63-acre permit. The Army encroached on another 20.18 acres, increasing the total acquisition for Blythe AAF to 4,560.06 acres. Over 650 buildings and other types of military facilities and improvements were constructed at this airfield, including hangars, office buildings, barracks, warehouses, runways and taxiways, water and sewer systems, a hospital, and fuel and ordnance storage.

In addition to the main facility at Blythe, several auxiliary airfields were built to support the main facility.

  • Gary Field 33°40′45″N 114°38′36″W  /  33.67917°N 114.64333°W  / 33.67917; -114.64333  ( Gary Field )
Now W R Byron Airport
Now Desert Center Airport

During World War II the airfield was known as Blythe Army Air Base and was used by the United States Army Air Forces . The use of the site began on May 14, 1942. Blythe AAB was built for the I Troop Carrier Command but was given up by that command, without ever occupying it, to the Fourth Air Force as part of the United States Army Desert Training Center (DTC) was established by General George S. Patton shortly after the outbreak of the war, Blythe was the only air field with construction already under way. For six months, the air field served as the sole air support base for the Army maneuvers under way at the DTC.

The 46th Bombardment Group and later the 85th Bombardment Group occupied the field during the CAMA days and flew a variety of planes including A-31 Vengeances and A-36 Apaches . Once air fields were established at three new locations within the DTC ( Thermal , Rice and Desert Center ), Blythe field was no longer required for the Army's desert exercises. After General Patton was sent to North Africa , the name of the training center was changed to the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). The 46th and 85th Bomb Groups were reassigned.

The Army Air Forces then used Blythe as a heavy bombardment crew training base for the Second Air Force 16th Bombardment Training Wing 358th Combat Crew Training School. The field's mission was changed to the training of combat air crews prior to shipment overseas. The 85th Bombardment Group and the 390th Bombardment Group were active at Blythe AAF in 1942 and 1943. Up to 75 B-17 Flying Fortresses were flown and maintained at the base. During 1943 and 1944, Blythe AAF was used for squadron pilot training, then in December 1944 reverted to an active heavy bombardment base with B-24 Liberators

Known units assigned to Blythe Army Airfield were:

  • 46th Bombardment Group (Light) 23 May 1942-November 1942. A-20 Havoc
  • 85th Bombardment Group (Light) 23 May 1942-November 1942. A-20 Havoc
  • 85th Bombardment Group (Dive) 2 November-11 December 1942 A-24 Dauntlesses
  • 34th Bombardment Group (Heavy) 15 December 1942-April 1944. B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators
  • 398th Bombardment Group (Heavy) April 1943 B-17 Flying Fortresses

At its peak in December, 1943, the base had a population just short of 8000 uniformed and civilian personnel. This was twice the population of the city of Blythe, the only community within a one hundred mile radius. By April 1944 only a housekeeping force was assigned to the base, now downgraded from Air Base to Air Field status. By July 1944 the field was abandoned by the Army and declared surplus. 126 airmen were killed in Blythe Army Air Base-related accidents.

Blythe Army Air Field later became a sub-base of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base ) on 30 June 1945, and was inactivated on 18 October 1945, although during October–December 1946, the 477th Composite Group (Medium) used the airfield for desert maneuvers, flying B-25 Mitchells .

The airfield was declared surplus in 1946 and was reported to the General Service Administration for disposal. On September 10, 1948, the entire 4,560-acre site was transferred to the County of Riverside via quitclaim deed dated September 10, 1948

Today a modern airport has been built on the site of the former wartime airfield; however most of the area of what was Blythe Army Air Base has been abandoned to the natural landscape being empty and undeveloped. Deteriorating abandoned runways and concrete parking ramps are clearly visible in aerial photography.

 

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