Originally built in 1917/18 as a training airfield for American First World War pilots, Carlstrom Field was named after 1st Lt Victor Carlstrom. After the war it served as a testing area for aircraft, dirigibles and aeronautical weapons but closed in 1926.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Carlstrom Field was re-opened in March 1941 under the operation of the Riddle Aeronautical Institute when John Paul Riddle contracted to train RAF pilots. At that time it was redeveloped alongside the old airfield. The new airfield was designed with a compact group of buildings located inside a circular road, with five hangars and two grass runways.
USAAF pilots were trained here alongside RAF pilots who were based at Carlstrom awaiting the completion of the 5 BFTS base at Riddle Field, Clewiston. Carlstrom was the ‘parent pilot training school’ in the Florida region with Dorr Field and Clewiston under its wing. General Manager Leonard J Povey was appointed and Carlstrom spawned instructors, managers and maintenance personnel for PT-17s, PT-18s and the Vultee BT-13s for Clewiston. Initially designed to accommodate 250 students, Carlstrom became seriously overcrowded in the summer of 1941 owing to the delayed construction of Riddle Field, Clewiston and a seven-day wartime schedule of training had to be initiated. Courses 1 and 2 did their primary training at Carlstrom with 5 BFTS moving to Riddle Field, Clewiston, on 25th September 1941.
On the practical side, nine wells were dug for fresh water supplies. "There was a smell of sulphur about the water, but what a contrast to anything we experienced before – sunshine, an open air swimming pool, blue skies - and at last we were learning to fly!" remembered Yorkshireman Francis William Preston who completed the SE-42-D course at Carlstrom.
One RAF trainee, later Group Captain Stanley Slater DSO OBE DFC, recalls his first flight was on 27th July 1941 and he graduated on 25th September after the 10 week course, "Carlstrom Field was an impressive camp and the standard of accommodation and general amenities were good…… I remember my first taste of peanut butter." Altogether there was an intake of 470 RAF pilots for the first four courses from which 327 graduated.
At the end of the war Carlstrom Field was closed and became the site of a hospital. The old airfield is now operated as the DeSoto County Juvenile Correctional Complex.
English Heritage's record description
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The 'Arnold Scheme' (1941-43) and the British Flying Training Schools (1941-45), with the co-operation of Squadron Leader Mills DFC and President Roosevelt, enabled the setting up of flight training in the USA for RAF pilots to train alongside American...
Military | Pilot / Manager
G. Willis Tyson grew up in Manchester, England and came to No 5 BFTS at Riddle Field as General Manager in 1941. In the 1920’s he was a barnstormer in California for three years after his first solo flight in a Curtis “Jenny”. He later opened a flying...
Military | Flight Lieutenant | Pilot
Duncan Fairlie Wilson was born in Currie, Edinburgh in 1921. He attended Edinburgh University and joined the Edinburgh University Air Squadron (EUAS). He joined the RAF and was posted to Florida to join Course 3 of 5 BFTS.