Class 42-D kick-started Vance UPT

  • Published
  • By Jim Malachowski
  • Wing Historian
From the very first pilot training class, 42-D, to the newest class, 08-02 due to start next week, Vance Air Force Base has lived up to the original mission of training pilots to fly, fight and win.

The original Enid Army Flying School developed from an idea, a plan put into motion by Enid leaders, to construct a pilot training site here with the official opening of the school on November 21, 1941. The first BT-15 training aircraft were flown in from the Vultee factory near Los Angles, Calif., during the first week of December.

Cadets from class 42-D arrived just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and, based on the class yearbook, the construction was still underway.

"Our car convoy rolled through the gates at 9:20 a.m. on Dec. 16, 1941, following arrows labeled 'CADETS.' They were great helps because the roads in those days were more myth than made. They were in the process of being scraped, plowed, scraped again, packed down' and then to our amazement, plowed again," said an inscription in the book.

The cadets spent their first days cleaning mud and construction debris out of the new barracks. Every day was something new they claimed.

"One day we'd have hot water and no heat in the barracks; the next no hot water, and too much heat."

The loud pounding crack of rivet guns on the new water tower lulled the cadets to sleep and woke them up again in the morning as contractors worked around the clock to ready the base. Each day the cadets were amazed at the overnight growth of hangers and new roads tarred and paved with crushed rock.

The cadets were not alone. More than 825 enlisted troops arrived from Randolph Field and worked night and day to prepare the base for the daily arrivals of more BT-15 Vultee trainer aircraft and some not so new BT-13s for the beginning of pilot training in mid-January 1942.

When they weren't working on the flightline, the enlisted people could be found building sidewalks or cleaning. At that time, there was always more work than time.
The base also hired a handful of civilian employees. Emalee Wright was the first civilian hired and once commented that the first winter was, "so cold that we had to wear heavy, fur-lined flying suits while we worked in our offices." During her first few days, she used a couple of wooden boxes as a desk and chair.

Down on the flightline, maintainers worked hard to set up maintenance facilities. Some of the older BT-13s were in such poor condition that they had to be almost completely rebuilt.

Earnest Tennyson came north from Duncan Field, Texas, to work as a welder. He found the job was more challenging because supplies and spare parts were few and far between. Much of what they needed had to be fabricated from "bits and pieces out of the salvage yard."

Willis Hicks attended basic training at Vance, and then worked as an aircraft mechanic living in a tent until enough barracks were built. Even with the drive to build hangars, most of the time 50- and 100-hour maintenance was performed on the aircraft outside. Hicks once said they had to "tie the Vultees down. If it blew too hard, we'd almost have to tie ourselves down too."

By the time 42-D graduated, more barracks were built, the roads were paved, and there were even sidewalks in most places. Over the past 65 years, the base has continued to improve both the quality of life and pilot training. Class 08-02 may not have had to drive on rutted, muddy roads or worry about having hot water, but they will face other challenges during their training. Before long, they'll be old-timers too and the base will be welcoming another group of young students and doing what it does America's best.