HONDO ARMY AIRFIELD
Hondo Army Airfield is in northwest Hondo off U.S. Highway 90 in Medina County. In early 1942 Hondo applied for a United States Army Air Force pilot-training facility. Citizens acquired guarantees of 400 housing units in less than two days. Authorization for construction of the navigation school arrived from Washington in March 1942. The Henry B. Zachryqv Company of San Antonio used 3,000 employees to construct more than 600 buildings, numerous streets, a utility network, and an airdrome with runways, taxiways, and aprons, in eighty-nine days and at a cost of nearly $7.25 million. A 330-unit housing project known as Navigation Village sprang up on fifty-two acres at the southeastern corner of the 3,675-acre base. The airfield, commanded by Col. G. B. Dany, began operations on July 4, 1942, began student training on August 10, 1942, and graduated its first class of navigators on November 26 of that year. By that time more than 5,300 military personnel were stationed at the base. The aircraft included B-34s, B-18s, AT-7s, and AT-11s. The school was the largest United States Air Force navigation School in the world at the time. The Women's Air Force Service Pilotsqv were assigned there in November 1943. Two notable woman pilots, Betty Henrich and Hollywood stunt actress Mary Wiggins, were among the first WASPs to report for duty. Between July 1942 and August 1945 some 14,158 navigators were trained at Hondo. The base was closed on December 29, 1945, and the buildings and fixtures were sold as surplus. By 1950 the population of Hondo had dropped from its high of 12,000 in 1942 to 4,220.
Between 1945 and 1951 civilian operators such as the Hollaway flying school trained student pilots at the former base under the GI Bill. The base was reactivated at the outset of the Korean War in 1951 with independent contractor Texas Aviation Industries, directed by H. B. Zachry, training pilots in T-6s, T-28s, and T-34s, in a joint effort with the United States Air Force. This arrangement ended when the base was closed again on June 30, 1958. During the 1960s the city of Hondo leased facilities at the base to the Hondo Livestock Auction and to Gary Aerospace, Universal Rundle, and Doss Aviation. The aviation companies worked with the United States Air Force to screen pilots, and Universal Rundle manufactured toilets. Sometime in the 1960s a golf course was constructed on the base through the efforts of base commander Lt. Col. Earl V. Riley. A golf tournament bearing his name remained a yearly event in the 1980s. In the spring of 1973 the Air Force began a flight-screening program at Hondo using the T-41 Mescalero, a militarized version of the civilian Cessna 172. The training program, still in operation in the 1980s, was attended by United States and foreign students. After the mid-1970s the base housed a number of businesses, including a fiberglass-products plant, a greenhouse, a national guard armory, and the Medina Electric Cooperative.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Castro Colonies Heritage Association, The History of Medina County, Texas (Dallas: National Share Graphics, 1983).
Ruben E. Ochoa
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