By KT Budde-Jones
Bartow airport has a long aviation history dating back to when it was a training base in both WWII and Korea. It was one hundreds military airfields built to support the US Army Air Force’s efforts during WWII. Originally built as a Municipal airport in 1941, it was taken over by the US government and developed into a training field as Bartow AAF to support training in Stearmans, T-6 Texans and later in P-51 Mustangs. Florida was one of the centers for aviation training in the US during the war due to its great flying weather, flat and open undeveloped areas and its proximity to both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean that needed to be patrolled for German U-Boats. At the start of the war there were only 6 military airfields; Pensacola, Miami, Jacksonville, Tyndall, Eglin and MacDill by the end of the war there were 227.
Even today, Bartow (KBOW) is still used for training in WWII aircraft. Stallion 51 Flight Operations, based at the Kissimmee Gateway Airport, another WWII training field, uses the original runways to train students in the art of landing the quintessential fighter of WWII, the P-51 Mustang. It is not unusual to see Stallion 51’s blue nosed Mustang “Crazy Horse’ or “Crazy Horse 2” landing and taking off from Bartow as well as their yellow T-6 Texan just as these aircraft did decades ago. A great tradition that carries on and was part of Saturday’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
Visitors to the airport and the new restaurant that over looks the runway participated in the ceremonial ribbon cutting on Saturday as city officials, airport staff and supportive guests looked on. Also in attendance were the pilots of the half a dozen WWII planes that came in to help celebrate the occasional and partake in the delicious food served that day.
Two Mustang, three T-6 Texans and a Stearman were on the ramp to represent the WWII training heritage of Bartow. As each of these vintage aircraft flew overhead ready to land, the sight and sounds were reminiscent of days gone by when hundreds of Mustangs and Texans trained boys to be pilots in these great aircraft.
Stallion 51 Corp. is keeping Bartow’s training tradition alive on a regular basis, using KBOW for landing and take off practice in their dual cockpit - dual control Mustangs and Texan. Runway Café is perfectly situated for guest to watch the aviation action of the day and catch a glimpse of aviation history as it flies in for another lesson in KBOW’s aviation classroom.