The town of Athlone was established in the 1870s as a railroad station complete with warehouses, a hotel, and business houses. Athlone was officially laid out and platted in 1874 as 12 blocks, each measuring 300 by 400 feet, consisting of 16 lots each, measuring 50 by 150 feet. One of the early settlers in the area was Lee R. and George Francher. The Franchers came to Merced County in 1868.
The Athlone site was initially sought as a possible site for the Merced Army Flying School. At that time, the Athlone site was described as:
"It is level, flat pasture land situated beyond the boundary of the area in the vicinity of Merced which is subject to flooding. One corner is adjacent to the main line of the railroad and U.S. Highway 99; the soil is Fresno loam and the field slopes westward about ten feet to the mile. A power line runs along the south boundary but this could be moved or placed underground. While the site is on the CAA airway, being three miles from the Fresno beam, it is felt that this drawback could be waived, particularly if as above suggested, this airway should be moved a few miles west of its present location."
In 1938, Mr. Fred B. Fancher acquired by Deed all of the real property in Section 31, less that portion conveyed for road purposes; Section 32, less that portion conveyed for road purposes; and the West ½ and the W ½ of the East ½ of the East ½ of the S. E. Quarter and the S. E. Quarter of the N. E. Quarter of Section 33, less that portion conveyed for road and railroad purposes; all being in Township 8 South, Route 15 East, M.D.B.&M., containing 1,828 acres, which property included the above described property lease by the United States. The said property was situated southeast of the town of Athlone, bounded by Sandy Mush Road to the south and Athlone Road to the east, and was used for agricultural and grazing purposes prior to its acquisition by the U.S. government as an auxiliary airfield.
On 3 January 1942, the War Department leased 235-acres from Fred B. Fancher. The site was used by the War Department as an auxiliary landing field for the Air Corps Basic Flying School, Merced. With construction completed in February 1943, the field was of a diamond shape, partially paved with a 3 inch asphalt road mix. This limited the field use to light training planes during favorable weather conditions.
The Athlone Auxiliary Field was used exclusively for the training of pilots based at the Merced Army Flying School. Typically, five Vultee BT-13 or BT-15 basic training aircraft were dispatched from the Merced Army Flying School to the auxiliary field for basic pilot training. Up to two training squadrons stationed at Athlone at any given time while training there. Students train in 8 hour shifts with instructor acting as traffic controller from the air, directing and evaluating landings and take-offs. In mid-1944, a few PT-17s, for advanced training, and AT-6 "Texan" trainers also saw use at Athlone.
In August 1945, Athlone was declared surplus
to the needs of the Army. On 30 November 1945, the lease was terminated
and the property returned to its owner.
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