Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields
Ballico Auxiliary Field
(Merced Army Air Field Auxiliary Field No. 2)
by Mark Denger


The history of the former Ballico Auxiliary Field actually begins in 1940 as the U.S. Army was attempting to establish a 30,000 per year basic pilot training facility in the Merced area. During this time frame, three sites in the Merced area were being considered by War Department for this purpose -Athlone, Cuba Station and El Nido. The Cuba Station site was ultimately chosen. A lease between the City of Merced and the United States of America was entered on 16 June 1941 for initial acquisition of property for a basic flying school in Merced. Construction began on 8 July 1941. The Cuba Station site was officially dedicated on 20 September 1941 by the Adjutant General from the West Coast Air Corps Training Center at Moffett Field, California (later redesignated West Coast Army Air Forces Training Center). At that time the facility became known as the Air Corps Basic Flying School, Merced. Seven days later, on 27 September 1941,the War Department ordered the 98th Bombardment Group and its subordinate units - the 539th, 540th and 541st School Squadrons, the 90th Air Base Squadron (Special), and the 340th Material Squadron from Moffett Field to take control of the Air Corps Basic Flying School. The actual move, however, was delayed until November 1941 because of the construction delays caused by heavy rains that year. This resulted in the first aircraft being assigned to the then (original) Merced Municipal Airport as the landing field at the Air Corps Basic Flying School was still not ready for aircraft.

On 7 April 1942, Air Corps Basic Flying School was renamed the Merced Army Flying School and authorized the District Engineer to construct three auxiliary fields near Merced Army Flying School to support the flight training program. These were located at Howard Ranch, Athlone, and Planada. Air Corps Basic Flying School was renamed the Merced Army Flying School. The disapproval of the Planada site as an auxiliary field by the engineers in mid September 1942, leads to two additional auxiliary flying fields being constructed, one at Ballico, the other at Potter, and a third, in 1943, at New Merced Municipal Airport.

The West Coast Training Center activated three more school squadrons in June 1942 to help existing units meet the increased flight training requirements. In January 1943, the West Coast Training Command at Santa Ana, California, activated the 35th Flying Training Wing, and the Army Air Forces followed in March 1943 with the activation of the 301st Basic Flying Training Group at Merced in an attempt to consolidate training. In May 1943, the Merced Army Flying School became the Merced Army Air Field as part of the Western Flying Training Command. In April 1944, the Western Flying Training Command activated the 3026th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Pilot School Basic) at Merced while disbanding most of the former units. As the number of aircraft on the Merced flightline and at the auxiliary fields increased to 539 in late September 1944, the Army's demand for pilots started to wane.

On 1 July 1945, the Fourth Air Force assumed jurisdiction over Merced Field from the Western Flying Training Command. At that time, the U.S. Army declared the auxiliary field at Ballico excess to the needs of the Army and the property was listed as surplus. Accountability of the 621.76-acre Merced Auxiliary No. 2 at Ballico was assumed by the War Assets Administration (WAA) on 10 November 1946. The 621.76-acre site was given to the City of Turlock and now constitutes the Turlock Municipal Airport, Mustang Creek Watershed Sump, and adjacent agricultural land.

Ballico Auxiliary Field
by Dan Sebby

Prior to Army use, the Site was used for growing grain and hay using dry farming and summer fallow methods.

Ballico Auxiliary Field was established in October 1942 as an emergency landing field and off-site training area for the Army Air Force's Basic Flying School at Merced Army Air Field (later named Castle Air Force Base). On 1 November 1942, the War Department, represented by the US Army Corps of Engineer, leased 350 undeveloped acres to its former owner, Charles C. Newport, for 5 years for agricultural purposes.

According to documents obtained from the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, the Site consisted of a 3,000-foot by 2,800-foot asphalt paved rectangle with a single "Stagehouse" at its center. Documentation also indicated that the Army built a Crash Truck Shelter, control tower, storehouse, latrines, and other structures on the Site. The War Assets Administration (WAA) SPB-5 Report dated 28 May 1946, did not document any fuel storage tanks or maintenance facilities, and the January 1945 California Airport Directory indicated no hangars, shops, or gasoline, oil, communications, or radio facilities were located at the site during Army use.

The Site was manned by a detachment of the Merced Army Air Field's 90th Air Base Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Forces. In 1944, this unit was absorbed by the 3026th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Basic Pilot School). The aircraft that operated from Merced Army Air Field was the Vultee BT-13/BT-15 "Valiant" basic trainer.

The U.S. Army's Fourth Air Force assumed jurisdiction over Merced Army Air Field from the Western Flying Training Command on 1 July 1945. At that time, the U.S. Army declared the auxiliary field at Ballico excess to the needs of the U.S. Army, and the property was listed as surplus. On 10 November 1946, the WAA assumed accountability of the 621.76-acre Site.

On 19 November 1946, the WAA issued a license to the City of Turlock to operate a municipal airport on the Site pending a formal conveyance. On 31 July 1947, it was quitclaimed to the City of Turlock

The City of Turlock continues to operate the Turlock Municipal Airport on the southeast 316-acre portion of the Site. The northeast portion of the Site was sold to Oliver Chance on 7 August 1951 for agricultural use. Approximately 11 acres, in the southern portion of the airport property, are leased to Golden By-Products for drying crushed almond hulls. The southwestern part of the Site is operated and maintained by the Ballico Resource Conservation District as the Mustang Creek Watershed Sump.

Extract of January 1945 US Army and Navy Directory of Air Fields

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Updated 23 June 2017