California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields
New Merced Municipal Airport Auxiliary Field
(New Merced Municipal Airport Auxiliary Field No. 6)
by Chief Warrant Officer Mark Denger
California Center for Military History
 

The history of the present day Merced Municipal Airport (formerly New Merced Municipal Airport) is an important part of the early history of the former Merced Army Air Field. Its history, and that of the original Merced Municipal Airport, are deeply intertwined with that of the Merced Basic Flying School. As a result, its history 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, Merced Municipal Airport was deemed unsuitable for use as a major training facility due to expansion limitations. Nevertheless, three other 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 on the Cuba Station site began on 8 July 1941 and was officially dedicated on 20 September 1941 by the Adjutant General from the West Coast Air Corps Training Center at Moffett Field, California (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 from Moffett Field to take control of the Air Corps Basic Flying School. The actual move, however, was delayed because of the construction delays caused by heavy rains that year. The first base personnel arrived on 8 October 1941. These men were quartered in nearby hotels. A makeshift headquarters was set up at the Tioga Hotel. The hotel was utilized until 1 December 1941, when construction at the base had advanced to a point where the offices could be used. These delays in construction resulted in the first aircraft being assigned to the Air Corps Basic Flying School being stored at the nearby Merced Municipal Airport.

The Merced Municipal Airport, aforementioned, was located off Highway 99 at the intersection of Snelling Road near the Santa Fe Railroad, three miles northwest of the city of Merced. Dedicated on 3 April 1932, the City of Merced had sought to expand its 66-acre site to 123.25 acres utilizing Works Project Administration (WPA) funds and in May 1936 had begun the task of expanding the property, grading and drainage of the field, construction of one 8-hangar unit and a cobble stone administration building. The construction delays at the Cuba Station site forced the Army to lease the Merced Municipal Airport (not to be confused with New Merced Municipal Airport), giving the Air Corps Basic Flying School its first usable auxiliary field.[15]

Meanwhile, the property for the present airport site, soon to be known as New Merced Municipal Airport, located off Grogan Road and West Avenue, was acquired in 1940 by the City of Merced from the Delinquent Tax Rolls. Upon acquisition of the site, the City Council had approved a two phase Work Project Administration (WPA) construction project consisting of grading, leveling and drainage of the land, developing access roads and general preparation of the land (clearing, removing trees and bushes) for final development. Additional Federal funds were obtained under the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) for continuation of the WPA program.

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, initially lead to two additional auxiliary flying fields being authorized, one at Ballico, the other at Potter, and a third, in 1943, at New Merced Municipal Airport.

Due to the United States having entered World War II, the CAA and the Corps of Engineers assumed the responsibility for the second phase of the New Merced Municipal Airport program. Funds were diverted from the former Merced Municipal Airport so as to complete the paving two 150 x 4,000' runways, taxi strips, installation of perforated drain pipe, runway and threshold lights. This phase of the work was completed in February 1942. Upon completion of this project, the Air Corps assumed custody of the entire property and thereby acquired its sixth auxiliary field known as the New Merced Municipal Airport.

In March 1943, the Army Air Forces activate the 301st Basic Flying Training Group in an attempt to consolidate training. In May 1943, the Merced Army Flying School became the Merced Army Air Field (AAF) as part of the Western Flying Training Command. The Fourth Air Force assumed jurisdiction over Merced AAF and all of its auxiliary fields from the Western Flying Training Command on 1 July 1945. At that time, the Army announced plans to stage B-29s and bomb crews from Merced. In January 1946, Merced AAF was renamed Castle AAF for Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle. During this period, the auxiliary fields were declared excess to the needs of the U.S. Army. With the end of the war, six months later, Castle Army Air Field laid virtually abandoned until the Strategic Air Command (SAC) gave the base new life on 13 January 1948, redesignating the installation Castle Air Force Base.

New Merced Municipal Airport Auxilary Field
by CW2 Mark Denger and SGM Dan Sebby
California Center for Military History

Pre-Army Use

Prior to DoD use, the Site was a municipal airport. In 1940, the property for the present airport site known as the former New Merced Municipal Airport, located off Grogan Road and West Avenue, was acquired by the City of Merced from the Delinquent Tax Rolls. Upon acquisition of the site, the City Council approved a Work Project Administration (WPA) construction project for $352,470. This project consisted of grading, leveling and drainage of the land, developing access roads and general preparation of the land (clearing, removing trees and bushes) for final development. Federal Funds in the amount of $231,553 were obtained under the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) A-P-4 Agreement for continuation of the WPA program.

Army Use

The history of the former New Merced Municipal Airport begins in 1940 as the U.S. Army was attempting to establish a 30,000 per year pilot training facility in the Merced area. During this period, the City Council had acquired some property from the Delinquent Tax Rolls and sought funding from the Work Project Administration (WPA) for construction of a new municipal airport. Funding was obtained for the grading, leveling and drainage of the land, developing access roads and general preparation of the land (clearing, removing trees and bushes) in preparation for final development. Meanwhile, on 16 June 1941, the U.S. Army entered into a lease agreement with the City of Merced for the establishment of the Merced Basic Flying School.

On 20 September 1941, the Cuba Station site was officially established by the Adjutant General from the West Coast Air Corps Training Center then at Moffett Field, California. That facility became known as the Air Corps Basic Flying School, Merced. On 27 September 1941, the War Department ordered the 98th Bombardment Group and its subordinate units from Moffett Field to take control of the Merced Basic Flying School. To complicate matters, construction delays at the Cuba Station (Merced Army Flying School) site forced the Army to lease the existing Merced Municipal Airport, giving the Basic Flying School its first usable auxiliary field.

In late December 1941 the Cuba Station site was officially activated and named the Merced Army Flying School. During this period, the Army Air Corps authorized the District Engineer to construct three auxiliary fields near the Basic Flying School to support the flight training program. These were located at Howard Ranch (13 miles northwest of Merced), Athlone (16 miles southwest), and Planada. The disapproval of the Planada site as an auxiliary field by the engineers in mid September 1942, lead to two additional auxiliary flying fields being authorized: one at Ballico (9 miles southwest) and the other at Potter (16 miles south). Meanwhile, due to the United States entering World War II, the CAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) assumed the responsibility for the second phase of the New Merced Municipal Airport program consisted of the paving two 150 x 4,000' runways and taxi strips, installation of 28,000 feet of perforated drain pipe, runway and threshold lights. This work was completed in February 1942. Although the USACE contributed to the building of the airport, the U.S. Army did not acquire the field until much later.

In March 1943, the Army Air Forces activated the 301st Basic Flying Training Group at Merced in an attempt to consolidate training and in May 1943, the Merced Army Flying School became the Merced Army Air Field as part of the Western Flying Training Command. On 1 August 1943, the Army Air Forces assumed control of the runways and taxiways of the New Merced Municipal Airport under Lease W-04-193-ENG-988. The Site then became Merced Army Air Field's sixth auxiliary field known as the New Merced Municipal Airport Auxiliary Field.

According to the Office of the Chief of Engineers' Tract Register, on 27 August 1943 a directive authorized the leasing of the New Merced Municipal Airport at an annual rental of $1,000. The site was used by the Army Air Forces as an auxiliary airfield for Merced Army Air Field. Improvements made by the Army after taking possession of the airfield included the expansion of the two existing runways, 28,000 feet of additional taxi strips, roads, drain pipe, runway and threshold lights. No structures were constructed on the site.

On 1 July 1945, the Fourth Air Force assumed jurisdiction over Merced Army Air Field, and its auxiliary fields from the Western Flying Training Command. The New Merced Municipal Airport Auxiliary Field was declared surplus to the needs of the U.S. Army on 23 August 1945 and the lease was terminated on 1 October 1945.


Post Army Use

In the fall of 1945, the original Merced Municipal Airport (located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 99 and Snelling Road) was sold to the Chamber of Commerce by the city for $7,000. At that time, with the exception of the administration building, all of the hangars and associated buildings were moved to the maintenance area on Childs and West Avenue. Using WPA funds, in 1945, one 8 unit hangar and one 4 unit and one 6 unit hangar was constructed using city funds. United Air Lines executed a lease on 15 January 1946, opening their business office in an old 24' x 20' Quonset hut as construction of the Terminal Building was started. An additional eight acres of land, located at Childs and West Avenue, were also acquired during this period. That same year, additional improvements to the airport which included the resurfacing of runways and taxi strips, recabling of airport lighting, and the installation of fencing and remote controls in the terminal building were approved and in 1947 was completed by the CAA and the United States Air Force. The total cost of the project was $235,069 and was paid for by the government because of damage caused during the Army Air Forces training program on the field during World War II. In February 1947, at a cost of $103,000, construction of the Terminal Building was completed.

The New Merced Municipal Airport was annexed into the City of Merced on 6 December 1948, and on 26 July 1949, the City of Merced adopted the Charter-Manager form of government, thereby discontinuing the Airport Commissioner system. On 6 January 1953, an additional 50 acres of land was acquired from Thomas and Elsie Visher, increasing the size of the airport to 538 acres. The land acquisition was necessary to extend runway 12-30 by 1,000 feet. All of the land not required for airport use was leased to Souza and Sons for the growing of alfalfa. The Department of Commerce Grant Agreement of 14 February 1955 covering Project No. 9-04-006-504 for runway extension and land acquisition was approved by Resolution No. 1896 and construction began in March of that year. In the mid-1950s, because of the availability of contract fuel, New Merced Municipal Airport serviced U.S. Army helicopters, U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft. Interestingly enough, in August 1962, the last remembrance of the World War II training field, erected in 1945 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was replaced when the city secured a surplus beacon tower from the Federal Aviation Agency and replaced the old wooden tower. That same year, the Airport Advisory Committee, appointed by the City Council, met for the first time and formulated plans for the first 10-year Master Plan for the Municipal Airport. The most recent Airport Master Plan was prepared in 1990.

Runway 12-30 has been extended from its original length of 4,000 feet to its present length of 5,904 feet. Runway 6-24 and a section of the parallel taxiway on the southwest side of the Airport were closed in 1967. The northeast section of the old parallel taxiway is now used as a taxi lane and as an exit taxiway.


Updated 30 Nov 08


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