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Redding Army Air Field
(Redding Airdrome)
 
History
by Sgt Maj Dan Sebby

In 1942, the site of Redding AAF was acquired for the Air Corps by the Corps of Engineers from the City of Redding by lease (1,120 acres) and by condemnation proceedings against L.A. Butzbach (140 acres), Estate of Earl and Mary Stevenson (160 acres) and Estate of A.L. Cross (20 acres). On 9 December 1942, the Air Corps became the semi-independent Army Air Forces. Initially, Redding AAF was a sub-installation of Chico AAF and was under the operational control of that field’s 433rd Army Air Forces Base Unit (AAFBU) and was garrisoned by Squadron “N” of that unit. As with all of the operational and training airfields in the southwestern United States, the overall operational control of Redding AAF rested with the Fourth Air Force of the Army Air Forces.

The building areas at former Redding AAF consisted of a Housing Area, Operations Area, Bomb Storage Area, revetments, taxiways, and two runways. The Housing Area contained barracks, bath houses, latrines, a dispensary (medical clinic), officers’ quarter’s, and a motor pool.. Additionally, three unnumbered structures were located in the housing area and consisted of a house, garage, and swimming pool. The Operations area contained the crash truck station, operations building, a school, a link trainer building, a shop, a bomb sight storage building, the maintenance nose hanger, and the control tower. The bomb storage area had a fenced perimeter and contained bomb storage revetments, fuse storage buildings, small arms storage and office, and a guard shelter. There were also fifteen aircraft revetments (also known as hardstands) located along the southwest, south, southeast, and northeast taxiways and thirteen revetments located around the exterior portion of the taxiways had associated fuel tanks. The two runways, formerly designated Runways number 1 (16-34) and 2 (12-30), trend nearly north-south and northwest-southeast, respectively.

From November 1943 through March 1944, the Army Air Forces’ 399th Fighter Squadron of the 369th Fighter Group was assigned to the airfield as a replacement training and air defense unit. The 399th Fighter Squadron at that time operated the Bell Aircraft Company’s P-39 “Airacobra” which mounted one 37mm cannon firing through the propeller hub; two .50-caliber machine guns in the nose; two .50-caliber machine guns in packets under the wing as well as the capability of carrying 500 pounds of bombs externally. The aircraft was of a unique design in which the engine was placed behind the pilot.

The Bell Aircraft Corporation P-39 Aircobra

The Bell P-39 Airacobra was one of the principal fighter aircraft in service with American forces at the start of World War II.

The aircraft's unusual design featured its Allison engine mounted in the middle of the fuselage, just behind the pilot, driving the propeller through a driveshaft passing between the pilot's feet. The purpose of this was to free up space for the heavy main armament, a 37 mm T9 cannon firing through the center of the propeller hub for optimum accuracy and stability when firing. The weight distribution necessitated a tricycle undercarriage, a first among American fighters. Entry to the cockpit was through a side door rather than a moving canopy. The weight distribution of the P-39 supposedly is the reason for its tendency to enter a dangerous spin - a characteristic Soviet tests proved to the then-skeptical manufacturer who had been unable to reproduce them.

The P-39's Allison V-1710 engine had a single-speed, single-stage supercharger, which brought about a decrease of performance compared to the promising prototype which had been fitted with an exhaust-driven turbo-supercharger. Due to the high weight of the P-39 and the poor high-altitude power of the mechanically supercharged Allison, the P-39's performance was markedly inferior to the contemporary European fighters, and as a result the first USAAF fighter units in the ETO were equipped with the Spitfire V (which ironically featured a single-speed, single-stage supercharger, too).

Above the V-1710's full throttle height of about 17,000 ft (5,000 m), the P-39's performance dropped off rapidly. This limited its usefulness in traditional fighter missions, in Europe as well as in the Pacific where it was not uncommon for Japanese bombers to attack at altitudes above the P-39's operational ceiling (which in the tropical hot air inevitably was lower than in moderate climates).

It is mistakenly believed that the Airacobra was used as a ground-attack airplane by the Soviet Union; the lack of a turbo-supercharger restricting it to low-altitude combat. In fact, it appears that the Soviets did not use it for ground-attack, but instead to provide top cover. The tactical environment of the Eastern Front did not demand the high-altitude operations that the Army Air Forces and British Royal Air Force used with their big bombers. In the relatively low-altitude operations in the East the lack of a supercharger was not as bad a handicap. The second-highest scoring Allied ace, Pokryshkin, flew the P-39 until 1944 before finally converting to Lavochkin fighters.

9,584 were produced, with over half being sent to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program.

A number are still in existence of which three are still flying.

The mid-engine, gun-through-hub concept was developed further in the Bell P-63 Kingcobra

On 1 November 1944, operational control of Redding AAF was transferred from the Fourth Air Force to the Sacramento Area Command of the Army Air Forces’ Air Technical Service Command headquartered at McClellan Field in Sacramento. At that time the station’s garrison became 4191st AAFBU (Air Base). Additionally, Redding AAF was sporadically used by the Army Air Forces’ Air Transport Command as a refueling and service stop throughout the war.

With the end of the war in the Pacific, the Army Air Forces no longer needed many of its airfields and on 19 December 1945 the Division Engineer, Pacific Division, USACE reported Redding AAF as excess to the needs of the U.S. Army to the WAA. On 18 November 1946, the War Department, through the USACE, issued a license to the City of Redding of operate a civil airport on the former Redding AAF pending final disposition of the Site by the WAA.

On 4 October 1947, the U.S. Army, through the WAA, vacated the original lease with the City of Redding through an Instrument of Transfer and control of that portion of the Site that was leased was officially transferred to the city. On 6 June 1949, the WAA, quitclaimed the remainder of the Site to the City of Redding. Today, the City of Redding continues to operate the Site as Redding Municipal Airport and has embarked on a major commercial development of the Site.

 
 
Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne, Mr. Rod Dinger, Airport Manager, Redding Municipal Airport.
 
Updated 18 May 2008
 
 
 
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