Learning About the Military Airfields of Oahu
March 29, 2018
Toward the end of the First World War, the United States began to focus on strengthening its defense of the West Coast. Having had virtually no military presence in the Pacific in the lead-up to the war, the US began building a series of bases in the Territory of Hawaii. Here’s the story of some of the notable airfields of Oahu.
First laid out in 1917 as the Waimanalo Military Reservation, in 1933, the base was renamed after Lt. Franklin Barney Bellows. In July of 1941, Bellows was designated as a permanent installation. Five months later, it came under attack during the December 7 Japanese assault.
In 1958, its runways were closed and Bellows was turned into an Armed Forces Recreation Center with beachfront cabins and camping facilities.
Wheeler Army Airfield
In early 1922, the the Army began building Wheeler Field, starting with construction of housing and canvas hangars adjacent to Schofield Barracks. By 1940, the airfield had blossomed into a full-fledged primary Army Air Corps base. This made it a prime target for Japan’s fleet on December 7, 1941. During the attack, Wheeler suffered 33 deaths and 75 wounded. Of the aircraft stationed at Wheeler, 76 were completely destroyed.
After serving as a United States Air Force base from 1947, Wheeler was returned to the Army in 1991.
In the mid-1930s, when Luke Field on Ford Island became too crowded for both Army and Navy aircraft, the Army moved their forces to the newly-built Hickam Field just to the southeast. Hickam Field was a primary target during the attack on Pearl harbor. A total of 189 servicemen were killed at Hickam and an additional 303 were wounded.
During the war, Hickam was used extensively to train pilots and assemble aircraft. Still in operation today, it was merged with the Pearl Harbor naval base to form the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The history of Dillingham Airfield can be dated back to 1922, with the construction of Camp Kawaihapai communication station. In 1941, additional land was leased by the U S Army for the creation of Mokuli’ia Airstrip, which housed Curtiss P-40 fighters during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Decades later, Dillingham Airfield was used as a filming location for the television series Lost because it is so remote.
Haleiwa Fighter Strip
One of the less-developed airfields of Oahu at the time of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Haleiwa Fighter Strip was once used as an emergency landing strip for fighter craft. Its main landing strip was unpaved, making it a danger for incoming craft.
During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Haleiwa was an auxiliary station for aircraft assigned to Wheeler Airfield. Lt. George S. Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth M. Taylor became heroes when they managed to take off from Haleiwa, piloting their P40-B fighters and downing six Japanese aircraft between them.
After World War II, Haleiwa was used for civilian aircraft before being abandoned over the course of the 1950s.
Kahuku Army Air Field
Kahuku Army Airfield started as an emergency field in the 1930s. When the United States went to war, however, it was developed into a fully functional field. Its service was short, however, and it was closed down shortly after the war ended. During the war, the airfield was used to train pilots from Wheeler.
When it became evident that Kipapa Gulch was the one of the only remaining sites fit for an airfield, the military moved in and began construction during the 1940s.
Originally meant for training Navy pilots to be based on aircraft carriers, Kipapa Field was primarily used for Army Air Forces units being transported overseas. It was also used to launch aircraft used for search and patrol missions over the Pacific. Shortly after the war, the field was closed and its assets removed. Kipapa Airfield has since been replaced with a housing development and the Mililani Golf Course.
Construction on Kualoa Airfield began in 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and took over 1,000 acres of the 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch. The new field served as a satellite for Bellows Field and was mostly used for training new pilots.
Now a golf course for Schofield Barracks, Stanley Army Airfield was used by fighter planes during World War II. Its function was very temporary and the field only remained active during the course of the war.