Construction of the Army Air Forces Bombardier School on a plateau approximately two miles southwest of Big Spring, Texas began on May 15, 1942. The purpose of the installation was to train aviation cadets in high altitude precision bombing. Training consisted primarily of ground school courses and practice missions over a target area larger than some of the nation's smaller states. The post proper covered an area of 1,280 acres. The first class of cadets (118 men) arrived Sept. 16, 1942, to begin bombardier training in the B-18 and the AT-11 training aircraft. After an intense three month course, the class graduated, exactly one year and ten days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. |
Perhaps the most zealously guarded secret at the Big Spring Bombardier School was the Norden bombsight (shown at left). At the outset of the United States involvement in the war, the Norden sight was rated as far superior to any previously developed instrument for computing a bomb trajectory. The instruments were so highly classified that they were stored in a heavily guarded vault such as banks have. When students prepared for practice flights, they had to get clearance to the vault area, and when issued their bombsights, they exited in pairs accompanied by armed security. Part of the bombardier's oath required that he defend the sight secrets to the death.
The forty-second class of cadets to finish the school completed the course of training and received the silver wings of bombardiers on Sept 26, 1945. At that time, nearly 6,000 students had graduated and the field's training aircraft had flown approximately 400,000 hours and more than 60 million miles. Over 1,200,000 practice bombs had been released on nearby bombing ranges. While engaged in this huge training program and under wartime conditions, only four fatal accidents occurred. Many of the young men who trained at the school went on to fly combat missions in such planes as the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and B-29 Superfortress, in both theatres of World War II.
Big Spring Air Force Base, was activated on October 1, 1951 on the 1300 acre site of the former Big Spring Army Air Field, a World War II Bombardier Training School. Initially the home of the 346th pilot training Wing (later re-designated the 78th Flying Training Wing), it was first commanded by Colonel Ernest F. Wachwitz as a part of the Flying Training Air Force (later combined with the Technical Training Air Force to become the Air Training Command) The base was renamed on May 18, 1952 to memorialize Lt. James L. Webb, a Big Spring native and World War II combat pilot, killed in the crash of his P-51 off the Japanese coast in 1949. For the six years prior to its reactivation by the Air Force, the facility served as the Big Spring Municipal Airport. Many of its World War II buildings had been removed or dismantled, so a $3,133,000 construction program was begun to provide the necessary facilities to train jet pilots, including a new runway and extensive parking aprons. In the mid-1960's, aviation cadet status was discontinued by the Air Force, and from then on only commissioned officers entered pilot training. Normally, eight undergraduate pilot training classes graduated per year. Each class lasted 53 weeks, entering and leaving at roughly six week intervals. There is a collection of photos, on Historic Images Page 2 of the website, donated by a member of Class 64-D. Webb AFB was a pilot training base for its entire 25 year life. (The overhead view at right is circa 1974)
There are two collections of photos, on Historic Images Page 1 and Historic Images Page 2 of the website, donated by former members of the 331st FIS. Thanks to all who provide us with expanded information.
Above is a view of a thriving Webb AFB in 1976, taken from Scenic Mountain.