Nebraska Historical Marker: Ainsworth Army Air Field

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Nebraska Historical Marker: Ainsworth Army Air Field

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Location

U.S. 20, Johnstown, Brown County, Nebraska

View this marker's location 42.560395, -100.0034

View a map of all Nebraska historical markers, Browse Historical Marker Map

Marker Text

Ainsworth Army Air Field, completed on November 30, 1942, was a satellite of Rapid City Army Air Field and under command of the Second Air Force. The field was one of eleven Army Air Force training bases built in Nebraska during World War II. The 2,496-acre field included three 7,300 x 150-foot concrete runways, a hanger, warehouse, repair and machine shops, link and bomb trainers, Norden bombsite vaults, and barracks for over 600 officers and enlisted men. The base's primary mission was to provide proficiency training for P-39 and P-47 pilots of the 364th and 53rd fighter squadrons, and for B-17 crews of the 540th and 543rd bombardment squadrons before deployment to the European Theater of Operations. Aircraft camouflage experiments were also conducted on the site. The airfield closed in 1945 and the following year the city of Ainsworth received a U.S. Government revocable license for commercial aircraft operations on the field. In 1948 the War Assets Administration declared the property surplus, and the city of Ainsworth received title to the airfield for use as a municipal airport.

Further Information

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View of barracks from south contract. (Nebraska State Historical Society)

Constructed between August and November of 1942, the Ainsworth Army Airfield occupied 2,403 acres of land seven miles east of Ainsworth. Built on land acquired through condemnation or purchased from locals, the airfield was built by 1,200 laborers from the region, including many Sioux Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation. A railroad spur connected the field to supply lines in the state.

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Ainsworth Airfield Control Tower. (Nebraska State Historical Society)

Once the field was opened, it became a satellite of the Rapid City Army Airfield in South Dakota. It was the training ground for members of the 540th and 543rd Bombardment Squadrons and the 383rd Bombardment Group, who learned to fly B-17 bombers before they were sent to Europe. Later in the war, the 364th Fighter Squadron and the 357th Fighter Group from the Casper (WY) Army Airfield used the field to practice flying P-39 fighters and the 53rd Fighter Squadron and the 37th Fighter Group from the Scribner (NE) Army Airfield used it to train using P-47 fighters. At its full capacity, the field was home to 544 enlisted men and 112 officers.

In 1948, the City of Ainsworth received the title for the airfield, and it became the Ainsworth Municipal Airport. About 1,300 acres of the old airfield are rented out to farmers. By 2000, only four buildings from the original air field remained. One of them was a vault to conceal the Norden bombsight. This was a device that used analog computers to calculate the exact moment when bombs should be dropped to accurately hit a target. Plans equipped with Norden bombsights were many times more accurate than planes without such a device. Since it was very new technology at the time, it was kept very secret. At Ainsworth, the bombsights were kept in a cement vault guarded closed with metal doors. When they were used in training missions, they were escorted out of the vault and into the plane. Bombardiers who used them swore an oath of secrecy about their use. After the flight, they were returned to the vault. Only 2 planes originating from Ainsworth AAF crashed, resulting in 2 deaths. Both planes were destroyed in the same accident, when two P-47 “Thunderbolts” collided in air on February 5, 1944 near Wood Lake.

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View of buildings, looking southwest from control tower. (Nebraska State Historical Society)

Bibliography

Goeres, Vince. Wings Over Nebraska: Historic Aviation Photographs. Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society Books. 2010.

Kooiman, Barbara M. Aviation Development in Nebraska. Nebraska State Historical Society State Preservation Office and Nebraska Department of Aeronautics. Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. 2000.

Penry, Jerry. Nebraska’s Fatal Air Crashes of WWII. Milford: Blue Mound Press. 2009.

Marker program

See the Nebraska Historical Marker Program for more information.