See where WWII fighter pilots were trained in Bartow

Bartow Executive Airport puts memorabilia on display

The Bartow Airport once served as a primary flight training base.

BARTOW, Fla. – Located inside Bartow's airport terminal building is a room filled with pictures, relics and historical items pertaining to World War II and memorabilia from after the war, too.

The Bartow Executive Airport served as a primary flight training base from 1951 to 1961. 

"We had U.S. Air Force pilots and all the NATO pilots were able to train here. In those 10 years, approximately 8,000 people learned to fly here in Bartow," Patrick Huff, chairman of the Bartow airport museum committee, said. 

The facility was where NASA astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Karol Bobko and Ed White also trained as pilots. Aldrin actually got married at the base's chapel in 1951. 

But before it was a pilot training base, the facility played an important role during WWII from 1941 to 1945.

"The ground was broken on December the 8th, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor," Huff said. "It was originally built to be a bomber training base but the change in the war strategy made it imperative that they train more fighter pilots, so it wasn't until '43 that they brought in the first B 51s and the instructors."

Pictures of those brave men and women can be found throughout the museum. It contains archives and reminders of the war -- a time Florida practically became a hub to train combat pilots.

"The government particularly chose Florida for air bases because there were more flyable days in the year," Huff said.

Today, several original buildings still stand. The most notable one is the airport's control tower, which was built in 1942 when the airport was developed as a WWII training base.

Another interesting detail is about a popular phrase that originated from the war days when a chain of bullets that measured 9 yards was used for machine guns.

"If you've ever heard the saying 'the whole 9 yards,' that's it. The whole 9 yards. That's where the saying comes from," Huff said.