Thunderbird Tower Restoration
Thunderbird Field was a military airfield in Glendale, Arizona, used for contract primary flight training of Allied pilots during World War II. Created in part by actor James Stewart, the field became part of the United States Army Air Forces training establishment just prior to American entry into the war and was re-designated Thunderbird Field #1 after establishment of Thunderbird Field #2 at nearby Scottsdale, on June 22, 1942.
After the conclusion on World War II, the property was sold as surplus for educational purposes, eventually becoming the Thunderbird School of Global Management, a well-respected post-graduate business school.
Thunderbird Field began in 1939 as a collaborative project by Hollywood agent and producer Leland Hayward, former Air Service pilot John H. "Jack" Connelly, and Life magazine photographer John Swope, founders of Southwest Airways. Backed by investors that included Stewart, singer-actor Hoagy Carmichael, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Robert Taylor, and Margaret Sullivan, construction of the pilot training facility near Glendale, Arizona, began on January 2, 1941, and was completed in three months.
The site, 25 miles from central Phoenix, was laid out by artist Millard Sheets to resemble (from the air) an etching of a mythical Anasazi Thunderbird. The control tower formed the head of the bird, the administration buildings and barracks its body, the hangars its wings, and the gardens its feathered tail. The installation was situated on the southeast corner of what is now West Greenway Road & North 59th Avenue. To the southeast, adjacent to its single-story sage, cream, and terra cotta-colored buildings of Spanish Colonial rancheria design, was a square 2,800 square-foot ramp area. Across West Greenway Road to the north was the airfield itself with three 3,500 foot runways.
Contractor Del Webb Construction built a hexagonal barracks, administrative building, mess hall and four hangars on the site, plus twin swimming pools. The US Army Air Forces signed a contract with Southwest Airways to provide instructors and facilities for a primary training school for its aviation cadets in March 1941, beginning with a class of 59 candidates. Eventually 10,000 pilots from 30 nations trained at the field before it was deactivated in June 1945. A 1942 Hollywood movie in Technicolor, Thunder Birds (directed by William Wellman), was filmed on location at the field in the spring of 1942. Aerial shots clearly show the original Thunderbird design.
After World War II
Following the end of WW2, Thunderbird Field was declared surplus by the War Assets Administration in 1946. That same year, Thunderbird was purchased for $1 from the federal government by Lt. General Barton K. Yount, retired commander of the Army Air Forces Training Command. He established the American Institute for Foreign Trade and became its first president.
Classes began on the site within a few months, however the airfield at Thunderbird may have continued in operation alongside the new school for some time. Thunderbird Field was apparently closed (permanently) at some point within the next year.
Today, the former airfield is still the location of the school, known currently as Thunderbird School of Global Management. The campus still contains many original airfield buildings, including the airfield control tower (which is soon to be renovated), barracks, and two large airplane hangars.
Thunderbird is located southeast of the intersection of West Greenway Road & North 59th Avenue in Glendale, Arizona.
The Tower is at the heart of the Thunderbird campus and its past is integral to Thunderbird's original "global perspective. It was built in 1941 and served as the Air Control Tower and Officers' quarters during the operation of the Thunderbird 1 Army Air Field, where American, British, Canadian and Chinese pilots trained during WWII.
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