High Desert Hangar Stories

The first British Cadets to Solo at War Eagle Field in 1942.  (Courtesy photograph)
Lancaster’s War Eagle Field:
Home of Polaris Flight Academy and No. 2 B.F.T.S.

When we talk aviation history here in the Antelope Valley, the term “Aerospace Valley” evokes the spirit and character of many things that fly in our skies on any given day.

Today when we hear a jet engine wind up and afterburners push airframes into the blue, we just take it for granted and enjoy the momentary distraction from our everyday chores as we go about our business. But over the years we have traveled light years from the early days of aviation and flight test in the High Desert.

For Antelope Valley residents of yesteryear, the sounds were a lot different and the glances to the skies were sometimes motivated by worry as much as enjoyment. But at other times it would make one think of a land far away and the families of those whose loved ones were making all the racket. That was just a part of everyday life in the Antelope Valley during World War II.

Many of you already know of the Royal Air Force Cadets who left their war-torn country of England and traveled to the United States to train under the innovative provisions of the Lend-Lease Act. Many of those young men came to our town of Lancaster to do their best to earn their pilot’s wings. They would then make their way back to England to family and friends, joining in the fight to save their country from becoming another victim of an Axis bent on world domination.

The cover of the publication Salute from August 1942. The picture is of the British Cadet Class from Lancaster marching in a day of unity to support the military at the Los Angeles Coliseum. (Courtesy photograph)

In 1941, the first class of British Airmen made their way to the freshly-built War Eagle Field, out on the west side at present day 60th Street West and Avenue I. The program that came to be known as the Polaris Flight Academy began as No. 2 B.F.T.S. (British Flying Training School).

Over the years, as I’ve slowly collected the necessary documents, books and interviews to produce a book about our famous little field, I was made aware of a field publication called Salute, produced by the cadet students-in-training. It was printed up by the old newspaper standard of the Antelope Valley, the Ledger Gazette. Over time my search for this much desired publication was successful, in the form of a bound copy with about six issues from the early years of Polaris. It came at a high cost — and yes, it did come from a private collection in England — but it’s been invaluable in painting the picture of British flight operations here in the Antelope Valley.

So the joy in having such a resource is that now I have the ability to let you read the words of the Cadet Commander on the occasion of their one year anniversary at War Eagle Field, including his thoughts about the war, England, and their new-found friends in America, including the citizens of the Antelope Valley.

Here is an excerpt from the article titled Anniversary:

“A year ago, on a bright California morning, two men, Flight Instructor “Bud” Ernst and L.A.C. Hubbard, Royal Air Force, climbed into the cockpit of a Stearman primary training plane and at 7:30 that June morning took off and No. 2 B.F.T.S. was in action. Seventeen days, or nine hours and forty-five minutes of dual instruction later, Polaris’ first British solo student was airborne.  
“Time has marched on and another June is here. A turbulent year has been entered in the record: a year that witnessed the entry of the United States into the war; a year that has been disastrous in many respects for the United Nations and finally, a year that has seen No. 2 B.F.T.S. emerge as a well-coordinated, efficient training machine. A stream of U/T Pilots has eventually reached the stormy seas of flying training in Lancaster and has spilled forth ready for the wilder waters of combat.
“The year as been more than a succession of months: it has been a chain of events, a series of pictures, each one enlarging the vista of the previous scene. We have come from a nation at war, and make war. And we realized, with the events of the past year being etched into the pattern of history, a more grim sense of our responsibility. Our training here in Lancaster at Polaris has in every sense become more meaningful.
“Over 50,000 flying hours ago, No. 2 B.F.T.S. was born. Those 50,000 hours indicate work done, training accomplished, friends made with American men and American Methods. Those 50,000 hours have been carefully entered into the log books without a single flying fatality. Those 50,000 hours, too, have a significance that cannot be recorded; they express cooperation between nations as well as between men, they add to the meaning of Alliance and that as we make war as friends, so shall we write the peace.”

Oh the stories and history that walked through that entry portal during World War
II, at Ave. I and 60th Street West. (Courtesy photo)

The author of this amazing bit of history by all accounts is no longer of this world. The living members of this generation have dwindled down to a precious few. He will never know how his words have stood the test of time and made their way back to the community where he sat at a desk in his office at War Eagle Field. He looked at the world as a realist and spoke of a friendship of nations and communities, while facing the reality that we were all in the business of death but looking for an end, so that we could take this newfound friendship and build a better world. And amazingly, here in the Antelope Valley, it all revolved around what would become our valley’s beloved heritage: the airplane.

We must not forget these stories and we must build on them for the benefit of future generations. The name War Eagle Field must not be left to fade from our conscience. The world today, now more than ever, needs these same types of friendships to bloom again, but hopefully not in a world at war.

Next issue, we will take a deeper look at a few of the personalities that made our famous airfield a special place for our pilots in training from across “the pond.”

Until then, Bob out …

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