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PYOTE AIR FORCE STATION

PYOTE AIR FORCE STATION. Pyote Air Force Station (formerly Pyote Army Air Field) was established as a bombardment crew training base during World War II and nicknamed "Rattlesnake Bomber Base" by the servicemen. It was on 2,745 acres of University of Texas land a mile southwest of the town of Pyote, twenty miles west of Monahans and just south of U.S. Highway 80. Two giant runways, each over 1½ miles long and 150 feet wide, and a taxiway formed a triangle on the flat, arid land. Construction of the facilities, including five large hangars, shops, warehouses, and living quarters, began on September 5, 1942. The first troops were assigned within a month, well before the base was completed. Troops and civilian technicians poured in, and the population of the base grew steadily to a peak of over 6,500 in October 1944. Within four months of its opening, the base had become the largest bomber installation in the country. Despite morale problems caused by isolation and the shortage of off-base recreation and of dependents' housing, Pyote achieved a distinguished record in molding inexperienced individuals into effective bomber crews. After the arrival of the famed Nineteenth Bombardment Group on New Year's Day, 1943, and the ceremonial inauguration of its training program on January 5, Pyote rapidly turned out crews proficient in hitting targets from the B-17 Flying Fortress until the summer of 1944, when it was switched to the B-29 Superfortress. The Nineteenth was the first air force unit to bomb Japanese targets; it flew to Pyote directly from combat in the Pacific. The base was redesignated the Nineteenth Combat Crew Training School late in 1943 and then replaced on March 30, 1944, by the 236th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Combat Crew Training School). In June 1945 the base claimed records for the most B-29 training hours flown by any base in a single month (7,396), in a week (1,873), and in a day (321).

Control of Pyote was transferred from the Second Air Force to the San Antonio Air Technical Service Command on November 15, 1945, at the end of the war, and the base became an aircraft-storage depot. At its peak in 1948 the depot, which was maintained by the 4141st Army Air Forces Base Unit, housed 2,042 stored planes, mostly B-29s and B-17s, but including B-25s, A-26s, C-47s, P-63s, P-51s, AT-7s, L-5s, and L-4s. Best known of all was the Enola Gay, from which the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; this famous plane was flown to Washington, D.C., on December 2, 1953, for preservation at National Air and Space Museum. After the Korean War, all of the planes at Pyote were moved or scrapped, and most activity on the base ceased. For a few years in the 1950s and 1960s, the 697th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, an Air Defense Command unit, operated a radar site on the base. Following the deactivation of the site in 1966, base housing was taken over by the West Texas Children's Home, and the land and remaining buildings reverted to the University of Texas. By 1985 a single large hangar and slowly deteriorating runways and taxiways were all that marked the once-busy bomber base.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Microfilms B2480 and B2481, U.S. Air Force Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

James L. Colwell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

James L. Colwell, "PYOTE AIR FORCE STATION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbp02), accessed November 27, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.