Sweetwater Army Air Field

By: James L. Colwell

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: July 1, 1995

Sweetwater Army Air Field, better known as Avenger Field, was a World War II training base of the United States Army Air Forces. On May 14, 1942, the municipal airport in Sweetwater, Texas, was leased to the War Department for a dollar a year and renamed Avenger Field, the winning name entered in a local newspaper contest. The field, which had been in civilian use since the late 1920s, had been improved and expanded to 920 acres by the city. Its first wartime use was for the training of a single class of British pilot cadets of the Royal Air Force by an American civilian contractor. The RAF class was followed by ten classes of American aviation cadets and three classes of enlisted student pilots between April 6, 1942, and April 6, 1943. The most notable period in the history of the field began on February 21, 1943, with the arrival of the first trainees of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Under the direction of famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, experienced women pilots in civil-service status were trained to fly army planes to relieve men in combat duty. Heavy air traffic and weather problems at Howard Hughes Field in Houston caused relocation of the WASP training to Sweetwater. For a brief period, Avenger Field trained both men and women, but in April 1943 it became the "only all-female air base in history," except for the male instructors and support crews. Fourteen classes, totaling 1,074 pilots, earned their wings in every type of army plane before the WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944. In 1945 facilities at the field were considerably expanded to support the combat training of P-47 Thunderbolt pilots, but the end of the war brought the rapid phase-out of all training there. The field was closed in November 1945, and it reverted to peacetime use by the city of Sweetwater on June 3, 1947. Military interest in Avenger Field revived with the outbreak of the Korean War; on April 1, 1952, the United States Air Force again leased the facilities, as an auxiliary field for training pilots from Webb Air Force Base at Big Spring. In 1956 Avenger Field was made the site of an aircraft control and warning radar installation. On November 30, 1969, the facility was closed and the property was once more released to the city of Sweetwater. In addition to general aviation activities at Sweetwater Municipal Airport, the field is now the location of the Rolling Plains campus of Texas State Technical Institute, which opened there on July 31, 1970.

Sally V. W. Keil, Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines: The Unknown Heroines of World War II (New York: Rawson, Wade, 1979). Bennet B. Monde, A History of Avenger Field, Texas (M.A. thesis, Hardin-Simmons University, 1980).
Time Periods:
  • World War II

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

James L. Colwell, “Sweetwater Army Air Field,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sweetwater-army-air-field.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995