Local News

Air Force base hangar turns 70

AVON PARK – It in its heyday, P-51 Mustang and B-17 Flying Fortress planes would regularly pull in for service and loading; hundreds of U.S. Army Air Corpsmen would scurry about, making sure the planes were ready for flight and eventually possible action during World War II.

Now, 70 years later, the same airplane hangar that helped the United States achieve victory during World War II is still serving its use to troops.

Completed July 25, 1944, the Avon Park Air Force Range hangar is eligible for the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

Kathy Couturier, cultural resources manager and archaeologist at the Range, said it’s already accepted with the Florida Master Site file and is eligible for national registry. With a Master Site file number, anything that is done to it needs to be approved by the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

The 170- by 164-foot, 36-feet high Hangar 44 was built for $80,387 in 1944 along with another hangar which was torn down in the 1950s. It was originally owned by the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1949, when the U.S. Air Force took over the property, according to the Historic American Buildings Survey.

According to Range documents, from 1965 to 1971, maintenance projects that were done included replacing hangar purlins, cleaning and painting steel internal structures and replacing the roof with steel sheets.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, truss connections were replaced, a gutter system was installed and trim and exposed metal was painted to match existing colors. In 1991, cable, wire, antennas, metal platforms and supports to the roof system below the deck were replaced.

Most recently Couturier said former shop rooms were restored and this year, roof buttresses are being cleaned and painted.

It’s a lot of work to upkeep the hangar, said Couturier, but it’s effort worth the time in protecting and keeping in working shape one of seven WWII hangars left in Florida that are Butler designed and eligible for the national register.

The building followed the Butler Manufacturing Company’s design for pre-fabricated, hinged building. The company founded in 1901 rose to prominence for its rigid-frame design for pre-engineered buildings and it started building for the Air Corps and later the Air Force with 36 requests for Wright Field warehouses in Ohio.

The hangar was last used for WWII activities Oct. 1, 1945 and is one of only a few buildings left on the range that exist from that era, said Couturier.

“We have to mitigate anything we want to do with this building with the state historic office,” she said. “In this case, since it’s a World War II building, it’s a significant event...in the world, state and U.S.. It’s very uncommon in this area.”

Around Florida, there are two WWII-era non-Butler hangars registered at the Sebring airport; two in Clewiston; and one in Jacksonville, Panama City and Quincy.

Avon Park Base Commander Lt, Col. Paul E. Neidhardt said the most interesting aspect of the Range’s Hangar 44 is that not only is in fully intact, it’s also fully operational and still functioning as a part of the base.

“Hangar 44 is still being used for military training 70 years after construction,” he said. “And it is a key element providing a multitude of military training opportunities at Avon Park.”

At the state level, Tim Parsons, deputy state historic preservation officer, said WWII-era buildings are found around Florida but many aren’t still functioning. He said they’re recognized not only for WWII use, but for the Cold War era and for “space race” contributions.

“We always like to encourage the military installations to preserve older buildings. They represent our past and can still be functional and meet the mission of our installations,” he said.

The Butler Hangar 44-type hangars were adopted by the Army Air Force in mid-1944, according to the survey.