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The Ephrata Army Air Base switches from heavy bomber training to fighter pilot training on April 1, 1944.
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On April 1, 1944, the Fourth Air Force of the U.S. Army takes over command of the Ephrata base for training P-39 and P-38 fighter pilots after it has served as a heavy bomber training center earlier in the war. It will continue to serve as a fighter pilot training base until January 1945. Ephrata is located in the Columbia Basin in Grant County.
The Army first began surveying the land just outside of Ephrata in November 1940 as part of a survey of possible air base sites in Central Washington. The Ephrata site was eventually selected because of its flat terrain, good flying weather, and because it required only the removal of sagebrush and a minimum of grading.
It was also close to a large bombing range established in 1941 about 17 miles south of Ephrata.
The entry of the U.S, into World War II sped up the Army's plans and by mid-1942, the Ephrata Army Air Base had sprouted in the Columbia Basin sage, under the command of the Second Air Force. Thousands of pilot trainees and support personnel poured into Ephrata.
The heavy bomber training lasted until about November 1943, when operations came temporarily to a halt. The Fourth Air Force took over on April 1, 1944, and the site came alive once again. Within three weeks, pilots were training in P-39 Airacobras and P-38s.
"They are fortunate in that they can take off and land on runways that stretch for over two miles, giving them plenty of room in which to bring in their ships," said a news report in 1944. "These runways are, in fact, among the largest in the United States" ("Death").
The training program was shut down in January of 1945, although the Army used the base on and off for several more years. In 1946, much of the land and many of the buildings were turned over to the Bureau of Reclamation for its Columbia Basin Project headquarters.
Today it is Ephrata Municipal Airport.
"Death to the Enemy: Great Fighter Bases in Ephrata and Moses Lake Train Men Who Fly Airacobras," Spokesman-Review, July 8, 1944, p. 17; "Army to Use Land in Ephrata Region for Bombing Range," Spokesman-Review, March 26, 1941, p. 1; "Army to Chart Ephrata Airport," Spokesman-Review, November 26, 1940. p. 9; "Fighter Training Ends at Ephrata," Ellensburg Daily Record, January 25, 1945, p. 1.
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