The Royal Air Force in Oklahoma
Lives, Loves, and Courage of the British Air Crews Trained
in Oklahoma During World War
Why British Flying Training Schools Were Established in the United States
Six Royal Air Force British Flying Training Schools were established in the United States
after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. It enabled the
establishment of training schools for RAF pilots in the United States, although the United States
was not yet officially involved in the war.
The RAF recruits were assigned to six American schools. Two of the six schools were chosen to be built in Oklahoma, where the weather was ideal for training and the enemy could not affect the brave young men of the RAF who were learning to fly. They were the Darr School of Aeronautics in Ponca City and Spartan School of Aeronautics in Miami. Other schools were located in Clewiston, Florida; Terrell, Texas; Mesa, Arizona; and Lancaster, California. The goal of these future pilots was to return to England, fight the Nazis, who pounded England's cities and countryside with deathly incendiary bombs, and aid in the maintenance of the freedom of their war-torn country. During the years that No. 6 BFTS was in Ponca City and No. 3 BFTS operated in Miami, Oklahoma, the schools trained more than 4,000 RAF pilots and hundreds of United States Army Air Corps pilots. This site is dedicated to each of those friends from across the pond and their American counterparts.
New Cadets Travel to Moncton, New Brunswick
RAF cadets, destined to unknown assignments throughout the world, left their aircrew dispatch centers as they traveled by dark of night on trains which would eventually reach Gourock, west of Glasgow. There they boarded a ferry which traveled down the Clyde River towards large ocean liners anchored in the river. Generally, a loud buzz of excitement went round as the excited young men recognized the Queen Mary or other notable liners which had been painted pale grey. These large ships used their great speed to stay clear of trouble as they zigzagged across the Atlantic on their westward voyage, carrying their precious cargo of men. Most assumed they were heading for Canada and they were right. The large ships docked in ports at New York City or Boston and the men were transferred to railway cars. They soon reached the dispatching station at Moncton, New Brunswick, where they were amazed at their new surroundings. For many it was the first time they had been introduced to such heavenly edibles such as Hershey bars and milk shakes. When they saw the local girls driving their own vehicles, they could not believe their eyes. At home, owning one's own car was virtually unheard of. Everywhere they ventured they saw something new.
Destination - Oklahoma, U.S.A.
Crowds of local citizens waited at the train depots as the first courses arrived in July,
1941 in Ponca City and Miami on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Road. The long journey from
Moncton, New Brunswick, had been tiring for the men, who were immediately whisked away on yellow
school buses to their assigned billets. The men stared in awe at wide, brick-lined streets,
and the multitude of shops, homes, vehicles, and thousands of electric lights. In Ponca City,
a tall grain elevator loomed in the background of the train depot. After the Americans entered
the war, a large V for Victory was painted on its side. This symbol was a welcome sight as later
courses of English students arrived. Local citizens in both towns greeted them with smiles and
waves along their routes. Several weeks after their arrival, No. 3 and No. 6 British Flying
Training School men were allowed to explore their new towns. Everywhere they went, people offered
rides and invitations for dinner. The men were astounded at the plentiful assortment of foods,
including bananas. Back home, they were rationed, as well as eggs and other commodities.
As pleasant as the offers were from the locals, the young cadets busily jumped into their studies with a serious attitude. These young men, many whom had never driven a car, were introduced to flying. Many of their American flying instructors were not much older than their students. Life was good as they began to fly the Boeing Stearman PT17, Vultee BT13, which was later dropped from the training programs, and North American Harvard AT6, which was used for advanced training. In Miami, the men also trained on Fairchild PT 19 Cornells. The young trainees enjoyed the patchwork of fields lying below them on the Oklahoma prairie. However, seven young men lost their lives in training accidents in Ponca City and were buried in the I.O.O.F. Cemetery. In Miami, fifteen were buried in the G.A.R. Cemetery. At both locations, locals tended their graves and more than 63 years later, their memory is still honored at both locations on Memorial Day.
The United States Army Air Force Joins the Training
Not long after the British arrived, they were joined by men from the United States Army Air Force, who trained beside them. Special friendships between the British and the Americans have continued over the passing years.
Off to See the U.S.A.
The cadets took advantage of their leave time to travel, often as far as Texas, Arkansas, Mexico, Kansas City, Chicago, New York, Colorado, and Hollywood. They hitch-hiked, rode trains, and sometimes flew. Many cherished photographs were taken and purchased souvenirs were carefully tucked away in their kits, ready to be offered as gifts back at home.
Wings Parades and the Long Trip Home
Eventually, final examinations were given and for most, newly-earned Wings were issued to
the cadets in impressive Wings parades and graduation ceremonies, followed by parties and dances.
USAAF cadets earned both American and RAF wings, which they proudly wore on their uniforms.
The fun was not long-lived. Within a day or two following graduation, most were sent back to
Moncton, New Brunswick on the same railroads which brought them to the Oklahoma prairies. Many
left sweethearts whom they knew they would most likely not see again. The following months and
years were not happy ones. A large percentage of earlier classes of both schools lost many men,
either in operations against the Nazis or in training accidents in England.
After the war, a few young men returned to marry, work, and raise their families in Oklahoma and other locations in the United States. The Darr School of Aeronautics was closed on April 15, 1944 but Spartan School of Aeronautics continued to operated until August, 1945. Both schools formed associations in later years and traveled back to Oklahoma to renew old acquaintances. In the summer of 2005, No. 3 BFTS Association held their final reunion at Miami, at which time they donated a large sum of money to the student scholarship fund at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Members of No. 6 BFTS Association continue to meet annually in the United Kingdom.