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Hill Field becomes a major aircraft storage, reclamation hub

Dozens of PT-13 aircraft are stacked like books, nose-to-nose and tail-to-tail.

PT-13 aircraft storage at Hill Field during the mid-1940s. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An aerial photo of Hill Field depicting runways, buildings and aircraft.

Aircraft storage at Hill Field during the mid- to late-1940s. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Editor's note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- When the Air Service Command asked the Ogden Air Depot at Hill Field for an estimation of its capacity to store excess and surplus war airplanes, the depot’s leadership believed Hill Field showed a capacity to store 2,750 airplanes.

During the summer 1944, aircraft began to arrive at Hill Field for storage and the Ogden Air Depot established a regular production line to prepare them for such. At the time, the Air Service Command informed the Ogden Air Depot of its intent to store approximately 500 B-24s, 250 P-40s, and 250 P-47s at Hill Field under the project.

In December 1944, Ogden received its first request for participation in Project Flyaway, which involved removal of 17 B-24J aircraft stored at Hill Field in preparation for operational use and flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the rate of four aircraft per day, the Ogden Air Depot’s Maintenance Department began the project on Jan. 2, 1945, with complete delivery four days later.

About 200 maintenance workers, divided into five stations, accomplished such tasks as removal of masking, cowling, and rudders, as well as an inspection shakedown that involved repair of the oxygen systems, electrical systems, engines, instruments, propeller governors, automatic pilot, rigging, radio, armament, and cleaning and painting the aircraft.

Project Flyaway continued throughout 1945, and on Nov. 19, Army Air Forces gave the project high priority. Beginning on that date, the Ogden Air Depot prepared 233 B-24s and 68 P-47s for delivery to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at Kingman, Arizona.

As part of its storage operations in April and May 1945, the depot set up a project for reclamation of surplus aircraft. Ogden Air Deport workers dismantled the planes, sending parts to supply for further disposition.

The aircraft workload continued through May 22, 1945, with an Air Technical Service Command authorization for modification of 27 A-20 Douglas Havoc aircraft. The project called for the removal of all guns, armor plates, and turrets and the installation of tow-target equipment. Mechanics completed the work in June 1945 by completing one plane per day.

The same month, ATSC allocated an additional 400 B-24s and 100 P-47s for storage at Hill Field. In July 1945, aircraft storage assumed major proportions with 380 heavy bombers beginning to arrive from the European Theater following Germany’s unconditional surrender and the consequent cutback in aircraft requirements in the European Theater of operations.

At that point, plans called for only temporary storage. The next step was their preparation for use in the Pacific Theater. The end of the war with Japan in August 1945 changed the complexion of Hill Field’s storage plans. Cessation of hostilities drastically dropped the need for bomber and fighter type aircraft and placed greater emphasis on storage of tactical type craft. Subsequently, the Ogden Air Depot set up schedules calling for complete preparation of eight bombers daily for permanent storage.

By September 1945, Hill Field had 681 aircraft and gliders of various types in permanent storage. It also received the first of 300 PT-13s from various training activities for storage inside its hangars. By the end of the month, Hill Field had received 124 PT-13s and prepared 50 for storage. Until January 1946, these aircraft remained in storage, at which point the Ogden Air Depot began removing them at the rate of 20 per month.

Despite the ending of the war, Hill Field’s operations tempo remained high. Its important mission of supply and maintenance operations continued through the late 1940s until once again, a few short years later, it began providing direct support to another war effort.