Learning to Fly

At the beginning of the 1940s, Florida played an important role in military aviation. With abundantly good weather, Florida became the preferred training area for new pilots, for both the U.S. and British forces.

World War II produced a number of airports throughout the Florida peninsula which later became municipal airports for Bartow, Lakeland, New Smyrna, Daytona, Flagler, St. Augustine, Sanford, Deland, and Ormond Beach, to name just a few. South Florida and the panhandle also saw their share of airports established for the war effort as well.

Great Britain was the first in need of pilots. During the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was losing crews to the better-trained and equipped German Luftwaffe at an alarming rate. They quickly found themselves in a precarious situation — they could not train pilots quickly and well enough in England. And England desperately needed new pilots. Britain was in a dark and dangerous situation.

They turned to Florida for the training of their pilots. Young Englishmen came to Florida, to the little towns of Clewiston, Arcadia, Okeechobee and others, where they learned the rudiments of flying. They started flying in small airplanes and advanced to more powerful and heavier craft.

For the most part, flying in Florida was a wonderful experience for the young men. They learned discipline, aeronautics, navigation, as well as things about the Florida countryside. Some of the men would come to love Florida so well, they vowed to return one day after the war.

After a short time and logging minimal flight time, the young Brit airmen returned to their home and started defending the Isle against the Germans. They went from flying single-engine trainers with minimal horsepower, to flying fighters with more than a thousand horsepower engines. Some went on to fly very powerful and fast twin-engine bombers.

They were young and inexperienced; many in Britain thought the pilot’s job of holding off the Germans impossible. It seemed as if all hope was lost. But the airmen did not give up; they persevered. Many died. Still, they fought on.

World War II was a horrific event. The war should have never happened, but it did. More than 799,500 American and British died in the war, many manning the planes that flew over Europe in defense of the British Isle, and offensively against the Third Reich.

While many of the airmen would not survive, a number did. And of the British, more than a few would return to the Sunshine State and live out their last years in the magical land where they learned how to fly.


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