DINWIDDIE/PETERSBURG AIRPORT IN THE 1940's
During World War II, the navy needed to transport new airplanes from the factories on the east coast to the ships that would take them to war in the pacific. The navy air ferry command grew from 10 volunteer pilots in 1941, flying in there spare time and on weekends to over 1000 pilots in 1943.
In the beginning pilots were ferrying wildcats, kingfishers, Brewster buffalos and the Grumman goose. Over time they had to deliver J4F, JRF, J2F, F3A, FM, TBM, SB2A, PV, SB2C, FG, R4D, GH, PBJ, JM, SBW, TDR, SNV, BTB, N2S, F4F, F7F, PBY & PBY4.
There were 3 squadrons to handle the ferrying services:
VRF-1 set up at Floyd Bennet Field, Brooklyn, NY
VRF-2 set up at Columbus, OH
VRF-3 set up at San Pedro, CA
Had more than 20 servicing and repair detachments all over the US, including Petersburg, VA.
Delivered 46,000 planes
Flew over 450,000 hours
Carried 16,000 passengers
The pilots were on average 19 years old coming out of training in Pensacola, Florida. The civilian pilots trained at Corpus Christi, Texas for an average of three months.
- Pilots flew 2-hour hops.
- The trip from New York to California took 12.5 hours depending on the aircraft.
- The Grumman Duck took 24 hours to make the trip.
- The NE-1 Piper Cubs made the trip in 30 hours.
Navy Air Ferrying Squadron VRS-1 at Petersburg, VA
To facilitate the transportation of aircraft from the east coast factories to the waiting ships on the west coast, aviation units were setup across the US for refueling and maintenance. In 1943 the Petersburg, VA airport was converted from an emergency landing strip to a ferry command, air delivery unit and was designated VRS-1.
When the workers arrived in Petersburg the airport had a one tree lined runway, no roads, no lights, no buildings, no telephone and no johns.
There was a hotel across from the airport on US1 called “The Blue Tar Tan”, where men stayed while working on the airport. Using equipment and army prisoners from camp Lee, the airport was up and running in just 3 months.
The new airport had 3 barracks (UB40’s), fuel storage, fueling trucks, maintenance facilities, a Red Cross canteen, and johns. Pilots who flew in could stay at the Petersburg hotel, where the management arranged dances that local girls also attended.
Pilots would fly in from Floyd Bennet Field, land at Petersburg, and then head west. During the winter months, they flew from Petersburg to Atlanta, Texas and then on to the west coast so that planes could be sent to the pacific. They then made the return trip with battle worn planes for repair.