Avon Park Air Force Range

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Avon Park Air Force Range
MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field
Air Combat Command.png
previously
Avon Park Army Air Field
Avon Park Air Force Base
Part of Air Combat Command (ACC)
Located near Avon Park, Florida
Avon Park Air Force Range - Florida.jpg
2006 USGS airphoto
Avon Park AFR is located in Florida
Avon Park AFR
Avon Park AFR
Coordinates 27°39′04.28″N 081°20′36.47″W / 27.6511889°N 81.3434639°W / 27.6511889; -81.3434639
Type Air Force Bombing Range
Site information
Controlled by United States Air Force
Site history
Built 1941
In use 1941-present

The Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) (ICAO: KAGRFAA LID: AGR) or MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field, is a United States Air Force bombing range and air-ground training complex in the U.S. state of Florida located east of the city of Avon Park.

Overview[edit]

Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) consists of approximately 106,000 acres of which about 82,000 acres were previously open to the public for hunting, fishing and recreation when military air-to-ground operations were not being conducted. In the wake of heightened security measures following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, this previous public access has been significantly curtailed.

In addition to its live weapons and ordnance delivery range complex, APAFR includes Avon Park Air Force Auxiliary Field, also known as MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field, which consists of an 8,000 foot main runway, an operational control tower, an aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, and limited ramp and hangar facilities. There are no published instrument approach procedures and the airfield is limited to Visual Flight Rule (VFR) operations only.

APAFR serves as the primary air-to-ground training range for the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, and an alternate range for the 23rd Wing's 23rd Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. APAFR is an also an important range for military air-to-ground operations originating from nearby Patrick AFB and MacDill AFB, which routinely host numerous squadron/unit level deployments from Active and Reserve USAF, USN, USMC and U.S. Army units, to include Army National Guard and Air National Guard, from across the country to practice air-to-ground operations. Training requirements include low level flights, night vision training, and the firing/release of many different types of ordnance and weaponry across the full spectrum of Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army assets, all of which can be readily employed on the APAFR.

Due to deferred airfield maintenance issues, the APAFR airfield is currently closed to all flight operations other than light general aviation aircraft used by APAFR personnel for range monitoring issues, and to military jet or rotary-wing aircraft experiencing in-flight emergencies on or in the vicinity of the Avon Park Military Operations Area (Avon Park MOA) for which an emergency divert to MacDill AFB or Patrick AFB is not practical.

Units[edit]

The host unit for APAFR is the Deployed Unit Complex (DUC), 23d Wing, Detachment 1, which is a unit of the 23d Wing (23 WG), an Air Combat Command (ACC) composite fighter and rescue wing located at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

In addition to the Avon Park Air Force Range, Det 1 also oversees the Deployed Unit Complex (DUC), a flight line facility at nearby MacDill Air Force Base for transient military flight crews, maintenance crews and aircraft utilizing the APAFR. This permits visiting squadrons to have ready access to APAFR while concurrently taking advantage of the more robust billeting, messing and aircraft maintenance support capabilities at MacDill AFB. This combination of facilities provides extensive, diversified and convenient training airspace and ranges with unique training capabilities for military air, ground and air-to-ground training.

The Florida Army National Guard also maintains a permanent ground support facility at APAFR.

History[edit]

World War II[edit]

1944 airphoto of Avon Park Army Airfield

The facility was a pre-war civil airport taken over by the United States Army Air Forces in September 1942. Assigned to III Bomber Command, Third Air Force, the airport was designated as Avon Park Army Air Field and initially was assigned as a sub-base of MacDill Field, near Tampa. Upon activation, the 41st Aviation Squadron was assigned with a mission to convert the civil airport into a military airfield.

In addition to the former civil airport, the Army Air Forces also acquired a total of 218,883.88 acres nearby for a large bombing and gunnery range. Acquisition of 111,165 acres in February 1943 in Okeechobee County increased the site to approximately 352 square miles of territory. A spur of the Atlantic Southern Railroad also served the base, crossing Arbuckle Creek at what is now called the "burned out bridge," and brought in about 300 rail cars a month. Arbuckle Lake is still called Submarine Lake by some because of the 32-foot replica of a Japanese submarine that was constructed and used for torpedo run training.

Avon Park AAF was placed under the command of the 380th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron on 1 January 1943. The military population peaked at 10,000, a dramatic contrast with the 3,000 civilian population of the nearby city of Avon Park in 1942. In addition, these figures do not include support civilians, military families, nor staff and students at the Lodwick Military Aviation Academy at the civilian Lodwick Field in Avon Park, a facility which was used by the Army Air Forces Training Command as a basic flying training school. With the resultant housing shortage, military personnel took up residence in resort facilities and towns as far away as Lake Wales and Wauchula. The Pinecrest Lakes Club near Avon Park, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, made sixty double rooms available to officers and their families. Likewise, these great numbers of military personnel led to sometimes contentious relations with the town fathers. Records show that servicemen were sometimes charged higher prices than those paid by locals. Accordingly, base commanders were known to restrict military traffic to town in an effort to stimulate economic pressure on the shopkeepers.

The mission of Avon Park was a training base for B-26 Marauder medium bomber crews, with aircrews training at the base as well as at the main base at MacDill Field, both of which used the range for air to ground bombing training. The trainees would drop bombs ranging in size from 15 lb practice bombs to 2000 lb. demolition bombs containing 2 ton of high explosives. Targets at the Avon Park Range included a mock 555-acre town on the shore of Lake Arbuckle, a large floating water target on Lake Kissimmee, and an eight-mile railroad bombardment target. In 1943, the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics from Orlando Army Airfield also constructed a special incendiary target for use.

In addition to the bomber training, USAAF aircrews from the field flew antisubmarine patrols from Avon Park over both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts as part of their training mission, augmenting U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard air operations performing such patrols from their own bases in Florida as a primary mission.

In November 1943, Avon Park Army Airfield stood up as an independent Third Air Force base. The reason was that II Bomber Command transferred the heavy bomber replacement aircrew training mission to Third Air Force when it assumed the B-29 Superfortress training mission. The overflow at MacDill Field led to Avon Park becoming a fully equipped field. The 88th Bombardment Group (Heavy), was moved from Walla Walla Army Air Base, Washington, to provide replacement aircrew and pilot transition training in B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber combat aircraft. Avon Park also provided replacement aircrews training in bombing and gunnery skills. B-17s assigned to the base had an "A" for Avon next to the crew door, and by May 1945, the base code was also added to the tail. Avon Park AAF had twenty-six thousand M1A1 practice bombs stored in an open area on 3 July 1945.

Major Units Assigned[edit]

Re-designated: Avon Park Replacement Training Unit (Heavy Bombardment), 1 May 1944-30 September 1945

Postwar use[edit]

Avon Park Army Airfield went on inactive status in September 1945 and was again assigned to MacDill Field in a caretaker status. Jurisdiction was transferred to Air Technical Service Command (ATSC), whose mission was the transfer of any useful military equipment to other bases around the country. Unlike most wartime facilities that were closed, Avon Park was retained by the Air Force and not transferred to the War Assets Administration (WAA) for disposal.

The facility was subsequently transferred by the Army to the new United States Air Force in September 1947. In 1949, Avon Park was reactivated by the Strategic Air Command (then the major command assigned to MacDill) and renamed Avon Park Air Force Base. At this time, a major military construction and improvement program was begun to include storm drainage, sanitary sewer, electrical and water systems, roads, bridges, runways, fencing and over 500 buildings. These structures included a chapel, administration buildings, dormitories/barracks, recreation facilities, airfield and main base fire stations, mess halls, residences for married personnel, recreational facilities such as a swimming pool and bowling alley, and other miscellaneous structures. At its height, the base spread across 218,000 acres (880 km2). In 1956, the site was renamed Avon Park Air Force Range

In the late 1950s, permanent USAF manning was drastically reduced as the facility transitioned from an operating air base to an air-to-ground weapons range complex. The Florida Avon Park Correctional Institution was subsequently established on the installation utilizing former base infrastructure that was conveyed to the State of Florida and correctional staff replaced military personnel in manning the main gate of the facility. The Air Force, retained control of the range facility, which it maintains to the present day.

Current status[edit]

Divested Properties[edit]

Over the succeeding years the Air Force has declared much of the original Avon Park Air Force Range land as surplus and disposed of it. With successive divestitures of real property and reductions in permanent party military, civil service and contractor personnel assigned to APAFR, many of the military facilities constructed during the late 1940s and 1950s have been turned over to the State of Florida. The state's Department of Corrections operates the Avon Park Correctional Institution (APCI) on site for adult male offenders utilizing former USAF dormitory/barracks facilities, while the Department of Juvenile Justice operates the Avon Park Youth Academy for low to moderate risk juvenile offenders/delinquents utilizing former base housing.[1] The last major divestment in 1983 brought the range to its current size.

Remaining USAF-controlled Property[edit]

APAFR continues to consist of the previously mentioned active range air-to-ground range and target facilities, the MacDill AFB Auxiliary Airfield, and the associated infrastructure for that airfield. Other facilities at APAFR that continue to be maintained by USAF and that are outside the core operational mission include morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) facilities, primarily camping, boating and hunting facilities for active and retired military personnel. Multiple military functions continue to occur at the range and numerous World War II period structures remain, some of which continue in use by range personnel. Public access to the Avon Park AFR for other than active and retired military personnel and their families has been temporarily suspended due to the heightened security requirements for Department of Defense installations in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In April 1993, the Florida Highlands Chapter of the Air Force Association erected a three-blade propeller memorial next to the former base headquarters/current APAFR administrative building in tribute to the many military personnel who have served at this facility.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links[edit]