(former Blythe Army Air Field)
|2008 aerial photo|
|IATA: BLH – ICAO: KBLH – FAA LID: BLH|
|Owner||County of Riverside|
|Elevation AMSL||399 ft / 122 m|
|Sources: Federal Aviation Administration & GNIS|
Blythe Airport (IATA: BLH, ICAO: KBLH, FAA LID: BLH) is seven miles west of Blythe, in Riverside County, California. The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011–2015 categorized it as a general aviation facility.
Blythe Airport was established by the Civil Aeronautics Administration in the late 1930s as an emergency landing field on the Los Angeles to Phoenix airway. A commercial airport opened in April 1940.
The airport was leased by the United States Army in 1942 and between 1942 and 1944, the U.S. War Department acquired 4,248.12 acres in fee from various private parties, 6.54 acres of public domain land via transfer, 282.61 acres by lease from the County of Riverside, a 1.98-acre easement, and a 0.63-acre permit. The Army encroached on another 20.18 acres, increasing the total acquisition for Blythe Army Air Field to 4,560.06 acres. Over 650 buildings and other types of military facilities and improvements were constructed at this airfield, including hangars, office buildings, barracks, warehouses, runways and taxiways, water and sewer systems, a hospital, and fuel and ordnance storage.
In addition to the main facility at Blythe, several auxiliary airfields were built.
- Gary Field
- Desert Center AAF
During World War II the airfield was known as Blythe Army Air Field and was used by the United States Army Air Forces. The use of the site began on May 14, 1942. Blythe AAB was built for the I Troop Carrier Command but was given up by that command, without ever occupying it, to the Fourth Air Force as part of the United States Army Desert Training Center (DTC) was established by General George S. Patton shortly after the outbreak of the war, Blythe was the only air field with construction already under way. For six months, the air field served as the sole air support base for the Army maneuvers under way at the DTC.
The 46th Bombardment Group and later the 85th Bombardment Group occupied the field during the CAMA days and flew a variety of planes including A-31 Vengeances and A-36 Apaches. Once air fields were established at three new locations within the DTC (Thermal, Rice and Desert Center), Blythe field was no longer required for the Army's desert exercises. After General Patton was sent to North Africa, the name of the training center was changed to the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA). The 46th and 85th Bomb Groups were reassigned.
The Army Air Forces then used Blythe as a heavy bombardment crew training base for the Second Air Force 16th Bombardment Training Wing 358th Combat Crew Training School. The field's mission was changed to the training of combat air crews prior to shipment overseas. The 85th Bombardment Group and the 390th Bombardment Group were active at Blythe AAF in 1942 and 1943. Up to 75 B-17 Flying Fortresses were flown and maintained at the base. During 1943 and 1944, Blythe AAF was used for squadron pilot training, then in December 1944 reverted to an active heavy bombardment base with B-24 Liberators
Known units assigned to Blythe Army Airfield were:
- 46th Bombardment Group (Light) 23 May 1942 – November 1942. A-20 Havoc
- 85th Bombardment Group (Light) 23 May 1942 – November 1942. A-20 Havoc
- 85th Bombardment Group (Dive) 2 November – 11 December 1942 A-24 Dauntlesses
- 34th Bombardment Group (Heavy) 15 December 1942 – April 1944. B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators
- 398th Bombardment Group (Heavy) April 1943– . B-17 Flying Fortresses
At its peak in December, 1943 the base had a population just short of 8000 uniformed and civilian personnel. This was twice the population of the city of Blythe, the only community within a one hundred mile radius. By April 1944 only a housekeeping force was assigned to the base. By July 1944 the field was abandoned by the Army and declared surplus. 126 airmen were killed in Blythe Army Air Base-related accidents.
Blythe Army Air Field later became a sub-base of Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) on 30 June 1945, and was inactivated on 18 October 1945, although during October–December 1946, the 477th Composite Group (Medium) used the airfield for desert maneuvers, flying B-25 Mitchells.
The airfield was declared surplus in 1946 and was reported to the General Service Administration for disposal. On September 10, 1948, the entire 4,560-acre site was transferred to the County of Riverside via quitclaim deed dated September 10, 1948
Today a modern airport has been built on the site of the former wartime airfield; however most of the area of what was Blythe Army Air Field has been abandoned to the natural landscape being empty and undeveloped. Abandoned runways and concrete parking ramps are visible in aerial photography.
Past Airline Service
Blythe was served by Bonanza Air Lines with Fairchild F-27s to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson and other cities. Bonanza merged with Pacific Air Lines and West Coast Airlines to form Air West which continued to operate F-27s from the airport. Air West became Hughes Airwest which eventually ceased all passenger service from Blythe.
It never served Blythe, but Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) conducted jet training flights from the Blythe Airport on occasion. PSA was based in San Diego so Blythe was a convenient location.
Blythe Airport covers 3,904 acres (1,580 ha) at an elevation of 399 feet (122 m). It has two asphalt runways: 8/26 is 6,543 by 150 feet (1,994 x 46 m) and 17/35 is 5,800 by 100 feet (1,768 x 30 m).
In 2010 the airport had 25,150 aircraft operations, average 68 per day: 99% general aviation and 1% military. Five aircraft were then based at this airport, three single-engine and two multi-engine.
- FAA Airport Master Record for BLH ( PDF); Federal Aviation Administration. Effective May 31, 2012. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Blythe Airport
- "2011–2015 NPIAS Report, Appendix A" (PDF, 2.03 MB). National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Federal Aviation Administration. October 4, 2010.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
- Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1983) . Air Force Combat Units of World War II (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-02-1. LCCN 61060979.
- Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) . Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556.
- Shaw, Frederick J. (2004). Locating Air Force Base Sites: History’s Legacy. Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, Washington DC, 2004.
- Wilson, Art (2008). Runways in the Sand. Blythe, California: Art Wilson. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-615-21889-2. OCLC 316309702. LCC D769.85.C21 B598 2008
- Aerial image as of May 2002 from USGS The National Map
- FAA Terminal Procedures for BLH, effective June 26, 2014
- Resources for this airport:
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Blythe Army Air Field (historical) – giving