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Building Pratt History

Parachute Shop Interior 1944

Civilian employees repair and pack parachutes. The women are from Trousdale, but their names have been lost. photos courtesy Phillip Schulz

From: Pratt Tribune, 03/02/10

PAAF parachute shop
The parachute shop, one of five Pratt Army Air Field buildings remaining, is being converted to a museum showcasing PAAF and the B-29 plane.

Making history

Construction of the Pratt Army Air Field began in 1942 and the field was dedicated in May 1943, one of four B-29 fighter plane training fields in Kansas. The others were at Walker, Great Bend and Salina.

Why Kansas? There are a couple of schools of thought, Phillip Schulz, president of the B-29 Museum Inc. Committee, said. Boeing, in Wichita, was the primary contractor for the B-29. Kansas is in the middle of the country. And Kansas legislators lobbied for airfields. Texas had the most military installations, but every state, with the exception of North Dakota, had some, according to Schulz.

The base was constructed on faith, before the B29 had ever flown. Five bombing groups trained here, preparing for overseas duty. In two and a half years, the base was home to 10,000 military personnel and 600 civilian employees.

Base plans authorized housing for more than 3,000 enlisted men and 522 officers; many more, and their families, found accommodations in Pratt, where homeowners hastily carved out apartments or rented spare rooms.

The base was deactivated Dec. 31, 1945 and ownership of the 2,000-acre facility was transferred to the City of Pratt for development of the Pratt Industrial Airport. Many of the buildings were sold or given to organizations. Several were leased to businesses.
Telling history

The parachute shop has housed several businesses in the last 65 years, but has remained in good condition. The ceiling and wall surfaces are original.

The building is 90 feet long, 37 feet wide and 40 feet to the top of the parachute tower.

In 2009 the Airport Authority gave the building to the B-29 Museum Committee for a Bombers on the Prairie museum. The building is listed on the state and national historical registries. A $53,000 heritage grant from the Kansas Historical Society is providing funds to rehabilitate the building.

“We want it to look like 1943 when you walk in the door,” Schulz said.

Archives from the 29th Bomb Group, assembled by Joe Chovelak of Illinois, will form the nucleus of the exhibit and research material.

The intention will be to put a human face on history, Schulz said. They have letters from a flight surgeon, thousands of photos and personal effects like a flight jacket with a Japanese language handbook and a survival map tucked into the pockets.

They hope to have a walking tour that would include three other original buildings, Norden bombsight vaults, foundations of celestial navigation trainers and the All Veterans Memorial.

An event is planned at the site in the fall and it is hoped the museum will be open by the end of 2010.