(Photo Credit: US Army Air Force)
Naples is a popular vacation and retirement community along Florida’s gulf coast. In addition to beaches, shopping and fine dining, Naples supports a busy general aviation airport (KAPF). With two runways capable of handling even the largest of business jets, the airport has seen great expansion since its humble beginnings in 1942.
It was then, in the early days of World War II, that Collier County purchased the land that would eventually become Naples Airport. The land was leased to the US government, and an Army Air Force base was built. This base served as a training center for pilots and gunners until the war ended in 1945. In 1947, the field, runways and ramp were returned to the county as had been agreed upon prior to its construction.
Few signs of the airport’s prior life exist today, but a small group of dedicated volunteers keep its history alive. Tucked away in the old passenger terminal, the Naples Museum of Military History is a 900 sq. ft. facility that features artifacts and displays from several different eras. With a focus largely on aviation, I decided this would be a good place to find out more about the interesting history of Naples Airport. Here’s what I discovered.
When activated in 1943, the new Naples Army Air Field was assigned twelve North American AT-6 Texan trainers. A typical exercise would consist of a short flight to an aerial gunnery range near Ft. Myers. As cadets progressed, they moved to the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter. Fourteen of these aircraft were based here. In 1944, nine Bell P-39 Airacobras were operating from the base. And by the closing months of the war, ten Bell P-63 Kingcobras had joined the flight line.
Much thanks to the helpful volunteers at the Naples Museum of Military History. The information they provided really shed some light on the history of Naples Airport. If you’re ever in the area, check it out. It’s free of charge, though donations are accepted. My step back in time was well worth it.