History Of KVNC
Recently invited to speak with the Englewood Rotary Club, VASI updated this presentation deck and presented it to 50 curious Rotarians. We are posting this outline and accompanying narrative for your enjoyment.
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An Airport in the Making
SLIDE 1 ON==History of the …Airport
First let me ask how many of you are pilots?
How many served in one of the Armed Services?
The Venice Airport has seen some tough times in the past and that is why our organization VASI was formed in 1991.
VASI SLIDE ON
But today the Venice Municipal Airport is a great General Aviation Airport that serves not only Venice but the region. Its physical condition today would rival that at the end of World War II. But it would certainly not rival the number of buildings and tents, troops and the hustle and bustle atmosphere of a wartime World War II Air Base.
But to the Airport.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Kentucky Military Institute put the city of Venice on the U.S. map. But on the evening of March 4, 1941 Finn W. Caspersen, you might recognize Caspersen for the park named after him on the south end of the Island, but Finn put the Venice Municipal Airport on the map of Venice, ultimately rescued Venice from the depression and proved the source of many city resources following World War II.
Slide 2 ON ===March 4, 1941===
Finn standing on the nearly deserted streets of Venice thought Venice had a lot to offer to the coming War Effort and it could help Venice. So the Venice Shores Real Estate Company salesman walked into the Western Union Telegraph office and sent a telegram to the War Department, Washington, D.C., offering them 3,000 acres of land for use as an Army Camp site.
Slide 3 ON===March 12, 1941====
His offer was acknowledged and by the 12th, Col. Ralph E. Hill of the Coast Artillery, Plans and Training Division arrived to evaluate Venice as an Anti-Aircraft Firing Center.
Slide 4 ON===June 16, 1941====
By July, Venice was chosen as the training range for 30,000 troops.
Slide 5 ON====January 28, 1941===
Survey work was completed in January 1942, but curiously, not much happened and the Anti-Aircraft Cantonment failed to materialize.
Slide 6 ON====May, 1942===
However, in May 1942, the Army took renewed interest in Venice as Air Corps training site for aircraft maintenance and supply organizations, known as Service Groups.
A team from McDill Field landed at the original Venice Airport located about where Country Club Estates and the Venice High School are located to do a survey. So the original mission of the Air Field was training and developing aircraft maintenance and supply organizations known as Service Groups. These units were aircraft maintenance and supply support a couple echelon or so back from the front lines. Ultimately the air base training mission included not only Service Groups but also the simultaneous training of fighter pilots.
By May 31st, an engineering office opened in the El Patio Hotel and the first truckload of tent frames and equipment arrived. Soon, the War Department had acquitted 1,211 acres and leased another 458 acres. Most of the land was acquired from Dr. Fred Albee and Thomas W. Cullen.
Slide 7 ON===July 7, 1942====
In July 1942 the first training unit arrived.
Slide 8 ON===September 7, 1942====
An important milestone was the utilization of existing City of Venice facilities, like the hospital to name one important property.
Slide 9 ON===Airbase From The Air===
This is what the base looked like after it was constructed. Note the Gulf of Mexico is in the lower right corner of the slide. Also notice the lack of any development between the base and Venice City.
Slide 10 ON===Airbase From The Air===
This slide gives you an idea of the area the base covered, up to San Marco Drive just north of the Venice Hospital.
By June 1943, the civilian population of Venice had swelled to 700 when the first combat aircraft operated on the field.
Slide 11 ON===June 7, 1943===
Some base activities at Punta Gorda and Page Field in Ft. Myers were consolidated into Venice in March of 1944,but training continued at these locations until the war ended.
The small Venice training camp for 900 men grew into an Army Base of over 7,000 personnel,
Slide 12 ON==January 16, 1942===
This included a good number of Chinese and Chinese American troops to be trained as service personnel. According to some history this was at the request of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek through President Roosevelt.
The 600 soldier strong Chinese 14th Service Group was one of these units.
Slide 13 ON===Venice AAB In Action===
Additionally the Venice Base was the major repair base for badly damaged aircraft from other outlying bases like Sarasota, Punta Gorda and Ft. Myers and other training fields. About 4 or 5 airplanes crashed at these local bases each week.
At Venice airplanes could be completely rebuilt with the exception of the engines. The P-40s were particularly susceptible to ground looping and damage. But they were replaced with P-47s and towards the end of the war many bases transitioned to P-51s. Venice had 70+ P-51s by the end of the war.
During that time there were also groups of P-39s stationed here. P-39s were the main fighter aircraft that went to Russia through Lend Lease.
From March 1943 to January 1945 about 150-175 planes from the satellite bases crashed and were scrapped as unrepairable. Actually the very establishment of the Venice Airbase was in consideration of this major repair work and it served the training mission of the Venice Airbase. A more permanent unit was assigned at the Venice Airbase to do the work and in the process train unit’s hands-on that were organized to deploy and do that same job in the war. Venice Air Base was established within a radius of other training bases so that they could not only take care of the training base but maintenance men could gain that actual hands-on training prior to deployment.
The base had troop training schools for the various components of most of the airplanes, like Allison, Rolls Royce, Pratt and Whitney and Wright Engines.
For critical supplies there was a daily priority air freight run from McDill Field. In addition to the fighters there were a host of other such as the UC 78, known as the Bamboo Bomber, the Douglas A 24, A-25, O-47, B-34, At-18s and B-25s.
Slide 14 ON===Full Service Base===
The Base had a Beer Garden built by the troops, and like any large airbase or military post had the full complement of city services: a post exchange, commissary, two Army Bands, Post Newspaper, The Arial, and all the services of a small city. The base also had a small Army marine unit, marine with a small m, which had the mission of rescuing crews that went down in the Gulf near Venice. Also if anyone has read Stephen Ambrose’s “The Wild Blue” which follows George McGovern’s service as a B-24 pilot in the war you would know that many wives and girlfriends of both enlisted and officers followed their husbands and boyfriends to their various stations until they were deployed overseas and Venice was no exception. As you can imagine the living conditions were poor with very little housing available particularly in Venice but the base commissary was a life line.
Throughout its three year and four month service life, VAAF trained nine Service Groups, including the all-Chinese 14t.” An estimated 22,000 service men and women passed through its front gates.
Additionally the base sustained a Hurricane in 1944 that did damage but was quickly repaired.
Mike Flanigan Story
Slide 15 ON===October, 1945===
Slide 16 ON===June 10, 1947
The end of WWII would forever transform the VAAF. In October 1945, the base was ordered closed. City officials and the Chamber of Commerce were notified by the War Assets Administration that Venice could obtain the airport, including three runways, three hangars, two auxiliary buildings and all maintenance equipment from the Federal Government, free of charge, through a conditional quit claim deed.
Slide 17 and 18 ON===Restrictive Covenants===
On June 10, 1947, the entire property was deeded to the city of Venice under a series of conditions and covenants. As the earlier slide noted the base transfer was not without some controversy.
In its early civilian life, twenty businesses were located on VMA. In 1951, the US Air Force built and operated a Long Range Navigation System (LORAN) that has since been decommissioned.
Out of Retirement?
Slide 19 ON===Out of Retirement===
In February of 1952, the Air Force again called Venice to discuss the possibility of reactivating the VAAF, this time for the purpose of operating a gunnery training school for jet pilots. However, public opinion ruled against reactivation.
Slide 20 ON===Testing, 1,2,3===
Finally, 1959 would rekindle the bases military legacy when the Chance-Vought Aircraft Company of Dallas, Texas approached the airport with a $1,000 a month lease offer to conduct the Regulus II missile test program. The Regulus II was an unmanned rocket drone launched from VMA for development of a Boeing anti-missile defense system that successfully shot down the Regulus from Eglin AFB.
Slide 21 ON===Ooops===
In 1962, another missile test program landed in the news when a 500 pound booster engine from a Nike-Cajun missile malfunctioned and fell in a vacant lot between two homes on Riviera Street. The 13 foot long engine augered all but a few inches of itself into the earth and had to be removed with a winch. Mayor Smyth D. Brohard respectfully asked Eglin to cease any further missile launches from Venice until “Responsible Air Force officials confer with him concerning last Friday’s firing.”
Subsequent years at the airport were less eventful. One of the three runways, 09/27, was decommissioned and became a parking ramp.
In 1991the Venice Aviation Society, Inc. (VASI), was formed by a group of airport pilots and tenants focused on overcoming some of the pressing problems at the airport which had begun to fall into serious disrepair. Much was need including general maintenance issues, lack of t-hangars, and the organization focused on addressing these issues and preserving, protecting, promoting and advancing General Aviation in Venice. That remains the VASI Mission today.
2001 left a grim mark on otherwise stellar history of the Venice airfield. Four of the 19 hijackers involved in the events of September 11, 2001 received training at the airport. They had trained elsewhere also but the stigma for our airport was tough to bear. Of course Sarasota had its own Bernie Madoff in the form of Art Nadel. While Art Nadel’s investors suffered the Airport benefited since Art had purchased and rebuilt the Airport Fixed Base Operation now known as the Suncoast Air Center. Apart from that the City of Venice more directly has been the subject of several Federal Investigations over the years for City diversion of airport revenue, and land use violations to name a few issues. Happily today and beginning with the election of Mayor John Holic and several of his fellow city council members after 10-15 years of battles with the FAA and the US DOT the airport is in full compliance with its deed restrictions and grant obligations.
Slide 22 ON===KVNC Today===
The last 12 years have probably been as significant physically for the airport as those first years during the War. Over the last 12 years that saw some tough political battles wrapped around misdeeds at the airport ultimately the airport has also seen some major improvements, particularly over the last several years. Physical improvements include full rehabilitation of Runways 13-31 in 2006 and more recently Runway 5-23, both 5,000, or within a few, 5,000 feet long and 150 feet wide.
New hangars have been constructed, taxiways rebuilt and the major ramp or parking area has been significantly rehabilitated and widened. The Airport now has a modern automated weather reporting system for pilots, and GPS Based Instrument Approaches for each of the 4 Runways. This greatly enhances safety. Instrument Approaches allow aircraft to safely land in poorer weather. These various airport improvements for the most part are paid 90% by the FAA out of the Airport Improvement Program which is funded by taxes on users, fuel taxes and Florida DOT with 5% the responsibility of the airport. A few projects are not eligible for Federal Funding and are covered by the State or the Airport Fund.
Slide 23 ON===KVNC Today===
Today, the VMA is home to an excellent FBO or general aviation terminal, restaurant, a flight school, three aircraft maintenance shops, an aircraft electronics installation and repair facility and approximately 200 based aircraft. The Experimental Aircraft Association provides free rides to youngsters in the Young Eagles program. The Sarasota County Sheriff operates out of the airport and the Civil Air Patrol conducts patrol operations as required. On any given day Agape Flights is running supplies to Missionaries in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, or other Caribbean destinations, volunteer pilots are transporting patients to medical facilities on behalf of Angel Flights, seasonal residents and visitors are coming and going, and business people arrive or depart to conduct business. The Flight School is training and aircraft arrive for maintenance.
Slide 24 ON===Where Did That Come From===
In closing the Airport has contributed a lot in the past and continues that contribution today.
Thanks, Finn Caspersen, for that telegraph.