The date of construction of the Haleiwa airfield has not been determined. The earliest depiction of the field which has been located was a 1933 aerial photo, which depicted a group of B-6A biplanes on a grass field.
Haleiwa Field on the northwest coast of Oahu, 30-miles from Honolulu, was originally (prewar) a center for private flying.
“On the 3rd of December 1941 the 47th Pursuit Squadron was assigned to this base …. This was not a regular runway, just something comparable to an old country road rather than an airstrip. (HIAVPS)
Originally used as an emergency landing field, it had only an unpaved landing strip. Those on temporary duty there had to bring their own tents & equipment.
On December 7, 1941, combined forces of the Japanese Imperial Navy struck at Naval and Army installations on Oahu – and the secondary target was the fleet of American aircraft scattered about the island, aircraft that could disrupt the aerial assault and then follow the fleeing Japanese back to their carriers.
The first targets hit were the airfields: Wheeler, Kaneohe, Ewa, Hickam, Ford Island, Bellows and the civilian airport serving Honolulu. In the strafing and bombing, scores of American aircraft were destroyed in a few minutes. The Imperial bombers could then concentrate on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Haleiwa Field earned its place in history when it became the only airfield able to provide defense against the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese heavily strafed the aircraft at Wheeler Field and few aircraft were able to get airborne to fend them off. Haleiwa was an auxiliary field to Wheeler and contained a collection of aircraft temporarily assigned to the field including aircraft from the 47th Pursuit Squadron.
A total of eight Curtiss P-40 Kitty Hawk and 2 Curtiss P-36 Mohawk pursuit planes were at the field on the morning of 7 December 1941.
Lt. George S. Welch (heir to the grape juice family) and 2nd Lt. Kenneth M. Taylor (on his first assignment,) both P-40 pilots, were at Wheeler when the attack began.
They had previously flown their P-40B fighters over to the small airfield at Haleiwa as part of a plan to disperse the squadron’s planes away from Wheeler.
Not waiting for instructions the pilots called ahead to Haleiwa and had both their fighters fueled, armed and warmed up. Both men raced in their cars to Haleiwa Field completing the 16-mile trip in about 15 minutes.
With their P-40s, now warmed up and ready, they jumped into their cockpits. The crew chiefs informed them that they should disperse their planes. “The hell with that”, said Welch. Ignoring the usual pre-takeoff checklists the aircraft took off down the narrow airstrip.
Once in the air they spotted a large number of aircraft in the direction of Ewa and Pearl Harbor. Only then did they realize what they were up against. “There were between 200 and 300 Japanese aircraft,” said Taylor; “there were just two of us!”
The two P-40s engaged the aircraft attacking Ewa Mooring Mast and shot down five Japanese planes. They then returned to Wheeler to replenish their ammunition. While there, another wave of dive bombers appeared and Lt. Taylor raced back into the air. His P-40’s cockpit was damaged as a Japanese plane chased him.
Lt. Welch was able to down the plane following him and they both returned back to Wheeler. Lt. Welch was credited with a total of four Japanese planes shot down and Lt. Taylor downed two.
Just as suddenly as it began, the sky was empty of enemy aircraft. Both are credited with being the first “Aces” of World War II. Taylor & Welch were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Walsh & Taylor’s dramatic ride & takeoff was shown in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora. (Trojan)
The Army improved the field during the early part of World War II and it was in use to simulate real battle conditions for gunnery training. In 1944 the Navy took the field over for carrier-landing training.
After the war Haleiwa Fighter Strip was apparently reused as a civilian airport for some period of time. Haleiwa was depicted as a civilian airport on the 1947 Hawaiian Islands Sectional Chart.
It was described as having a 4,800′ hard-surface runway. The Haleiwa Airport was apparently abandoned at some point between 1947-1961, as it was not depicted at all on the 1961 Honolulu Sectional Chart. (Trojan)
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Owen Miyamoto says
I took my first ride in a airplane at Haleiwa Airfield. It was also my first trip in a Piper Cub.
Peter Clark says
My dad had a wooden propeller he found in one of the trees after a bad tsunami, 1946 perhaps? He learned to fly at the old Kailua Airfield, near present day Aikahi Park. Does anyone have any photos or text on the Kailua Airfield?
Aaron Pollick says
Did you know way before the army took over the area to make it an airfield it was the place for the Hawaii National Guard’s yearly encampment area. its assembled the entire Army Guard including the units of the neighboring islands.
Alvin Yee says
Betty Guild, later a WASP pilot wrote that when she was flying for Andrews Flying Service, she would take tourists around the West side, land at Haleiwa, get picked up by a car from Haleiwa Hotel where they’d all get lunch, then take off to return to John Rodgers. This would be around 1940 – 41. She was a buddy of a fellow pilot Cornelia Forte, and they used to go to Wo Fat for girls night out.
Alvin Yee says
A man named Roger told me he lived at a Waialua Sugar Plantation camp. On Sunday Dec. 7, 1941, he witnessed the Japanese planes flying in formation parallel to the shoreline. About 11:00 AM, an Army truck came into the camp looking for men to work at 50 cents an hour. They went to Haleiwa Field where they were quickly expanding they airstrip. Older men were quickly cutting trees with chain saws. His job as a 17 year old Waialua High senior was to load logs onto the Army truck and ride the truck to Kawailani and dump the logs onto the sugar cane field. Metal landing mats were already stacked up to be placed onto the cleared ground by other men.
Alvin Yee says
I’ve read elsewhere that George Welch was NOT related to the Welch grape family.
George Welch later claimed to have broken the sound barrier in an XP-86 in a power dive over Edwards AFB a few minutes before Chuck Yeager did so officially in level flight in a Bell X-1 rocket plane. Welch had told the patrons the night before at a famous tavern run by Pancho Barnes to listen for the sonic boom. In the mid 1950’s Welch was testing an F-102 when it lost control and broke up in mid-air, killing him. The pilot flying the chase plane and saw the accident was Chuck Yeager. (Yeager told me this story)
Ray Strunks says
April Fools Day 1946 A Tidal wave hit the Islands. The weekend after that I got a dispatch for a vehicle to see the damage and to visit buddies who were helping fhe homeless. First time seeing planes at the airfield Taking a ride became my 1st lesson. Received License in August. Army sent me home in Sept.
Airfield Operater Andrew (no s) Flying Service. Office girl. Lorraine Chai, Line boys; Doyle Hartman and
Everite Dickey. Lorraine still lives in Honolulu. I was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Bakers and Cooks
School. The Army took the flood victims to an abanded Army camp up in the hills south of the north shore, The Army furnished food and personel from the school to care for the people.