The lone remaining World War II-era barrack at Grider Field remains standing after more than 70 years, and an effort is underway to preserve it.
Doug Hale, the manager at Grider Field Pine Bluff Municipal Airport, is part of a team raising money to save the structure through the nonprofit Pine Bluff Grider Field Aviation Museum Inc.
“We have an architect working on floor plans,” Hale said. “We would like to apply to the National Register of Historic Places. If you can achieve that status, then grants are available.”
Sixteen people comprise a board of directors whose aim is raising money toward saving that structure. Hale said that an architect will produce blueprints of the barracks showing its eastern side housing a museum, its western side housing an office and storage space and its center being restored to World War II-era living quarters.
The Pine Bluff Grider Field Aviation Museum Inc. will hold a chicken dinner fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12. Tickets are $10 for people of all ages. To purchase tickets, call the airport at (870) 543-9933.
The ticket provides guests a chicken entree, a side dish, a drink and a chance to win a sightseeing trip aboard a Cessna 172 in the skies above Pine Bluff, said Sara Works of the board of directors. The event will also allow guests to tour the barracks, view the architect’s blueprints and admire other aircraft.
“We will be selling tickets until July 12,” Sara Works said. “We are expecting a large turnout, because there is a lot of interest in preserving the barracks.”
In addition, the nonprofit is selling memberships to the Grider Field Aviation Museum. A student pays $15, an adult $30, a couple $55 and a family $60. Sponsor level rates are $250 for single engine, $500 for twin engine and $1,000 for jet engine. Corporate levels include $1,000 for silver, $2,500 for gold and $5,000 for platinum.
Grider Field boasts a proud history dating to the 1940s as a primary training airport for thousands of pilots who served in World War II.
“When we went into World War II, we had very few pilots compared to what would be needed in the war effort,” Hale said. “The last remaining barrack is now in a state of disrepair. Our goal is to preserve the structure as well as our history.”
To become a pilot in the 1940s, a recruit needed to complete primary training, basic training and advanced training. The aviators would enter the war as either a bomber, transport pilot or fighter pilot, Hale said.
“We welcome anybody and everybody who is interested in helping us preserve the history of Grider Field and aviation in general,” Hale said. “You do not have to be a pilot.”
The Black Pilots of America comes to Grider Field once a year holding flying exercising in a fly-in called Operation Skyhook. The pilots have a friendly competition with each other and take children on flights, Hale said.
“The Black Pilots of America has had a presence on this field for the last 18 years and we wish to include the BPA in our history,” Hale said. “Our history continues through the present.”
Aviation is a vital function that is integral to the economy, Hale said. It is also a recreational opportunity and an exercise of freedom.
“Flying is challenging and exciting at the same time,” Hale said of his experience as a pilot.
Rickey Works, chairman of the nonprofit board of directors, wants to preserve the history as well as the one remaining barrack. There have been 300 tickets printed for the first fundraiser.
“Pilots make air travel possible,” he said. “Look at the amount of general aviation, getting people from one point to another that could not be done without pilots.
“There is a lot of aviation history around Pine Bluff,” Rickey Works said, referring to military, commercial and agricultural purposes.
“Pine Bluff played a vital effort training pilots in World War II who flew over Europe and the Pacific,” he said. “There were a lot of pilots from Pine Bluff who trained at other bases.”
Although Grider Field is no longer a training ground for military purposes, it is a destination for larger companies and organizations in Southeast Arkansas. It also sees a lot of traffic from hunters during duck season, he said.