Markers: Sarasota History
Citizens from Sarasota and Bradenton began work in 1939 to create a joint airport after two earlier Sarasota airports had failed. With development of the project by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) beginning in 1940, 700 acres between U.S.41 and Old Bradenton Road were transformed from the swampy home of alligators and rattlesnakes to a three-runway air field. The U.S. War Department used the field during World War II.
In January 1946 the Sarasota Army Air Field was deactivated and opened to civilian use as the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. National Airlines, which had provided sporadic service to the old municipal airport in the late 1930s and resumed service next to the military base in 1944, moved into a building vacated by the Air Corps. Transformation to civilian status became more visible with the construction of a new control tower in 1957, a terminal in 1959, and the removal of old military buildings.
In the 1960s, jet flights, an instrument landing system, runway extensions, high-intensity lighting, and additional airlines were added. A new terminal in 1990 supported the change to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport when Port-of-Entry status was granted in 1992.
Sarasota Army Air Field
The 97th Bombardment Group was the first military group to use the Sarasota Army Air Field. They came from MacDill Field in Tampa and arrived in Sarasota in March 1942. The men lived in tents while they erected tar-paper barracks, used kerosene lanterns, and repaired runways which flooded. The 97th left Sarasota in May and became the first U.S. Bomb Group to fly American planes in high-altitude bombing raids from England. One of their commanders in Sarasota, Captain Paul Tibbets, Jr., gained fame near the end of the Pacific war when he flew the Enola Gay, named after his mother, to bomb Hiroshima.
The 92nd Bomb Group arrived in Sarasota as the 97th left. During the short training period, the 92nd continued construction of more permanent buildings and were given Group and Squadron insignia designed by V.T. Hamlin, the Sarasota cartoonist who drew the "Alley Oop" comic strip.
After the WPA crews completed their work on the airport and repaired runways damaged by the heavy B-17 bombers, the Army Air Corps used the field for fighter pilot training until 1945. The Corps added more permanent buildings and graduated an average of 70 pilots every 30 days.
Dedicated in 1996 by the Sarasota County Historical Commission