75 years ago, Miami, Oklahoma, became home to hundreds of young British men training to become airplane pilots. The #3 BFTS (British Flying Training School), a division of the Spartan School of Aeronautics, was one of three facilities in Oklahoma, the others in Tulsa and Muskogee.
The neatly manicured campus of several white wooden buildings was constructed behind the former Pierce Pennant Terminal, a once stately three-story Colonial-styled auto travel center/hotel erected in 1929 on a 10-acre tract of land west of Hwy. 66, about a mile north of town. The Terminal building was transformed into the administration offices of the flight school.
The Spartan School opened in 1941 during World War II and operated until 1945.
Harry Berkey, the Miami Chamber of Commerce Secretary, submitted a plan to the British Embassy in 1940 to entice officials to consider the city as a site for the school. He prepared a detailed leather-bound document, “A Proposal for the Number One Royal Air Force Pilot Training Facility in the United States.”
In 1941, a delegation of Miami business leaders headed to Washington, D.C. and met with Lord Halifax, the British Foreign Secretary.
Miami would be chosen after considerable persuasion over Ponca City, which was also a contender for the facility.
Both British and American men trained at #3 BFTS including 2,124 Royal Air Force (RAF) and 117 United States Air Force cadets. Pilot’s wings were awarded to 1,493 students.
The campus contained tennis courts as well as rugby and soccer fields.
The British cadets arrived in Oklahoma, crossing the North Atlantic on an escorted liner. The three-week trip included landing at Halifax, Nova Scotia followed by a long train ride to Toronto. After viewing Niagara Falls, they entered the United States at Buffalo, traveling through Chicago, St. Louis, and finally arriving in Tulsa.
The British chose America for several reasons. The weather was better, there were more resources and freedom from enemy action.
The total cost of the new Miami facilities would be over $500,000 and was financed through the Skelly Oil Company.
The boarded-up Terminal building was remodeled to include a reception area, offices, game room, snack bar and post store. The third-floor hotel rooms became living quarters for the Spartan staff.
The old filling station became a gatehouse and entrance office.
The new construction of the campus included a cafeteria, classroom buildings, and a huge T-shaped barracks. The Miami municipal airport was a half-mile to the west and included a 300-acre airfield.
The school’s director was Anthony J “Tony” Ming.
Flying instructors, some of whom were barnstormers, were all American civilians.
The Dobson Museum is open Sun., Wed., Fri. and Sat. from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum and the Dobson House next door is free.
Let’s make history together.