The air base’s main role was to train newly commissioned pilots, bombardiers, and navigators in flying B-25 bombers. Each crew received at least two hundred hours of flying before transferring to a war theater.
Columbia Army Air Base served as a training center for B-25 bomber crews during World War II. Selected in 1940 as one of 250 sites across the nation where federal funds would be used to construct an airfield, it was originally designated Lexington County Airport to be owned and operated by the county. Construction on two runways began in June 1941. As it neared completion in November, six hundred workers were employed in constructing barracks, a hangar, and a control tower to accommodate seven squadrons. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army Air Force took control.
The declaration of war witnessed a huge expansion. Flyers known as the “Doolittle Raiders” arrived in February 1942 to train for their daring attack on Japan two months later. The air base’s main role was to train newly commissioned pilots, bombardiers, and navigators in flying B-25 bombers. Each crew received at least two hundred hours of flying before transferring to a war theater. Practice bombing runs were important exercises for all crews. Several islands in Lake Murray were used as targets, and one was known long after the war as “Bomb Island.” By spring 1945 the Columbia base had nearly eight thousand officers and enlisted personnel. With the conflict’s conclusion came a rapid demobilization. Between 1946 and 1947 the base was assigned to standby status and used as a reserve training facility, although some commercial flights began to use the base before the war’s end. Two years after the Axis surrendered, the U.S. Air Force declared the base surplus and the airfield became home to commercial aviation full time. In 1949 it was renamed Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Maxey, Russell. Airports of Columbia: A History in Photographs & Headlines. Columbia, S.C.: Palmetto Publishing, 1987.