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Did You Know: Thunderbird School In Glendale Was WWII Training Base

thunderbird school
(Photo courtesy of the University of Arizona Special Collections Library, USS Arizona Collection, AZ 517)
This is a photo of the original entrance sign to the school around the time it first opened.

It is one of the most recognized business schools in the world — and it’s right here in the Valley.  But Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University had a different purpose during World War II. 

Did you know Thunderbird was originally a military aviation training base during World War II?

“It was really American cadets who were at that point army men who were interested in flying," said Shannon Walker, archivist for the school.

"And then later the Chinese cadets came and that program developed to train the Chinese cadets. And then British pilots came and trained here for a little while until Falcon Field opened-up," Walker said.

Thunderbird Field #1, as it was officially known, was created in 1941, on a square mile of what is today 59th Avenue and Greenway Road in Glendale — when the land was open desert. It was perfect for the hundreds of planes that were used to train future airmen.

"They would come here for 10 weeks of training on a Stearman airplane. And a Stearman biplane is what they used at the time. If they passed, they would go on to more advanced training as a bomber, as a navigator, as fighter pilot, different aircraft from there," said Walker.

Some of the original structures still stand at Thunderbird more than 70 years later. The control tower has been restored. Some of the remaining barracks are used as office space and once served as student dorms. 

The school’s alumni center, Founders Hall, was the first structure built here. It housed the general’s office and infirmary.

“The barracks, some of them really do need a lot of help to be inhabitable at this point cuz they were built in 1941. They weren’t built to last they were built kind of for a temporary purpose. The last remaining building we can walk to is the hanger," said Walker.

Today the hanger houses stacks of historical materials and is open to the public.

The base closed in late 1945.  Walker said it was left untouched for a few months, until two Army Air Forces colonels proposed creating a school to train people on foreign trade. It was to help build better international business relations with other countries after the war. It was the first school of its kind.

The first class graduated in 1947, and most of the students were men on the G.I. Bill.

If you want to get see what Thunderbird looked like during World War II, just watch the 1942 film "Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air." It was filmed on the base.

Thunderbird School: Before And After

The control tower at Thunderbird Field #1, circa 1942. The three floor facility was renovated. The second and third levels have been restored.  It once looked toward the airfield. Today the view from the third floor control tower is of the Thunderbird School of Global Management lush campus. (Photo courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management Archives, ASU)

The top level of the control tower at Thunderbird Field #1, circa 1942. The windows face south. The soldier in the photo is using a light to communicate with pilots. (Photo by Robert Markow - Courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management Archives, ASU)

The swimming pool in the middle of the Thunderbird Field #1. The military aviation based was a training facility for American, Chinese and British soldiers during WWII. Only one pool remains on the campus. (Photo by Robert Markow - Courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management Archives, ASU)

Thunderbird Field #1 barracks, circa 1942. Today, it’s the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Several of the buildings in the photo still exist today. (Photo by Robert Markow - Courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management Archives, ASU)

More Photos

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez was a reporter at KJZZ from 2008 to 2015.