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Sebring Regional Airport

Sebring Airport History

Hendricks Field

From the book, HENDRICKS FIELD….a look back, by A.W. “Spizz” Pollard.

Hendricks Field
Hendricks Field was a B-17 pilot school near Sebring, Florida, 1942 through 1945.

In 1940 Sebring Officials and citizens contacted their congressional delegation to see about getting an Army base in the area. In the summer of 1940, and in early 1941, a group of Army Air Corps officers surveyed the area. On June 12, 1941, Congressman J. Hardin Peterson advised that an area of 9,200 acres of woodland had been approved for a basic flying school. The City of Sebring purchased the land and leased it to the government at $1 per year for 99 years.

On July 20, 1941 construction began with Cleary Brothers of West Palm Beach. Contractor, Col. A.H. Bond of Army Engineers in charge, and Major L.H. Rodieck, who had designed the base, overseeing for Army Air Corps. A railroad spur was put in, then came a self-supporting city with paved streets, water and sewage systems, frame buildings, 2-story barracks, and 4 concrete runways, 300 feet wide by 5000 feet long. The first soldiers came on September 5, 1941 and occupied tents on the shore of Lake Jackson at the edge of town. They moved onto the base in December when some barracks were completed.

While under construction the base was known, unofficially, as Kehoe Field, either by joke or by error. On January 14, 1942 the base was named Hendricks Field in honor of 1st Lt. Laird Woodruff Hendricks, Jr., who was born in Ocala, grew up in Jacksonville, graduated from USMA, West Point, N.Y. in 1939, and was killed in a B-17 crash in England on July 28, 1941 just three days after he arrived there to train RAF pilots.

On January 29, 1942 the first B-17 was flown into Hendricks Field. Pilot and crew training began in March. In January 1943, it became a 4-engine pilot school, and in peak operation about 120 B-17’s were in service over 10,000 pilots were trained. Commanding Officers:

Maj. Leonard H. Rodieck, Pilot 06/26/41 - 12/1/41
Col. Carl B. McDaniel, Command Pilot 12/10/41 – 09/25/43
Col. Warren H. Higgins, Command Pilot 10/26/43 – 06/07/45
Col. Charles D. Farr, Command Pilot, former Navy Pilot 06/07/45 – 02/10/46

Base newspaper, Hendricks Hi-Life, published weekly by and for base personnel. Base Mascot, Sgt. H.F. Bombird, his asst., Pvt. Yardbird Yardbird, both created by Sgt. Francis D. Clements, Art Director. The sports teams were the Hendricks Bombirds.

Hendricks Field had one of the best safety records in the Army Air Forces. However, there were several crashes, several belly landings, and nine fatal crashes with 45 fatalities. After war’s end in mid-August, 1945, the training program began to wind down about October. In mid-November the order came to inactivate the base by December 31, 1945.

The abandoned field was turned over to the City of Sebring on May 1, 1946 and became Sebring Air Terminal, an airport and Commerce Park – now Sebring Regional Airport & Commerce Park.

In December 1950, the first sports car endurance race was held, and since then the world famous 12 Hours of Sebring Grand Prix of Endurance has been in March each year, with the race track taking the E-W ramp and runway along with some streets.

Only the main hangar, restored in 2000, is now in use. New water and sewage systems were completed, and the high water tower, a very noticeable landmark, was brought down in December, 1997. The original control tower was brought down in December, 1999 and has been restored and re-erected.