By T. Larry Smith
Henry County's Official Historian
Written in 2004
The Headland Municipal Airport began in 1941. This airport has a very interesting early history regarding the events leading to its creation. Many changes have taken place at the Headland Airport over time. The Headland Airport Authority and the Headland Economic Development Board have worked to improve the airport property to benefit the town and county.
After the start of WW II on December 7, 1941, the entire nation switched into a war mode. Henry County began contributing her resources toward the war effort. By the week of February 27, 1941, rumors were flowing over the county about a new military road and military camp that might be built in Henry County. Another rumor surfaced stating the U.S. Government might establish a WW U army aircraft bombing training field at Grimes in Dale County, only five miles from Headland.
Next, a rumor indicated the army had plans to build a brand new military highway from Ft. Benning, Georgia, to Panama City, Florida. This new road would pass through Henry County. The road would be forty feet wide with a two hundred feet right of way. It would pass East of Abbeville and East of Headland and East of Dothan near Cowarts and on to Panama City. If this road had been built, perhaps the present proposed 1-10 interstate connector highway could have followed that military road.
Another rumor stated that a new 50,000 soldier army camp would he built probably East of Abbeville. Military officials visited Abbeville as the probable site. They checked out many features including water, health and other factors. If this proposal had developed, the present Ft. Rucker would have been located in Henry County and would have meant a new life for thousands in the county. Henry County would have been instantly changed. This new army camp went instead to Dale and Coffee Counties.
By May 8, 1941, Grimes, Alabama, (formerly Abbeville Junction in 1893), in Dale County, and five miles from headland, was chosen for a new multi- million dollar new army air corps bombing training school on a 1,500 acre site. Air field runways, barracks, hospital, shops, warehouses, recreational center, mess halls and other structures were to be constructed. This would bring 3,000 people and would impact Headland and Henry County. The army camp at Grimes later became Napier Field.
By December 11, 1941, Land was being sought for an auxiliary airfield to The Grimes Army Air School. Major H. F. Muenter, second in command at Grimes Air School, was in Headland to secure land. He consulted with Mayor Dink Halstead and several land owners, Clyde L. Hutto and J. R. Hollon. This new airfield would begin at the Wiregrass Experiment Station road, which connected the Headland-Tumbleton road and the Headland-Columbia road, and would extend north to the old Hodges farm and east to the Hodges place and east to the Boone property. It would take in 200 acres or more, under a government lease of $15 per acre per year. Only questions of effects of the farm allotments were to be settled.
The headland Auxiliary Field construction began immediately. The original configuration contained one North/South runway 3,500 feet by 200 feet and one East/West runway 4,800 by 200 feet. The auxiliary field had a 20 x 40 ft. wood frame structure for emergency use. By June 11, 1942, the Headland field was in service. All local officials were tight lipped, not wishing to divulge any war secrets.
The field was being called "Hutto Field" by local citizens. There was always a line of cars along the highways watching the boys at their work of practicing landing and taking off in army aircraft. They were good pilots. Many local citizens felt Mr. Hutto would soon be back farming his land, however, that thought soon vanished when the war became ugly.
Due to the war situation, the United States government soon began condemnation procedures of the leased land on which the Headland Airfield was constructed.
By October 31, 1942, the War Assets Administration began talks with Clyde L. Hutto, James R. Hollon, Robert Boone, Daniel S. Ward, L. Lee Griffin and the Headland National Bank to condemn the leased land plus other lands. Portable light plants were installed for semi-permanent lighting. War prisoners were used whenever available on post engineer repairs and utilities activities. No known Negro airman were trained at the Headland field.
However, numerous British, French, Spanish and Chinese pilots, along with American pilots, were trained at Headland. The Negro pilots used the Tuskegee army airfield and auxiliary fields at Shorter and Tallasee, Alabama.
By October 31, 1942, the U.S. condemnation papers were recorded and approved by U.S. District Judge, C.B. Kennamer. The Headland Airfield became auxiliary field number three, operating from the Grimes air base. The official name of the Headland field became "Benoit Field", so named by the army. The namesake is presently unknown.
The condemnation took four tracts of land from local owners containing a total of3 12.25 acres. Tract# I contained 101.67 acres from Clyde L. Hutto, Tract #2 contained 104.08 acres from James R. Hollon and The Federal Land Hank of New Orleans, Tract #3 contained 89.30 acres from Robert Boone and Tract #4 contained 18.20 acres from Daniel S. Ward, L.L. Griffin and The Headland National Bank. The U. S. Government paid $26,796.10 for all four tracts of land. This was considered by government authorities as just compensation. An airdrome was added to the field at a cost of $32,665.22.
When the war ended in 1945, the Headland "Benoit Landing Field" sat vacant until 1947. The Grimes Air Base graduated its last class of pilots in June of 1945. Seldom did the government sell the condemned lands back to the original owners. In April of 1947, the "Beniot Landing Field" was handed over to the City of Headland by the U. S. War Assets Administration. Mayor Bob Solomon was chosen to handle the transfer signing. The city of Headland offered the farm land for rent at $8 per acre for the part not used for flying. The original land owners were given first chance on a motion by Councilman John White. Many new people rented housing in the Headland area during the period of activation of this auxiliary airfield.
The attached photos depict the 1941 Headland "Benoit Auxiliary Airfield #3 on August 28, 1942. A new addition has been added to the East-West runway in 2003. Many structures and improvements have been added to the present airport to accommodate better flying and to bring in new business situations. Headland's airport is an important asset to Headland and Henry County's present and future growth. This old historic 1941 "Hutto Landing Field" will continue to contribute to the uplifting of Headland.