Today’s airport has come a long way from its beginnings in 1942, when the United States Army Air Corps established it as a training school. “It was following the attack on, and bombing of, Pearl Harbor,” explains Jim Hart, a member of the Marianna Airport Commerce Park Board. “The Army Air Corps Southeastern Light Training Corps out of Alabama selected the Marianna area for a new training field. Their site included, approximately, 1,700 acres and a small airstrip that had been constructed years earlier. It became an advanced fighter training base with 86 North American, T-6 Texan training fighters stationed there.”
The base closed in 1946 and the entire property reverted to the city. At the time, National Airlines was flying Lockheed Lodestars and Convair 340s in and out, but they would eventually cease operations there and Marianna has not had commercial air flight since. It then operated as the Mariana Municipal Airport until 1953, when the Army Air Field was reactivated as Graham Air Base, a United States Air Force installation under the Air Training Command in response to increased demands for pilots as a result of the Cold War.
In June 1958, the Air Force began replacing their prop-driven T-28s with the first T-37 Tweet jet trainers, and by 1960, the Air Force was fully committed to transitioning to the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) concept at selected Air Training Command installations with longer runways, which would eventually host T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon jet trainers. Facilities with civilian contractor instructors and short runways became obsolete and were eventually closed in the early 1960s.
“And so, in 1960, Marianna took over the airport again,” Hart continues. “At the time, there were four 5,000- foot runways, necessary to provide crosswind landing for the Air Force craft. But the city discontinued the use of all but two of the runways, the north/south and the east/west runways.” Today, Marianna is a general aviation facility that also continues to see some military aircraft, with a third of the airport’s operations normally being transient military training flights – mostly Army helicopters from Fort Rucker and Navy helicopters from Naval Air Station Whiting Field.