People might not think about Wyoming when it comes to WWII history, but almost 20,000 men passed through the state on their way to war. The Casper-Natrona International Airport was originally built in 1942 by the United States Army Air Force as a training center for bomber aircrews. The men were trained to fly and operate B-17s and the B-24s.
Casper, WY is known as the “Windy City” of Wyoming, which was the reason it was selected by Army planners for the bomber training facility. Training thousands of air crews costs a lot in housing, food, transportation, mechanical parts, and ammunition, but the largest cost by far was aviation fuel. The wind that whips consistently across Casper Mountain generates extra lift and saves fuel. The planes would take off and then turn into the strong wind and, like a kite leaps higher on a wind gust, received an extra push up to 30,000 feet for practice bombing runs.
Once in the air, the bombers would head west toward Riverton, WY. A target was marked in the sagebrush in the Gas Hills or the Rattlesnake Range, both not far to the southeast of Riverton, where the crews dumped containers filled with flour for practice. To this day, visitors can still find .50 caliber shell casings laying on the open ground among the sagebrush.
The base was active for two and half years. Many of the men enjoyed the Wyoming landscape by hunting pronghorn and mule deer on the plains west of the base and fishing the North Platte River, especially the “Miracle Mile”.
The Casper United States Army Air Force Base closed in 1945, but was later transformed into the modern airport located there today. The five main hangars of the Casper-Natrona County Municipal Airport still operate, along with approximately 90 other surviving buildings that served as barracks, warehouses, machine shops, and service clubs for airmen and officers. The Servicemen’s Club was decorated with murals painted by men training at the base. You can still view their work in the same building, now repurposed as the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum.
The wind still blows hard in Casper, though now it takes up commercial flights. A less windy option is Riverton’s Central Wyoming Regional Airport, where visitors can enjoy the convenience of a central arrival point just a few hours from Yellowstone and Jackson Holy, WY. Arriving in Riverton affords visitors the chance to check out all the unique offerings in and around Riverton from history and culture to rockhounding and recreation or even a hike into the Gas Hills to find some of those .50 caliber shells from WWII.