Following the passage of the 1941 Lend-Lease Act, six British Flying Training Schools (BFTSs) opened in the United States. The schools provided flight training for cadets in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. Two of the schools were located in the state of Oklahoma: Darr School of Aeronautics in Ponca City (No. 6 BFTS) and Spartan School of Aeronautics (No. 3 BFTS) in Miami. The other flight schools were located in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
The Oklahoma flight schools opened in July 1941. Private companies established and owned both schools. Hal Darr founded the Ponca City school, and Captain Maxwell Balfour served as the CEO of the Miami school. Royal Air Force officers oversaw the operations at the schools, but civilian flight instructors from the United States taught the courses. In addition to instructing British cadets, both schools trained pilots for the United States Army Air Force. More than 4,000 Royal Air Force cadets and several hundred American pilots trained at Ponca City and Miami during the war. Darr School of Aeronautics operated until April 15, 1944, and Spartan School of Aeronautics remained open through August 1945. Several Royal Air Force cadets lost their lives in training accidents at both flight schools. They are buried in the I.O.O.F Cemetery in Ponca City and in the G.A.R. Cemetery in Miami.
After the war, the alumni of both flight schools established fraternal organizations. In past years, the No. 3 BFTS Association and the No. 6 BFTS Association both held reunions in Oklahoma. However, the No. 3 BFTS Association is no longer in operation, holding its last reunion in Miami in 2005. The No. 6 BFTS Association remains active, though its reunions are now exclusively held in the United Kingdom.
The materials in this collection document the history of the two British Flying Training Schools located in Oklahoma during World War II. The collection consists of research materials compiled by Paula Denson as well as related documents and display items formerly housed at Marland’s Grand Home in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The materials related to the Ponca City School (No. 6 BFTS) are the strength of the collection.
The collection includes files regarding specific subjects and individuals associated with the British Flying Training Schools in Oklahoma. The individuals featured in the files include instructors, officers, cadets, and other flight school employees. The files include photographs, newspaper articles, correspondence with former cadets and their family members, and related historical information taken from various books and online sources. The collection also contains autobiographies of former cadets, programs for events and ceremonies held at the flight schools, flight manuals, flight school examinations, various types of instructional materials, newsletters from the flight school associations, and materials regarding the reunions hosted by the No. 3 BFTS Association and the No. 6 BFTS Association.
In addition, the collection features various display items, including laminated flight school documents, laminated newspaper articles, photographs, flags, and other miscellaneous memorabilia related to the flight schools. The collection also includes a selection of pages, sections, issues, and articles from various newspaper publications that document the history of the two Oklahoma flight schools. Additionally, the collection includes a selection of aeronautical charts and maps that plot a variety of geographic locations, chiefly in Europe and in the United States. Lastly, the collection features a handful of multimedia resources, including video tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs containing data related to the history of the British Flying Training Schools in Oklahoma.
The materials were given to the UCO Archives & Special Collections in two accessions one November 11, 2015, the other on January 27, 2021, by Paula Denson. Paula Denson is the author of The Royal Air Force in Oklahoma: Lives, Loves & Courage of the British Air Crews Trained in Oklahoma During World War II, published in 2006 by the Oklahoma Heritage Association. The collection includes research materials compiled by Denson as well as related materials from the No. 6 British Flying Training School (BFTS) Association Collection and the No. 3 BFTS Association Collection. The collections were formerly housed and displayed at Marland’s Grand Home in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Some of the materials originally belonged to Lillian Taylor, a former link instructor at Darr School of Aeronautics. Prior to its acquisition by the Friends of Marland’s Grand Home Foundation, Taylor’s memorabilia was displayed at the Ponca City Airport. The son of a former Darr instructor and the descendants of John Price, a former Darr cadet, contributed additional materials to the No. 6 BFTS Association Collection. The materials acquired from the Price family formerly belonged to a small, local archive in England.
Paula Carmack Denson, a native of Ponca City, has had a varied career working as a dental hygienist for thirty years then owning a special events business before selling that business to devote more time to her love of historic research and writing. Her great interest in local history motivated her to form the North Central Oklahoma Historical Association, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of local history. She, along with her board of directors, produced a national award-winning set of history books for North Central Oklahoma. As her interest in local history grew, so did her love for Marland’s Grand home, formally known as the Ponca City Cultural Center. She is one of the founding board members for that group and served as renovation chairman for Friends of Marland’s Grant Home.
Around 2000 Denson purchased about 70 handwritten letters postmarked from England during WWII. She discovered that she possessed letters written by the cadets who trained at Darr School of Aeronautics in Ponca City from 1941-1944. These letters were written to one of the families who took many of the young men into their homes, treating them as sons. There are also letters from wives, widows, and mothers of these brave young men. The discovery of these letters would send Denson on a multi-year search for the men and women who wrote those letters. She collected research along the way that led to the publishing of her book, The Royal Airforce in Oklahoma. Paula was able to locate several of the men over sixty years after they wrote the letters and traveled to England on two occasions to meet them.
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