With the onset of World War II, the Olympia Air Transport Corporation began looking to lease land in the Yakima Valley to establish a civilian flight school. H. Lloyd Miller, the founder of our family estate and a successful realtor and landowner, knew that it would be several years before the arrival of irrigation water on his farmland so he signed a lease agreement for a portion of his property.
Construction of the flight school commenced on December 21, 1941. The airbase included three dirt runways, each over a half mile long, and several buildings including a 70-foot water tower, multiple airplane hangars, a large mess hall, four barracks, and several smaller storage buildings.
Initially, the training was part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which was sponsored by the United States Government. It offered primary, secondary, and cross-country courses, and the pilots trained on various types of biplanes. In mid-1943, the school changed to the War Training Service Program, and they confined the training to the secondary phase only, which focused on aerobatics and other evasive techniques. According to government records, over 500 Army Air Corps pilots trained at the airbase on our family’s property until the flight school closed in 1944.
Shortly after the war came to an end, the pilots moved off-site and the recently constructed buildings were auctioned off to the highest bidder. The only bidder turned out to be H. Lloyd Miller. With a bid of $1, he got one heck of a deal for all of the buildings on the property. These unique buildings became the headquarters of our family’s farming operations, which today is known as Airport Ranch. Over time, many of the buildings began to deteriorate, but two of the original hangars still exist and we continue to use them as workshop and storage facilities.