Abandoned airfields in SWLA - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Abandoned airfields in SWLA

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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -

It was 1917 when the United States decided to construct Gerstner Field southeast of Lake Charles. The Army needed a place to prepare its pilots for a new type of warfare in the air. Historian Adley Cormier says their practice sessions caught the attention of Lake Area residents.

"We're talking about a time when people would come out of their houses to look at a biplane flying overhead," said Adley Cormier, local historian. "Here they were in SWLA practicing dogfighting and practice bombing with bags of flour. It's got to be a glamorous experience for someone raising rice in Sweetlake."

So the Lake Area's love with airplanes may have gotten started then. An airstrip soon was developed east of Lake Charles, close to where Chennault Air Base would eventually locate. Then came the Doug and Nola Mae McFillen, who built their airstrip south of Lake Charles, near where Burton Coliseum is today. Daughter Susan Castleberry grew up thinking air travel was perfectly normal.

"I didn't think there were roads between places," said Castleberry.  "I figured the road ended in Moss Bluff where my grandmother lived.  That's as far as we drove.  I thought everybody went by air."

The old abandoned McFillen airstrip is now just a road that goes back to a rent house. Hundreds of people learned how to fly on this airstrip.

Ernie Nettles learned from the McFillens and eventually flew helicopters in Vietnam. Nettles says the days of the grass airstrips are practically long gone.

"There's not near as many as there used to be," said Nettles. "Aviation, airplanes are a lot more expensive than they used to be for private pilots and there's not as many small airstrips. Mostly big airports like Lake Charles Municipal airport."

In her book "Airplanes for Breakfast," the late Nola Mae Ross recalls the early days of private aircraft in the Lake Charles area.

"The airstrips all over SWLA like the east Lake Charles airstrip served to satisfy the itch of SWLA people to fly," said Cormier.

They're gone now, but are being remembered on a webpage that highlights abandoned airstrips across the United States.

For more information on abandoned airfields:  http://www.airfields-freeman.com



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