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Bellows Field

A report by David Trojan (Frequent HAPS contributor)

Bellows Air Force Station, Waimanalo, HI is located at 21.36 North / 157.72 West Northeast of Honolulu, HI.  This site was established in 1917 as the Waimanalo Military Reservation and was used as an infantry training area. The station covers almost 1500 acres on the windward side of Oahu near the southeast corner of the island. 

For approximately seven years prior to December 7th, 1941, Bellows was known as the Waimanalo Army Reservation, Bellows Field.  It was used as the bivouac area by the infantry and a target practice area by the Coastal Artillery, which strung a line of 90mm guns along the beach.  The present site of the field as far back as 1935 was nothing but a plentiful growth of sugar cane and guava bushes.  During the mid 1930s the Air Corps chiefly used this area for a strafing and bombing practice site.  Those operations extended into 1938, when the total Air Corps personnel on duty only consisted of five to ten men supplied from Wheeler Field.  During this entire period Bellows Field was used for training both air and ground forces.

In 1941, Bellows was home to the 86th Observation Squadron, the only squadron to have the distinction of being permanently assigned.  Bellows was also the temporary home and training area for new recruits from the 44th Pursuit Squadron.  In 1941, Bellows was considered an outlying field with only a single asphalt runway that was 983' long and 75 wide with a wooden control tower (Freeman, 2005).

On July 22, 1941, Bellows Field became a separate permanent military post under the jurisdiction of the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department. Overnight, an accelerated construction program began and Bellows began to grow. Two-story wooden barracks and a new and larger runway started filling the landscape (Hawaiian, 2000).

Bellows was among those installations attacked by the Japanese during the Pearl Harbor attack. The 44th Pursuit Squadron had 12 P-40's located at Bellows on December 7th, 1941. Unfortunately the planes had been flown the day before the attack and the guns of the aircraft had been removed for cleaning.  After the attack began, men hurried to replace them but were not able to mount any response to the attack.   All three P-40's that were readied were promptly shot down killing two pilots. A crippled B-17C Flying Fortress crash landed at Bellows.  After the attack, a Japanese midget submarine was found beached on the shore at Bellows.

With the outbreak of war Bellows was transformed almost overnight into an important facility where aircraft were prepared for their duty in the Pacific Theater.  Hundreds of men and aircraft flowed through Bellows requiring more runways and facilities. The 1943 USGS topo map depicted two different airfields - "Bellows Field (Army)" to the south, and "Bellows Field Bombing Range (Emergency)" to the north (Freeman, 2005). 

Six years after the attack on Oahu, the first beach cabins began construction. Bellows AAB" was depicted on the 1947 Hawaiian Islands Sectional Chart as having a 6,200' hard-surface runway. The airfields diagram on the October 1954 Hawaiian Islands Sectional Chart depicted Bellows' south field as having three paved runways, with the longest being the 6,290' Runway 3/21 (Freeman, 2005).  .

            The 1955 Honolulu Local Aeronautical Chart depicted Bellows as having two distinct airfields, connected by a taxiway.  The north Bellows airfield was labeled as "(closed)".  The south field was labeled simply as "Bellows", without any kind of military designation. The field is described as having a total of 5 runways, with the longest being a 6,290' asphalt strip. The field was also described as "Not attended" (Freeman, 2005).  The south Bellows airfield may have been used for some period during the 1950s as a civilian airfield of some type.

            The runways at Bellows were eventually closed in 1958 and the base was used for other purposes. During the 1950s-70s, a portion of the Bellows property was used as the location of the Army's OA-32 Nike missile battery, part of a network of four Nike surface-to-air missile batteries in Oahu. The Bellows Nike battery was different from many of those on the mainland U.S. in that the NIKE missiles at the Bellows battery were kept above ground. The Bellows battery was also a "double" battery, having 2 rows of 12 missile launchers. Bellows served as the location of a Hawaii Army National Guard Nike Hercules missile battery from 1961-66.

A Communications Facility was located at Bellows during the 1950s-90s. The Communication Transmitter Facility was a large Air Force communications antenna site.  The site was operated and maintained by the 1957th Communications Group.  The transmitter facility, established in 1956, was a major communications network, which included tie-ins with the presidential communication network. There were 27 high frequency antennae, occupying 577 acres.  The facility was decommissioned in the early 1990's or the late 1980's. 

This communications network was one of the reasons the runways at Bellows were allowed to deteriorate and also hindered attempts to make at least part of Bellows a reliever or general aviation airport.  An aerial picture of the site shows the location of the former antenna farm with radio towers, one was located right in the middle of a runway. A large building was constructed right in the middle of the crossed runways when the base was used as a communication station. 

The Bellows property was renamed Bellows Air Force Station (AFS) in 1968.  In 1970 the U.S. Air Force offered part of Bellows to the State of Hawaii for use as a general aviation airport but opposition by the nearby Waimanalo community was so strong that the state had to decline.

The H. H. Aerospace Design Company was commissioned in the 1980s to study the possibility of reopening one of the Bellows airfields for general aviation use. The F.A.A estimated over 100,000 operations could take place if just 150 aircraft were based at Bellows (Freeman, 2005).  They concluded that it would be feasible, but the Air Force stated, "Activation of the airfield would have a negative impact on Marine assault training that is conducted by the Marine Corps."  The H. H. Aerospace Design Company report provided further details about Bellows.  The 1st Marine Brigade from Kaneohe MCBH uses Bellows AFS extensively for combat training to include simultaneous air & amphibious beach assaults. During 1982, the Marines trained 227 days including helicopter training on 25 of those days (200 flight hours) and amphibious training on 50 days. The Bellows AFS training site is unique due to its proximity to Kaneohe Bay and its beach access for 550 acres of training area.  Historically, the Marine Corps used the beach and parts of Bellows as a training area for amphibious operations and will continue to use the area in the foreseeable future.

There is a call for the return of Bellows to the State of Hawaii, or the Hawaiian people, but the military's need for a suitable training ground continues to preclude these efforts.  There continues to be talk of returning some of the runways to usable condition and operating them under joint use agreements.  In the meantime, Bellows AFS runways continue to decay.  Local residents will probably continue to hinder any development of Bellows as a general aviation airport.

Bellows AFS has five inactive runways, three southern runways (6/24, 12/30, 3R/21L) and two northern runways (18/36 & 3L/21R). These runways are severely deteriorated & not usable by fixed wing aircraft.  In late 1999, most of the training area at Bellows was transferred to the Marine Corps.  The Air Force's property at Bellows is now limited to the recreational facilities.   Detachment 1, 15th Air Base Wing, operates the Bellows Recreation Center. The center is composed of 102 beach cottages, a small exchange & a beach club. Bellows is still depicted as an abandoned airfield on recent Sectional Charts. 

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The Bellows Field photos below were scanned by HAPS staff at the offices of the 15th AW History Office, Hickam AFB, HI

Original runway at Bellows in 1933, 15th AW photo

Aerial view of Bellows 1938, 15th AW photo

Overhead aerial of Bellows in 1942, 15th AW photo

P-47s and B-25s on the runway for inspection May 44 15th AW photo

Overhead view of P-47Ds on the ramp at Bellows, 15th AW photo

Four man tent at Bellows,15th AW photo

Kitchen and mess hall in 1931, 15th AW photo

Potato shelter and storage shack, July 1932, 15th AW photo

Operations office 1937, 15th AW photo

Office Building 1937, 15th AW photo

Officer's Beach House 1937, 15th AW photo

Bellows tent city 1940, 15th AW photo

Boris Mihaljevich on O-47 Cockpit 1941, 15th AW photo

Group Photo 26th Bomb Sq at Bellows, 15th AW photo

Aerial of Bellows looking Northeast, Oct 1941, 15th AW photo

Tent City on the Beach at Bellows 1941, 15th AW photo

One of two P-40s Reportedly Damaged the day after Japanese attack on December 7th, 15th AW photo

The other P-40 Reportedly Damaged by a Taxiing mishap December 8th, 15th AW photo

(Thanks to Tracy White, who discerned the two P-40s appeared to be the ones damaged by ground taxi mishap on 8 Dec 41 and not during attack)

B-17E that made an emergency landing at Bellows on Dec 7th 1941, 15th AW photo

P-40Ns lined up at Bellows, 15th AW photo

P-40 of 333rd FS, 15th AW photo

Pilots of the 333rd FS, 15th AW photo

Maj Paul Fojtik, 333 Fighter Sq. CO in front of P-47, 15th AW photo

Ground view of P-47Ds May 44 on runway for inspection, 15th AW photo

"Razor Back" P-47s on the ramp, May 44, 15th AW photo

Assault landing force training Mar 1945 15th AW photo

Air Cover and assault training. Mar 45, 15th AW photo

More wartime assault training Mar 45,15th AW photo

Infantry Training in 44 at Bellows, 15th AW photo

Pier and Dock which was taken down in the 50s, 15th AW photo

2004 Satellite photo of Bellows, By AirPhotoUSA

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