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Waiele Gulch Field

Text by David Trojan

Waieli Gulch Field is located at North 21.47 / 158.04 West, North/West of Honolulu, HI.  The date of construction of the airfield is believed to be in late 1941.  A photograph dated August 20, 1941 shows the airfield under construction.  The airfield lies in a gully running parallel to Waieli Stream next to pineapple fields, separate and just south of Wheeler Air Field. The hardest challenge faced when investigating this airfield was trying to find the name of this airfield.  The earliest map found that identifies Waieli Gulch Field is a 1943 Schofield Quadrangle produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Later maps show the runway but do not identify the name of the field. An aerial photo dated 17 November 1943 apparently shows an active runway.   

Bunkers were excavated in conjunction with the initial construction of the airfield.  Provision for bombproof protection of assembly and disassembly operations for large bombers was not worth the expenditure of money and materials required in conjunction with the initial construction.  The initial plan was for paved bunkers for these operations adjacent to the Waieli Gulch runway.  Three 100 by 200 foot bunkers with paved working areas were provided for this purpose.  Pockets were laid out in the cliffs along the side of the runway were used as aircraft parking areas with sheer earth side slopes to provide maximum protection from strafing of enemy aircraft (Navy, 1998). 

A huge underground bunker complex was later constructed at the northwest end of the airfield for aircraft maintenance and storage after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor forced the military to build facilities less vulnerable to the enemy.  Construction began in 1942 on a top-secret bombproof underground bunker complex and aircraft assembly plant located 2,400 feet from the end of the Waieli Gulch Airstrip.  The fear of a repeat-attack prompted the Army and Navy to build these underground facilities for vital defense and storage installations.  Called "The Hole" in the 40's, construction on the 23 million dollar facility was completed in 1944 (Pike, 2000).  The facility is not a true tunnel, but a freestanding three-story structure that was later covered with five feet of soil for pineapple cultivation. The entrance was placed in the steep side of the Gulch to obscure visibility by enemy aircraft.  When construction was completed, it was assigned to the Seventh Air Force. 

The bunker facility was naturally constructed as an open bay area, without interior cement blocks. The outer walls are composed of reinforced concrete and dirt. It is approximately 250,000 square feet in overall size, with 30,000 square feet used for power generation and air conditioning (Pike, 2000).  The remaining 220,000 square feet were available for assembly or disassembly of aircraft and was surrounded by smaller repair shops and storage rooms. The main shop was designed to provide space for three B-17 planes, two without wings and one with wings and was later modified to accommodate larger bombers (Navy, 1998).  Access to the structure was via a ramp built on a curve with a 90-degree bend intended to provide protection for the entrance to the bunker.  Aircraft including the B-24s, B-17s, B-26s bombers and other types were serviced in the bunker but there is no historical evidence to suggest the field station was ever used for aircraft assembly.

 The Kunia Bunker was equipped with every modern facility.  The entire facility was air-conditioned and humidity controlled and the cafeteria that could turn out 6,000 meals a day.  Some idea of the size of the building may be gained from the fact that to light the facility, it took almost 5,000 forty-inch fluorescent tubes for the job. Two elevators serviced the field station, one capable of accommodating ten tons for bulky plane parts. For passenger service, another elevator was provided with a carrying capacity of 20 persons (Pike, 2000). 

A detachment of the 607th Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) attached to the Seventh Air Force of the Hawaiian Department was assigned to the bunker during the war.  They produced detailed and informative surveys of Seventh Air Force installations.  One active function of the 607th CIC detachment was the investigation and prosecution of subversive activities.   Beginning in April 1944, the CIC was notified of all Seventh Air Force aircraft crashes. They were responsible for investigating the incidents for possible sabotage.  Crashes of airplanes newly delivered from the Hawaiian Air Depot had become frequent.  Agents from the CIC discovered that carelessness of civilian employees and defects in material delivered from the mainland were the principal causes of the failures.  While no cases of actual sabotage were uncovered, the efforts of CIC Agents are believed to have eliminated problems of carelessness and poor workmanship (Navy, 1998).  This may have been the forefather of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). 

The bunker facility proved to be ideal for the reproduction of charts and maps.  During the last stages of the World War II, the 30th Base Engineering Battalion used the bunker for topographic map making work involving Japanese held islands including duplicating aerial photographic negatives and producing contact prints which were later made into photographic mosaics. The men of the 30th produced a staggering number of maps. In one month for example, more than 2,700,000 maps were printed and close to 11 million press impressions were recorded (Pike, 2000). 

At the end of World War II, the facility was kept in a reserve status until 1953, at which time the Navy assumed control and used it for ammunition storage and a command center. It was eventually converted into a secret communications facility.  It continues today as the Kunia Regional Signals Intelligence Operations Center and is now an intelligence-receiving hub for the National Security Agency.

Waieli Gulch Field was apparently abandoned shortly after the end of World War II most likely because of the hazards of operating an airfield in a gulch.  The very close proximity of Wheeler Field will prevent this airfield from ever being reactivated.  Continual erosion along the steep sides of the runway poses major problems and limits the use of the ramp and parking areas.  An early 1960s era aerial photo depicts the airfield being used as a staging area for deploying troops and equipment.  An examination of maps since the 1940s, revealed the airfield, but show no other information including the name of the airfield.  Maps for 1953, 1967 and 1983 show the end of Waieli Gulch Field connected to Kunia Bunker via a small access road across Kunia road. Currently no access remains between the airfield and the bunker.  An archaeology and history study completed in 1994 simply identifies the area as Waieli Runway.  The airfield areas were examined for any evidence of artifacts.  An old World War II propeller and ten-ton aircraft jacks were found near the end of the runway.  At the present time, the Waieli Gulch Field area is still used by the Army as a military staging and training area.    

Aerial Oblique of Waieli Gulch Runway adjacent to Wheeler Field. Courtesy 15th Airlift Wing

1948 Aerial Showing Wheeler/Waieli Complex. Courtesy 15th AW

2005 Photo of Waieli Runway by David Trojan

Overview of the Wahiawa Kipapa area including Waieli

Courtesy D. Trojan

Overview of the runway in 2005. Photo by Dave Trojan

2004 Satellite photo of Waieli and Wheeler, By AirPhotoUSA

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