PRATT — Pratt has a strong historical connection with World War II and the B-29 Bomber.
The Pratt Army Airfield was opened in 1943 north of Pratt on an open prairie and became the first training facility in the world for the new B-29s as they rolled off the assembly line in Wichita. Over 23,000 Army Air Corp flight and ground crew members trained at the airbase from 1943 to 1946 when the airfield was closed. Among those who trained at Pratt were Col. Paul Tibbets who piloted the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Maj. Charles Sweeney who piloted the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
The base is now the Pratt Regional Airport and has an extensive industrial park.
The B-29 Bombers on the Prairie Museum is located in the parachute building, one of the few original structures remaining, which has been placed on the state register of historic places. The museum is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays during the summer and other times by appointment by calling 620-672-8321.
An extended restoration of the parachute building has been completed and the building looks very much like it did inside and out from 1943 to 1946. A portion of the parachute drying room houses a video viewing room that is also used for live presentations.
The museum has numerous artifacts including the complete historical records of the 29th Bomb Group, one of four bomb groups that trained at Pratt including the 29th Bomb Group, the 40th Bomb Group, the 364th Bomb Group and the 497th Bomb Group.
Displays are dedicated to the five bomb wings that served at PAAF: 58th Bomb Wing, 73rd Bomb Wing, 313th Bomb Wing, 314th Bomb Wing and 315th Bomb Wing. Each of these displays and others at the museum feature QR codes that provide more information.
The museum has also received historical records for the 73rd Bomb Group and the 444th Bomb Group. Those records are in temporary storage but, like the rest of the records, they will eventually be on permanent display.
Another display features the role women played in the war effort.
Numerous artifacts relating to the base and World War II are on display. The story of the Battle For Kansas and the over 50 modifications that were made at PAAF after the planes were delivered from Boeing in Wichita is told revealing the massive coordinated effort to get the B-29s in the air.
A portion of the museum is the "Pratt Aviators Wall of Fame" that features the history of several Pratt area aviators. Each display has a photo of the pilot, other related photos, extensive history and memorabilia for each pilot. Currently on display are 1st Lt. Dwayne Adams, of Cullison; Lt. Col. Jack Graber, of Wilmore; Lowry "Dean" Gallaway, Howard Curran and Arthur "Gene" Aenchbacher who had a 30-year career in the Air Force. Coming soon to the Wall of Fame is Pratt Pilot George Chandler.
The newest addition to the museum is the "The Dawn of the Atomic Age" that tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb, the 509th Composite Bomb Group, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the debate on using the bomb and the impact it had on shortening World War II. The display features graphic panoramic photos of both cities after the bombing, photos of the crews and planes, other related photos, numerous histories covering the path from the discovery of fission, the development of the bomb, the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath. Museum volunteer Mark Martin and his wife Barb took over a year and 500 hours of research for the project that is now complete and on display.
Recent acquisitions to the museum is a pool table that was used on the base. It was located in Pratt and donated to the museum. Research is being done to determine if officers or enlisted men used the table.
Other recent additions include a B-29 Radial Engine (Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone) that was one of the original engines on the B-29 "Doc" and recently restored to flight status.
One of the more unique displays is a hard fabric reserve fuel tank that was used to extend the B-29s range. The fuel tank was designed to fit right on top of the bomb bay door. When the fuel was used up, the tank was simply dropped out the bomb bay. The tank is rare and may be the only known tank to survive.