Training at Chanute Field
With the end of World War I, Chanute Field became home to the entire Air Corps Training School. The base underwent a massive expansion as part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration. Final work was completed in 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After the start of the war, the base immediately went into action. With the massive influx of enlisted cadets in the Army Air Corps, Chanute Field quickly grew out of its new 15,000-man quarters.
The wide range of physical training at Chanute Field included proper parachute control and landing. Furthermore, Students in the Air Training Command School did not just study aircraft. All soldiers had to be prepared for ground combat and received training with the M1911 .45 caliber pistol and the Thompson submachine gun.
As seen in the photograph above, the centerpiece of Chanute Field was White Hall, a 500,000-square-foot building, equivalent to eleven football fields. It was the largest American military structure before the Pentagon was built in 1941.
The first female instructors at Chanute Field began their training in parachute rigging in 1942. In the photograph below, Catherine Jefer of 508 W. Elm Street, Urbana, takes her first lesson in the intricate and exacting task of folding the silk canopy of a parachute.
Chanute field swelled in size until it reached its wartime population peak of 25,000 soldiers in January 1943. A 1940 aerial photograph of Chanute Field shows how the size of the base quickly outpaces its home community of Rantoul. The base would serve as the major economic engine of the city until its closure on September 30, 1993. A photograph of aircraft belonging to the Army’s Air Corps Technical Training Command can also be seen below, which was also part of the many areas of training at Chanute Field, as mentioned earlier.