Plainview PGS Article 54


By John W. McCullough, Graduate Student in History, Texas Tech University

This is the 54th article about Clent Breedlove’s Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field.

In the last article, Steve Patti recalled stories about his time flying in the Civil Air Patrol from Marfa Army Airfield, Auxiliary Field Number 2.

The CAP missions flying out of Marfa were tasked with patrolling the uninhabited areas of the U.S.-Mexican border along the Rio Grande.  Steve Patti’s primary job was as an aircraft mechanic in the Civil Air Patrol.  However, he did go on several missions along the Rio Grande as an observer.

“Mechanics didn’t get any briefing if they were going to go to work in the shop.”
“If he was going to go on mission, you wouldn’t be wearing your overalls; you would dress in khaki shirt and pants and wear a jacket or something.”

“Marfa was an auxiliary (base).  The main point of flight was either Del Rio, El Paso, or Brownsville / San Benito.  They were the major flight command centers for the CAP,” explained Patti.

Although Auxiliary Field Number 2 was technically a part of the USAAF air base at Marfa Army Airfield, the CAP was the only entity to use it as an auxiliary airfield and refueling base.  However, if a USAAF aircraft experienced an emergency and was forced to land there, then the airfield was available for them to use, too.

“There is a picture of some of the guys with a firetruck on loan from Marfa Air Base.”

“The take-off times were varied.  We would never take off at the same time every day.  We were supposed to be an incognito type thing that nobody could time us and say, ‘Well we know the airplanes are going to be coming; so we’ll wait and go across the border after he leaves.’”

“So, we were never going across the same point at the same time every day.  It varied from time to time.  You know, the element of surprise,” he continued.

“It would vary on how close the two landing points were.  Usually, it was an hour and a half or two hours each way.”

It would typically take about half an hour to reach the Rio Grande from Marfa, Patti figured.

“Depending on what they decided for that day, where and how far you were going to go between the two bases (El Paso and Brownville / San Benito),” he explained referring to their assigned patrol pattern each day.

“We weren’t allowed to cross over and fly over Mexico.  We were right on the fringe of the border by just flying over the river (Rio Grande).”

“The roads were like a dyke or causeway just right along the river.”

When asked about the duration of the patrol flights, Patti replied, “It would be several hours depending on where you were going.  Usually, a couple of hours of flight time and then you would turn around and go back to your base.”

He also said that none of the planes in which he flew were ever forced down due to mechanical failure while on a mission.  However, he did recall one mission in which a fuel problem occurred that forced a CAP plane down and resulted in a wreck.

“There was one incident that they were having a fuel problem on the border with a Stinson 10A.  They made an emergency landing along the river on a sandbar.  There was a tree there, at one time on the sandbar; somebody cut the tree down but they left the stump.  They didn’t take the stump out.  When the plane was landing, everything was under control; but when the guy was landing, he straddled – with his main gear – he straddled the stump, and his tail wheel hit the stump and it flipped him upside down.”

“I went out on recovery as a mechanic.  There’s several of us went down on the river in the Big Bend country (to the aircraft) that had to make a forced landing; unfortunately, the airplane flipped over on its back.”

“We hired a guide and we drove there from Marfa; and we hired a guide to take us down to the area where we knew the airplane was and he knew the back roads and trails and stuff.”

“He carried a rifle in his jeep.  We disassembled the airplane.  We took the wings off.  I took the brake pads out of both wheels.  Put the tail on the back of the jeep and tied it down and we hauled it out up onto the road.  We loaded the wings on a flatbed truck and then put the fuselage on top of that.  The wings were just narrow enough that the wheels didn’t sit on the wings.  We had a little trailer with it we also had from the Marfa Air Corps base.”


“I’m in coveralls and there are several other guys in coveralls; but then we had some observers and pilots who came down and helped out to get the airplane back up on the main road,” Patti explained about some of the photographs of the recovery mission.

Patti was not sure if this CAP plane that flipped over originated out of the Marfa auxiliary base or another airfield.

“They got a little bruised up; but they weren’t fatally injured.”

Talking more about the observation missions, Patti said that although they carried submachine guns and handguns on their CAP flights, they never had to open fire on any person or car on the ground.  If a vehicle had a license plate, then he would write down the license plate number.

“When we landed back at our home base, we’d give the information to our intelligence officer.”

When asked if he knew whether the intelligence officer ever passed on the data that Patti gathered during his missions to a local sheriff’s office or the city police, he replied, “I’m sure they did; but my interest and responsibility ended when I had that dialogue with the intelligence officer.”

He also said that neither CAP nor the USAAF gave him an official form on which to keep notations of his aerial observations along the border.

“It was just a blank sheet of paper.”

“The one occasion that I recall was that there was this car, it was a four-door sedan on the Mexican side, the road paralleled the river and the river was kind of straight in that particular section.”

“And you just kind of get an idea of how many people are in the car, and I think there were like four people in the car, if I recall.”

“I don’t recall any other parts of it other than he was travelling north and he was going fast enough on this dirt road that he had a cloud of dust behind him.  So, I’m going to say that he was doing over 45 miles an hour.”

“We just followed him briefly.  The pilot put his flaps down and did ‘slow flight’ which in a Stinson 10A is just above a stall which is about 45 miles an hour.”

“A day came to an end in the early evening.  A lot would depend on the weather.  If the weather was rainy and so forth, we didn’t do much.”

“If it was snowing, we didn’t do much.  We tried to stay warm.”

More about the history of Finney Field and the CAP will be discussed in the next article.

Readers are asked to visit the Breedlove-CPTP website at for more details about the glider program of WWII.

Anyone with information about the Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field should contact John McCullough at (806)793-4448 or email