(The following historical information on
Spence Field is from John Leidner’s book, “The
Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition: A Thirty Year
BEFORE SUNBELT EXPO, the Spence Field
site was a military air base, and before that,
the land was in the hands of private farmers. The site’s history as a military base began
in 1941 just prior to the entry of the United
States into World War II. At that time, the land
consisted mostly of tobacco and cotton fields
On June 9, 1941, an Army Air Force officer
stationed at Selma, Ala., flew over the area
with a project engineer and chose the site for
a new air base, Spence Field, six miles southeast of Moultrie on Quitman Road. Grading and
construction work began in August 1941, and
within a short time, the new facility was carved
from 1,600 acres of land.
The first military personnel arrived in November and December 1941. By the time Pearl
Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 1941, a small detachment of 27 officers and 39 enlisted men
were on duty at the base. Cadet flight training
began Feb. 22, 1942, and the first class of pilots
graduated April 29.
Originally known as Moultrie Air Base, on
Jan. 21, 1942, the facility was renamed Spence
Air Base in honor of a World War I hero, Lieuten-
ant Thomas Louis Spence, Jr., of Thomasville,
Ga. He was killed in an airplane accident in No-
vember 1918, after the Armistice was signed.
During World War II, the facility served as
an Army Air Force advanced training base for
single-engine planes. Many of the Spence Air
Base graduates served in combat during World
War II. By the time the base closed for the first
time in November 1945, nearly 6,000 pilots had
been trained there.
During the late 1940s, a circus company
brought its elephants and other animals to
spend the winter at Spence Field.
In 1951, during the Korean War, Spence
Field was reactivated to help meet the need for
more trained pilots. Pilot training was provided
by a civilian contractor, Hawthorne Flying Ser-
vice, based at Charleston, S.C., which operated
the Spence Field training operation under the
name Hawthorne School of Aeronautics.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited
Spence Field Feb. 10, 1955. Also during this
period, in addition to training pilots for the U.S.
military, the Hawthorne School trained pilots
for U.S. allies from countries overseas.
On Oct. 12, 2004, a memorial plaque hon-
oring those who trained at Spence Field under
the direction of the Hawthorne School of Aero-
nautics was dedicated near the air traffic control
tower. It notes that 6,470 Air Force pilots were
trained from 1951 until 1961, when the Air
Force abandoned Spence Field as a training site.
One pilot who graduated from the Haw-
thorne School in 1959 returned to Spence Field
in 2005. Seeing the many electricity poles in-
stalled for the farm show on the concrete where
T- 28 airplanes were parked during his time as a
cadet, he remarked, “We thought the big radial
engines in the T- 28’s sounded like John Deere
tractors. I suppose that sound lingers on.”
Years after the Sunbelt Expo farm show was
established, Spence Field once again became
a base for military aircraft training. History repeated itself from 2004-2006 as pilots from
Moody Air Force Base at Valdosta, Ga., used the
runway to practice takeoffs and landings.
Spence Field: Quite a history
before Sunbelt Ag Expo
Farm Press Sunbelt Expo 2017 39
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