World War II set the stage for the birth of Ryan Airfield. With the outbreak of war there was a need for aircraft and trained pilots to fly them. Under U.S. Army supervision, nine civilian flight schools became the new "West Points of the Air." One of these was the San Diego-based Ryan School of Aeronautics.
The U.S. feared a coastal invasion following the attack on Pearl Harbor, so the Ryan school sought an inland training sight. Arizona's clear blue skies were perfect.
On June 13, 1942, ground was broken in a field 13 miles west of Tucson and in three months the desert was transformed into an Army base with paved runways, aprons, hangars, barracks, mess hall, classrooms and recreational facilities. The San Diego operation closed and in one weekend planes, personnel and equipment were transferred to Tucson's new Ryan School of Aeronautics.
The PT-22 planes used for training stood up well to heat, wind, and dust storms. They were so rugged they went through the first 7,200 air hours with only one engine failure. Morale was high and contributed to the speedy execution of Ryan's purpose. A full course of flight instruction normally required four months, but at Ryan it was compressed into just nine weeks.
At war's end, demand for pilots dropped and Tucson's Ryan School closed in September 1944--two years and 6,000 pilots after it first opened. The State of Arizona and a three year old Tucson Airport Authority executed a 10-year lease for the 906 acre facility in 1951. To make development opportunities more attractive to tenants, a 99-year lease was drafted and signed in 1954.
Today Ryan has its own restaurant, aircraft refueling , modern airfield infrastructure and amenities, and a Federal Contract Tower. More than 20 tenants--ranging from aircraft maintenance shops to flight instruction facilities, as well as 260 based aircraft--call Ryan home.
In 2007 Ryan recorded over 250,000 general aviation operations. Ryan is growing steadily and the spirit of aviation remains strong in the hearts of the many pilots who fly Ryan's skies today. The Authority's commitment to Ryan's future assures that many will continue to be "flyin' Ryan" tomorrow.