Thunder Birds: Soldiers of the Air was filmed at Thunderbird Field No. 1.
The feature flm Thunder Birds (Soldiers of the Air), produced by 20th Century Fox in 1942 starring Gene Tierney and Preston Foster, was filmed on location at Thunderbird Field No. 1 (Glendale) and No. 2 (Scottsdale). Cadets in training were used as extras in the film. In addition, the control tower is featured in many of the film's central scenes and there are also recognizable aerial views of the airfield.
Millard Sheets is recognized as one of the most talented watercolorists of his era. He was born on June 24, 1907 in Pomona, California and was educated at the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles. He taught at Chouinard and at the Scripps College in Claremount, CA. He later became Director of the Los Angeles County Art Institute. The artist is well known for his mural, mosaic and tapestry works throughout Southern California, as well as for his multi-story rendering of Jesus at the University of Notre Dame (the infamous “touchdown Jesus”).
Sheets’ involvement in Thunderbird Field in Glendale, Arizona, seems to have come about by accident. Early in his career he was commissioned to design an airfield for the Army Air Corps in the middle of the desert in Arizona. Sheets' chose to design the campus (buildings, landscape and walkways) in shape of the mythological Native American “Thunderbird,” as seen in an aerial photo:
In addition, Sheets himself painted Native American themed murals in two buildings on campus. One mural, of Native Americans on horseback, was in the original Dining Hall:
Unfortunately, this mural was not saved when the building was torn down in the 1990’s. The mural had been altered over the years, as part of efforts to maintain it, and at the time, they could not figure out how to move and preserve it.
The surviving mural, of two Kachina dancers, is still on a wall in Founder’s Hall.
Robert Markow came to Thunderbird Field No. 1, from New York, in July of 1942. He had enlisted in the US Army and hoped to serve as a pilot in the Air Corps. At that time, Thunderbird Field in Glendale, Arizona, was one of a handful of US Army’s Primary Training Schools. Pilots would complete one of three phases of pilot training here. Upon graduation, they would then be assigned to another airfield for further training. Robert learned fairly quickly that he was not cut out to be a pilot, but he was hired as the base photographer and public relations manager, where he discovered his true passion: photography.
After the war, Markow established roots in the Phoenix Valley and opened his own photo studio, which would become the iconic, Colormark Custom Photo Lab. Robert Markow passed away in 2009, here is a tribute to him from the October 2nd, 2009 issue of Arizona Highways magazine:
John Swope was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1908 and educated at Harvard University. He began his career in amateur theater at Harvard, alongside his close friends and fellow actors James Stewart and Henry Fonda. By the mid-1930s Swope had moved to Hollywood with Stewart and Fonda and had given up acting for photography. In 1937, Swope began a behind-the-scenes documentation of Hollywood. After a few years of gathering both starlet-driven and gritty industry material, Swope published his first book in 1939 entitled Camera Over Hollywood (Random House).
After returning to the United States from assignment in South America for Harper’s Bazar in 1940, Swope joined with John Connelly and Leland Hayward to start a flight training school at Thunderbird Field No. 1, the site of what is now the Thunderbird School of Global Management. After some time at No. 1 Swope moved on to become the Director at Thunderbird Field No. 2 in Scottsdale which opened on June 22, 1942.
Swope’s skills as an aviator proved to be an asset for government project when in 1942 Swope teamed up with the American writer John Steinbeck to produce a book about navy-pilot training in the USA called Bombs Away (published in 1942 by Viking Press). The book was commissioned by the United States government to inspire public support for domestic military training and to attract potential recruits. As both an accomplished pilot and a photographer of stature, Swope was perfect for the job. Later that same year, Swope married actress Dorothy McGuire.
In 1943 Swope was selected by Edward Steichen to become a member of his elite photographic team whose assignment was to cover the war in the Pacific, a task that allowed Swope to be among the first to come ashore in Japan, just three days before the Japanese surrendered. He shot roughly 50 rolls of film on his Rolleiflex in a three-week period, during which he traversed through many cities and towns across Japan.
After the war, Swope joined LIFE magazine’s stable of freelance photographers, concentrating his work on the film industry and the occasional foreign travel assignment. Over the course of his life, Swope visited, and photographed, many European, Asian, and South American countries. Swope’s photographic work has been exhibited at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Jocelyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He died in 1979.
Southwest Airways operated Thunderbird Field No. 1. According to company documents, the list of stock holders included the likes of Hoagy Charmichael, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Carey Grant!