Before the Lakeland Linder International Airport came to be (aka the other LAL) the Lakeland Municipal Airport was the city’s headquarter airfield. To meet Lakeland’s transportation demands, in 1937 the airport brought it’s first commercial airline service and soon became the stomping grounds for WWII cadet training.
But what does this have to do with the Detroit Tigers?
Before it was the Spring Training field for the Detroit Tigers, the land under the Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium was a place uniquely connected to a few aviation marvels where thousand of pilots across the globe were trained.
In 1940 the President of Stinson Aircrack Company, Albert Lodwick, had purchased an aviation school in Lincoln, Nebraska, and moved the school to Lakeland for it’s more suitable weather conditions. Prior to this, in 1938 Albert Lodwick had been recruited by Howard Hughes to be the flight operations manager of his around-the-world-flight, which Hughes completed in a swift three days, 19 hours and 17 minutes.
By the time of WWII the school was only training 500 pilots a year, but President Roosevelt had announced the country’s need of recruiting and training up to 30,000 pilots. Lodwick caught hold of the president’s vision + opened The Lodwick School of Aeronautics in 1940, employing over 400 locals during the time of the war. Between 1940–1945, the school trained more than 8,000 Army Air Corps cadets, with more than 6,000 graduates. In 1941 the facilities also trained 1,327 British Royal Air Force cadets. The Lodwick School of Aeronautics closed in 1945 having offered insurmountable historic contributions to our country and the war.
By 1962, while renovating the Lodwick station to become the Tiger’s official spring training clubhouse, the team came upon a bit of a landmine. A big safe left in the middle of a room was cracked opened to discover some items Albert Lodwick had left behind. In the box was a photo collection of the Lodwick runway (organized day by day and week by week), correspondence between him and Howard Hughes, as well as the Wright brothers, along with a piece of the Flyer - the Wright brothers original plane. (A selection of the letters and the Flyer are now held at Sun ‘n Fun’s space museum.)
The Tigers still hold tight to this history that lays (quite literally) under them. Replacing the former Lodwick Field airstrip, along the right of the stadium now lays clear white point marks. And in 2006 the team announced the Lakeland Flying Tigers, with an orange plane and teeth to pay homage to the Lakeland Lodwick School of Aeronautics.