Following U.S. entry into World War II, Kearney officials campaigned for
establishment of an army air field at the site of the Keens Municipal Airport. Construction of the Kearney Army Air Field (KAAF), one of eleven in Nebraska, was approved on September 5, 1942, and completed February 1, 1943. The KAAF was designated as a processing center for B‐17 and B‐29 heavy bombers and their crews prior to deployment to Europe and the Pacific. Actor Clark Gable, as an army air forces officer, passed through KAAF in 1943 en route to England. During the first six months of 1945, 554 B‐29 crews were processed at KAAF for overseas assignments.
At its peak, some 800 civilians and 3,000 military personnel worked at KAAF, including 200 African American soldiers and as many as 132 members of the Women’s Army Corps. After the war, Kearney fought to keep the air field open, and it was briefly designated as the Kearney Air Force Base to house the 27th Fighter Wing. The air base was closed in March 1949, and the site became the Kearney Municipal Airport.