In 1917 the Army announced its intention of establishing a series of camps to train prospective pilots after the United States entry into World War I. An Army survey crew was sent to Southwest Florida looking for suitable sites to build airfields, one selected was a site about 6 miles to the southeast of Arcadia, Florida. An agreement to lease the land for the Army was concluded, and the construction of some 90 buildings began in January 1918. It covered over 700 acres (2.8 km2) which included fourteen hangars that housed four to eight planes each, a hospital, and six barracks that held 175 men each. Dozens of wooden buildings served as headquarters, maintenance, and officers’ quarters. Enlisted men had to bivouac in tents.
In March, 1918 the 107th and 108th Aero Squadrons was transferred from Rich Field, Waco, Texas and assigned to the new Carlstrom Field. In April the 76th and 109th Aero Squadrons, also arrived from Rich Field, but were subsequently transferred over to Dorr Field; which was designed as an auxiliary sub-field for Carlstrom. Only a few Air Service aircraft arrived from Waco; most of the Curtiss JN-4 Jennys to be used for flight training were shipped in wooden crates by railcar. Carlstrom Field served as an advanced school for pursuit pilots. It offered a six-week course. It had a student capacity of 400.
With the need for primary pilot training brought on by World War II, Carlstrom re-opened in March 1941 under the operation of Riddle Aeronautical Institute. The 53d Flying Training Detachment was activated under then Brigadier-General Junius Wallace Jones, who learned to fly at Carlstrom. The 53d FTD exercised Air Corps oversight of Embry-Riddle. A new facility was built adjacent to the remains of World War I-era facilities and Riddle contracted to train Royal Air Forceaviators under the Arnold Scheme and graduated the first class in August 1941.
Carlstrom Field had a very unusual layout, with a compact group of buildings located inside a circular road, with five hangars located around the southern periphery of the road. No paved runway was ever built with the flying conducted from the 1-square-mile (2.6 km2) grass field.