|Back of Judge's Bomber jacket|
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez
Thank you for joining us this month as we explore the history of the U.S. Air Force in our great state.
First allow us to say: we wish to pay our respects to the brave men and women of our military, and let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them, particularly those currently on deployment outside our country and away from their families.
Most are familiar with the U.S. Army Air Corps. But the Air Force was in existence many years before that! Let us start with the US Army Signal Corps Aeronautical Division, which was started in August 1907. The original Signal Corps Aeronautical Division utilized hot air balloons and was used specifically for sighting enemies for the Artillery. In July 1914, when the Aeronautical Division changed over to the US Army Aviation Section, Signal Corps the section combined to allow both airplanes, and hot air balloons.
In 1917, upon the United States' entry into World War I (WWI), the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was formed. It served many aspects, including mail. But another service was formed as part of the AEF and that was the aviation combat force. The name speaks for itself. During the US involvement of WWI, the US Army Signal Corps Aeronautical Division changed into the Division of Military Aeronautics, and then just days later into US Army Air Service in May 1918.
The US Army Air Service changed to the U.S. Army Air Corps in July 1926. In June 1941, the Army Air Corps changed to the U.S. Army Air Forces where it stayed until September 17th 1947. This is when the Air Force separated from the Department of the Army, and formed into its own branch of the Department of Defense.
Many of the resources of the Army Air Forces moved over to the Air Force, which is to be expected. However, interestingly enough, in Oklahoma the Henry Post Army Airfield is still owned and maintained by the Army. However, there are no units currently assigned to the airfield.
In July of 1941, construction began of an Army Air Forces (AAF) training base in the town of Enid, Oklahoma located in the north central part of the state. Originally (but unofficially) called Air Corps Basic Flying School. It was not until February 1942 that the base was officially named The Enid Army Flying School (also known as Woodring Field). The training base was assigned the 31st Flying Training Wing, under the AAF Central Flying Training Command. As the demand for pilots decreased during the later parts of the war, Enid Army Flying Field was deactivated in July 1945, and transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1946.
In 1948, the former air training field, as one of the pilot training bases, was reactivated with its name changed to Enid Air Force Base. In 1949, the base was renamed in honor of Lt. Col. Leon Vance. It has since remained active and influences the surrounding area.
In 1941, in central Oklahoma, the Midwest Air Depot was activated. It originally was the site of the Douglas Aircraft factory producing C-47’s and A-20’s. Production of the aircraft ceased in 1945. Since opening, the Midwest Air Depot has, in some way been home to the Materiel Command.
In 1948, the Midwest Air Depot changed its name in honor of Major General Clarence Tinker. Tinker Air Force Base is home to the 72nd Air Base Wing. Since its creation, the Midwest Air Depot has employed more than 1000 civilians for creating and maintaining the aircraft as part of the Materiel Command. Tinker now employs more than 20,000 civilians in its operations.
In 1942, AAF Advanced Flying school was established in Altus, close to the southwest corner of the state of Oklahoma. In 1943, the school’s name was changed to Altus Army Airfield.
In April 1946, the base was deactivated as a training facility until 1953. In the intervening years, Altus Army Airfield served as a scrap-yard for the B17’s used during WWII. In 1945, the famous aircraft “The Memphis Belle” was found, awaiting disposal. The bomber was then turned over to the City of Memphis Tennessee.
In 1953, Altus Air Force Base was activated at the site of the old AAF training facility, serving then, and continues to serve as a training base for originally the Mobility Air Command (MAC) and later the Air Mobility Command (AMC).
Given the history of the Army in our great state, the U.S. Air Force has had its share of influence, monetarily, politically, and sociologically. We have just outlined the 3 main bases located here. However, we have not delved deeply into the WWII training bases that have now been turned over to the Air National Guard, and in many cases released to the state as public air fields.
We thank you for joining us this month in our discussion of the U.S. Air Force, and hope you will join us next month as we delve into the effects that the Navy and Marine Corps have had on Oklahoma as well.
Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Alanna loves the history of the state and relishes in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna lives with her husband and parents in the Edmond area. She is currently working on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Waterloo, Oklahoma.