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Albrook Air Force Station

Air Combat Command.png

Part of Air Combat Command

Located near Balboa, Panama

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Type Military Air Force Station
Coordinates Latitude:
Longitude:
Built 1928
In use 1932-1997
Controlled by United States Air Force

Albrook Air Force Station is a former United States Air Force facility in Panama. It was closed on 30 September 1997 as a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties which specified that United States military facilities in the former Panama Canal Zone be closed and the facilities be turned over to the Panamanian government. It was located on the east side of the Panama Canal just south of Fort Clayton and north of the township of Balboa, Panama. Beginning in January 1999, the air field initiated civilian air service as Albrook "Marcos A. Gelabert" International Airport.

Major commands to which assigned[edit | edit source]

USAF Southern Air Division, 1 January 1976 - 1 January 1989
830th Air Division, 1 January 1989 - 15 February 1991
Air Forces Panama, 15 February 1991 - 11 February 1992

Major units assigned[edit | edit source]

  • 16th Pursuit (later Fighter) Group
24th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron, 26 October 1932-10 January 1943; 28 May-9 June 1943
28th Pursuit Squadron, 1 February-5 October 1940
29th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron, 1 October 1933-17 May 1942
43d Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron, 1 February 1940-13 July 1942
73d Pursuit Squadron, 1 October 1933-14 July 1941
78th Pursuit Squadron, 15 October 1932-1 September 1937
  • 19th Composite Wing, 25 January 1933
Redesignated 19th Wing, 1937
Redesignated 19th Bombardment Wing, 1940 - 25 October 1941[1]
30th Pursuit Squadron, 13 November 1940-24 November 1941
31st Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron, 13 November 1940-9 November 1941; 31 December 1941-3 February 1942; 19 May-30 September 1942
  • Headquarters, Panama Canal Air Force, 20 November 1940
Redesignated: Caribbean Air Force. August 5, 1941
Redesignated: 6th Air Force, September 18, 1942
Redesignated: Caribbean Air Command, July 31, 1946
Redesignated: United States Air Forces Southern Command July 8, 1963-1 January 1976

  • 12 Pursuit Wing, 10 November 1940 – 6 March 1942
  • 32d Pursuit (later Fighter) Group
51st Pursuit Squadron, 1 January-21 August 1941
52d Pursuit Squadron, 1 January-21 August 1941
53d Pursuit Squadron, 1 January-21 August 1941
3rd Bombardment Squadron[4]
74th Bombardment Squadron[5]
  • Sixth Air Force Base Command
20th Troop Carrier Squadron, 9 June 1943-September 1948
  • 1st Depot Repair Squadron, 6 May 1943 – 7 December 1944
  • 314th Troop Carrier Group, 1 October 1946 - 10 March 1948
  • 5700th Composite Wing
18th Troop Carrier Squadron, 1 August 1948-1 March 1949
  • 24th Composite Wing, 8 November 1967 - 3 January 1968
  • 830th Air Division, 1 January 1976 – 15 August 1977; 1 March 1989 – 15 February 1991

History[edit | edit source]

After World War I, it became apparent to military planners that air power, especially naval air power, constituted a serious threat to the safety of the Panama Canal. The one existing airfield (France Field) was too small, had a poor landing surface, offered no room for expansion, and provided little defense for the Pacific entrance to the Canal. Construction for an air base at Albrook Field was authorized by Congress in 1928, and $1.9 million was appropriated. Actual construction began in 1930 and most was completed in 1932. Albrook Army Airfield was commissioned in April 1932 as an active air field.

The original construction program at Albrook left out several buildings necessary for efficient flight operations, including a headquarters building. As money could be secured throughout the 1930s, seven buildings were added to the base. In addition, the runways were unsuitable for all-weather flying and had to be improved.

By the mid-1930s, advances in naval aviation (primarily aircraft carriers) and increasingly long-range bombers had again made plain the inadequacies of Canal air defense. Plans to significantly expand Air Corps strength had been around since 1934, essentially proposing a system of outlying bases supported by pursuit and bombardment aircraft. It was 1939, however, before these plans began to be realized. Congressional authorization and $50 million in funding were forthcoming that year for improving Canal defenses. Since a large part of the expansion program was a vast increase in manpower, much of the new construction involved housing at existing bases. In addition, a new airfield (Howard Field) was authorized for the west bank of the Pacific entrance to the Canal. The majority of the expansion program construction was completed by early 1942.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the number of troops in Panama was sharply increased. The newly established Caribbean Defense Command carried out its mission of Canal defense through a widespread net of naval and air reconnaissance, with the greatest threat coming from German U-boats. By April 1943, the threat to the Canal was diminishing, defense status was downgraded, and a reduction in troop strength began.

Albrook Field became Albrook Air Force Base on March 26, 1948, by the Department of the Air Force General Order Number 10.

AAFES operated an "Albrook Mall" in various buildings that was one of the primary shopping areas available to US troops stationed there (not just Air Force). In 1966, elements of the famed 4080th SRW, home of the Lockheed U2 aircraft performed atmospheric sampling as the French detonated a nuclear device in the South Pacific.

In 1975 the facility was downgraded to Albrook Air Force Station when the control tower was closed and Air Force aircraft and units moved to Howard Air Force Base. The airstrip and adjacent hangars and buildings (Albrook Army Airfield) was transferred to the government of Panama on October 1, 1979, along with the adjacent the PAD (Panama Air Depot) Area.

The base saw action again during the 1989 United States invasion of Panama, including an extended firefight at its front gate. The station was turned over to the Government of Panama on 30 September 1997 as a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties and was subsequently closed as a military facility.

Post USAF use[edit | edit source]

After the base was turned over to Panama and the domestic/commercial Albrook "Marcos A. Gelabert" International Airport was relocated to Albrook from Punta Paitilla (across Panama City) in January 1999 after refurbishing the former Air Force Base and constructing an operations/control tower and a passenger terminal (near Building 446, the hangar that previously housed the former Air Force Post Office). Airport is under Panama's Civil Aeronautics Authority (Autoridad de Aeronáutica Civil —previously named Civil Aviation Directorate).

A number of shops, markets and government agencies (Panamanian Red Cross, International Maritime University of Panama) operate out of some of the old buildings and hangars, and most of the officers quarters are now private homes.

The Civil Aviation Authority has its headquarters in Building 805.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Conaway, William. "VI Bombardment Command History". Planes and Pilots Of World War Two. http://www.planesandpilotsofww2.totalh.net/panama/vibchistorytem.htm. 
  2. Conaway, William. "40th Bombardment Group (Heavy)". VI Bomber Command In Defense Of The Panama Canal 1941 - 45. http://www.planesandpilotsofww2.totalh.net/panama/40thbgphistorytem.htm. 
  3. Conaway, William. "6th Bombardment Group (Heavy)". VI Bomber Command In Defense Of The Panama Canal 1941 - 45. http://www.planesandpilotsofww2.totalh.net/panama/6thbgphistorytem.htm. 
  4. Conaway, William. "3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)". VI Bomber Command In Defense Of The Panama Canal 1941 - 45. http://www.planesandpilotsofww2.totalh.net/panama/3rdbshistorytem.htm. 
  5. Conaway, William. "74th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)". VI Bomber Command In Defense Of The Panama Canal 1941 - 45. http://www.planesandpilotsofww2.totalh.net/panama/74thbshistorytem.htm. 
  6. "Contáctenos." Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved on April 18, 2012. "Oficinas Administrativas: Albrook Edificio 805 - Panamá"

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • Mauer, Mauer (1969), Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ISBN 0-89201-097-5

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