|Part of Strategic Air Command/Air Training Command|
USGS 2006 Aerial Photo
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|Type||Air Force Base|
|Built by||United States Army Air Forces|
|City of Amarillo, Texas|
- For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport
Amarillo Air Force Base, originally Amarillo Army Air Field is a former United States Air Force base located in Potter County, Texas, approximately 6 miles (10 km) East of downtown Amarillo within the easternmost city limits. The City of Amarillo is located on the boundary of Potter and Randall Counties in the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle.
World War II
The base was activated in April 1942 and formally named an army air field in May. It was eleven miles (18 km) east of Amarillo on a 1,523 acres (6 km²) tract of land adjacent to English Field, a commercial airfield serving the Panhandle. Col Edward C. Black, the first commanding officer, arrived in April 1942 with the first cadre of troops. Construction was only half completed when the first classes were begun in September 1942. The field, one of the largest installations in the Western Technical Training Command, was established for training of air crew and ground mechanics to service B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft. From 1943 to 1945 basic training and special courses of instruction were conducted, and the school was later designated to train technicians and flight engineers for B-29 aircraft in addition to the B-17 technical training. Flying operations were also inaugurated. In addition to the technical training, basic military training was also conducted at Amarillo beginning in the spring of 1943. With the end of the war in September 1945 Amarillo Army Airfield was designated as a permanent base and assigned to the post war single Technical Training Command. It was refocused on aircraft mechanic training for B-29 aircraft and basic military training, although the number of new recruits was severely curtailed after the end of the war. Postwar funding shortages led to further base closures in 1946, and Amarillo Army Air Base was closed on 15 September 1946. Its facilities were turned over to the War Assets Administration, but the Air Force had a reactivation right to the airfield facilities if needed. Once in civilian hands by 1947, many of its buildings were converted to peacetime uses or destroyed.
United States Air Force
Due to the needs of the United States Air Force during the Korean War, Amarillo Air Force Base was reactivated in March 1951 and became the first all-jet mechanic training base in the Air Force. The 3320th Technical Training Wing was activated under the Air Training Command (ATC) to oversee training activities, and in December 1951 the first trainees from foreign countries arrived. By 1952, the program reached a planned maximum of 3,500 students. Mechanic training continued throughout 1953 and 1954 and included a course on the B-47 Stratojet medium bomber, although training was restricted as only three B-47s were available for aircraft mechanic training, forcing two or three classes to use the same aircraft at any one time.
The base was declared a permanent installation in 1954. Four new courses were added a year later, and the number of students climbed to about 5,000. When the two-phase system of basic training began in 1956, Amarillo Air Force Base was selected as one of the bases to administer the technical second phase. The base continued to grow in the late 1950s. In 1957 a missile training department was established, and facilities were expanded to accommodate a bomber wing of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In July 1958, a supply and administration school previously located at Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming was moved to Amarillo AFB. Concerned that the size of each of the technical training bases was more than a single commander could successfully manage, in late 1958 Air Training Command asked Headquarters USAF for permission to redesignate the technical training wings as training centers. As a result, the 3320th TTW was redesignated the Amarillo Technical Training Center in 1959, while SAC's 4128th Strategic Wing concluded a joint-tenancy agreement with Air Training Command. B-47s mechanic training was initially conducted and by 1960 the B-52s were stationed and flying for the 4128th (10 to 15 B-52s). In addition, funds were made available for major upgrades to buildings and other infrastructure at the base. By May 1960, the jet-mechanic school had graduated 100,000 students. At that time, Amarillo AFB was the site of all Air Training Command resident training in administrative, procurement, and supply fields; it continued to train thousands of jet aircraft mechanics, jet engine mechanics, and air-frame repairmen.
In 1963, the 4128th Strategic Wing was disestablished and its assets absorbed by SAC's 461st Bombardment Wing, which assumed host wing responsibilities and operated B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft (about 10–15 B-52s and 12–15 KC-135s).
Air Defense Command
Air Defense Command (ADC) established a presence at Amarillo AFB in 1954 by the establishment of a Mobile Radar Station to support the permanent ADC Radar network in the United States sited around the perimeter of the country. This deployment was projected to be operational by mid-1952. Funding, constant site changes, construction, and equipment delivery delayed deployment.
The 688th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned to Amarillo AFB on 1 October 1944 by the 25th Air Division and became operational with an AN/MPS-7 search radar and an AN/TPS-10D height-finder radar in 1955. The station functioned as a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and warning station. As a GCI station, the squadron's role was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit's radar scopes. The site was designed as M-88. In 1958, the site was operating an AN/FPS-20A search radar. An AN/FPS-6A replaced the AN/TPS-10D height-finder radar in 1960, and the site joined the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, being redesignated the 688th Radar Squadron (SAGE) on 1 January 1960. The radar squadron provided information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to the SAGE Direction Center, where it was analyzed to determine range, direction altitude speed and whether or not aircraft were friendly or hostile. On 31 July 1963, the site was redesignated as NORAD ID Z-88.
Around 1965 this site became an FAA/ADC joint-use site. The AN/FPS-20A search radar was upgraded and redesignated as an AN/FPS-67B radar in 1966. On 8 September 1968, the renamed Aerospace Defense Command inactivated the 688th Radar Squadron as part of the shutdown of Amarillo AFB. The FAA continues to operate the AN/FPS-67B search radar today.
In early 1965, ATC began making plans to close its training activities at Amarillo by mid-1968. The command would relocate 29 technical courses: 7 to Chanute AFB, Illinois; 10 to Lowry AFB Colorado; 5 to Sheppard AFB, Texas; and 7 to Lackland AFB, Texas. In addition, one of the actions ATC took in response to the announced closure of Amarillo AFB was the relocation of the 3320th Retraining Group from Amarillo AFB to Lowry AFB. The retraining group, with its mission to rehabilitate and return to duty airmen convicted of criminal offenses, started the move on 1 July and completed it on 1 September 1967.
Conspiracy rumors concerning the closure of the base swirled around a suspicion that president Lyndon Johnson closed the base out of spite for the Texas Panhandle because it supposedly voted for the Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, in the 1964 presidential election. This rumor persists even though only eight of the 26 counties in the Panhandle voted for Goldwater, and despite the fact that president Johnson was himself a native Texan. A more likely reason for closure was the increasing costs of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War combined with the Johnson Administration's concurrent Great Society program. This nexus of increased domestic spending on social programs, combined with increased military spending for overseas combat operations, resulted in the closure or consolidation of numerous stateside air force bases and naval air stations in the mid-1960s and was not limited to Amarillo AFB alone.
ATC's Amarillo Air Technical Training Center changed in February 1966 with the formation of the 3330th Basic Military School due to an outbreak of spinal meningitis at Lackland AFB. A personnel processing squadron was added the same month to support the school. In 1967 the center's facilities covered 5,273 acres (21 km²) and had about 16,300 assigned personnel. However, due to the influx of trainees for the Vietnam buildup, Amarillo continued to conduct Split-Phase Basic Military Training for enlisted airmen with Lackland AFB. While the closing of Amarillo AFB remained a scheduled action, the Department of Defense postponed it from 30 June to 31 December 1968 to allow more time to prepare facilities for the accommodation of relocated courses. Throughout 1968, ATC continued to release property and facilities. For example, the airfield portion of 1,784 acres (7.22 km2) and seven buildings were released to the city of Amarillo on 1 April. Other property and facilities were released to civilian control on 1 July. Bell Helicopter Company, which repaired helicopters at Amarillo AFB for the U.S. Army, established and expanded operations on the base, and Texas A&M University established a technical training institute. School, student, and instructor squadrons were discontinued in August and September. ATC discontinued the 3220th Technical Training School headquarters on 1 October. Technical training ended on 27 August 1968, when personnel and administration courses moved to Keesler AFB, Mississippi.
Strategic Air Command began closing down its operations at Amarillo AFB in early 1968. Personnel and equipment of the 461st Bombardment Wing were transferred to other SAC organizations during the spring, and the wing was declared non-operational at the end of February. The 461st BW was discontinued and inactivated on 25 May 1968.
The last BMT class at Amarillo AFB graduated on 11 December 1968, and the base closed on 31 December 1968.
The closing damaged the economy of Amarillo, but over time other uses were found for parts of the closed installation. On 2 September 1970, the Amarillo branch of Texas State Technical Institute was opened on the former base grounds, later becoming the east campus of Amarillo College. Another part of the base was used for the Amarillo Air Terminal, which opened on 17 May 1971 and was later renamed Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in honor of Colonel Rick Husband, USAF, following the death of the astronaut and Amarillo native in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Only a small part of the former Amarillo Air Force Base still exists in 2010. The long runway, built for the use of the Air Force base, bisected the original U.S. 66, which was rerouted into Amarillo. This old alignment is one of the few in Texas which cannot be traveled today, as Mother Road enthusiasts are required to detour around the airport by traveling north to Highway 60 to join Amarillo Boulevard or returning to I-40.
Old Route 66 ends at a high fence with restriction warnings. The best choice for continuing the journey; is traveling north to Highway 60, where a couple of old service areas can be seen before the highway merges with Amarillo Boulevard, that continues to sport numerous old travel stops along its east end.
Today, a tour through the old Air Force base continues to display a number of old buildings in various states of deterioration. However, many are still used by Amarillo College, though they've seen better days. The old base chapel is the best kept building and still serves parishioners today. The large aircraft parking ramp is largely intact and most of the large B-52 SAC hangars still stand, although a few have been torn down. Almost all of the USAF buildings, most of which were of 1940s and 1950s vintage construction at the time of base closure, have been torn down. The street patterns for the base remain, criss-crossing now empty fields, although some old concrete foundations and slabs remain. The military family housing area, built in the early 1960s, still remains intact and is in use as civilian housing.
The main runway at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport is the original runway of the air base and at just over 13,500 feet (4,100 m) in length is one of the longest in the country for use in commercial aviation. Because of its length, and Amarillo's centralized location, it was considered a secondary landing facility for NASA's space shuttle in the case of emergency. The Space Shuttle Atlantis did briefly 'land' in Amarillo, Texas on 1 July 2007, but only while riding piggy-back atop a modified NASA Boeing 747, during a ferry flight from Edwards AFB in the California desert to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The runway bisected the original location of the famed Mother Road; Historic U.S. Route 66. Aerial photos and Google Earth still show evidence and fragments of original bar ditches and pavement directly through the center of the airport property. Enthusiasts attempting to retrace the original route must detour around the airport; one of the few inaccessible stretches of the historic route because of legal restrictions and perhaps the only segment in the entire nearly 2,400-mile (3,900 km) route that is FAA controlled.
The air base included a full service hospital for the use of stationed airmen, their families and nearby military personnel. Danny Elfman, (front man of the 1980s band Oingo Boingo and soundtrack composer for Batman, Beetlejuice, Men in Black, etc.) the son of an Air Force instructor, was reportedly born there on 29 May 1953.
- Texas World War II Army Airfields
- List of USAF Aerospace Defense Command General Surveillance Radar Stations
- Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
- Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
- B. Byron Price and Frederick W. Rathjen, The Golden Spread: An Illustrated History of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle (Northridge, California: Windsor, 1986).
- A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 – 1980, by Lloyd H. Cornett and Mildred W. Johnson, Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Winkler, David F. (1997), Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program. Prepared for United States Air Force Headquarters Air Combat Command.
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