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Scott Air Force Base History

On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany and formally entered World War I which had been raging in Europe since 1914. The entrance into the war meant the U.S. War Department needed to bolster the armed forces which only had 140,000 active duty soldiers and a handful of airplanes. During this time, Secretary of War Newton Baker advocated an expanded role in aviation increasing the number of planes and air fields.

Business and political leaders on both sides of the Mississippi River wanted the Midwest chosen as a site for one of the new “flying fields.” Aerial expert Albert Bond Lambert joined the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce and directors of the Greater Belleville Board of Trade to negotiate a lease agreement for nearly 624 acres of land near the town of Belleville, Illinois.

The War Department signed the lease on June 14, 1917, in which it paid seven landowners $7,400 a year with the option to buy the land for $122,895.Congress appropriated $10 million for the field’s construction and more than 2,000 workmen were given instructions to build sixty buildings in sixty days, lay a mile-long railroad spur, and construct a 1,600 foot landing circle.

During its construction, the field was named in honor of Corporal Frank Scott. In 1911, Corporal Scott and Lieutenant Lewis Rockwell took off on a Wright Type-B biplane at College Park, Maryland. Though the take off and flight went smoothly, the plane developed engine problem during the landing and crashed. Corporal Scott was killed instantly and Lieutenant Rockwell died later that evening. The decision to name the aviation site at Belleville after Corporal Scott is a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives during the early years of military aviation. Today, Scott is the only Air Force base to be named after an enlisted person.

After construction was completed in the August 1917, the first flight from Scott Field took off on September 2 and flying instruction began on September 11. Scott Field’s main mission was to train pilots and mechanics on the Standard Trainers and then the Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny.” It was standard for units to organize and train at Scott Field before deploying to Europe.

In 1917, flying planes was precarious at best. Early planes were made from wood, fabric, and wire and were dangerous to fly. When a student crashed, he faced a long walk back to the training field or, if in luck, a long drive to the nearest medical treatment center. The need for crash crews became immediately apparent as did the need for aeromedical evacuation aircraft and personnel. This lead to the development of the earliest Aeromedical Evacuation aircraft and Scott Field transported its first patient on August 24, 1918.

When the war ended on November 11, 1918, Scott Field’s future became uncertain. The armed forces were urged to decrease the size of the military and many training facilities, such as Scott Field, feared the chopping block. Welcomed news came in 1919 when the War Department announced its decision to purchase Scott Field for nearly $120,000 instead of closing it. In 1921 Scott Field’s mission changed from training pilots and was selected to become a lighter-than-air station. The facility underwent a growth spurt and added many new buildings in order to accommodate the new mission. The most notable addition was the airship hangar and was second in size only to the naval station in Lakehurst, New Jersey where the airship Hindenberg met its disastrous fate in 1937.

Not only was Scott Field involved in training lighter-than-air personnel, but its personnel were in involved with advancing lighter-than-air science and understanding the upper atmosphere. In 1927, Scott Field supported Captain Hawthorne C. Gray’s three attempts to break the world free balloon altitude record of 40,809 feet. On his second attempt he reached an altitude of 42,410 feet, but the attempt did not make record books because Captain Gray had to jump from the balloon as it was landing. He reached 42,410 feet during his final attempt, but died during the flight and his record was nullified.

By 1937 the lighter-than-air mission was scrapped in favor of Scott becoming the new home to the General Headquarters Air Force. Scott Field was granted $7.5 million and over 1,500 acres for building expansion. With the threat of war looming, General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, decided not to move General Headquarters Air Force to Scott, but the decision did not halt the expansion of the field. Instead, Scott Field’s mission changed to communications training.

On July 1, 1939, the Basic School of the Air Corps Technical School transferred to Scott Field from Chanute Field, Illinois, with the first students arriving in September 1939. Even as it was just beginning, the communications training mission continued to grow. By 1941 Scott Field received an additional $300,000 for construction to be able to handle approximately 5,800 students. By the onset of World War II, Scott Field was well on its way to earning the title of Communications University of the Army Air Forces and adopted the slogan, “The best damn radio operators in the world.” By 1942, Scott Field hosted foreign students from China, France and other Allied partner nations and, in 1943, became the home of the 58th Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS).

The U.S. Air Force became a separate service in 1947 and Scott Field officially became Scott Air Force Base on January 13, 1948. Scott’s communications training mission continued into the 1950s, and the base’s aeromedical mission continued to grow. By the end of 1950, Douglas C-54 Skymasters were bringing 200 patients a week to Scott from Korea. In August 1957, many of Scott’s radio courses moved to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and by 1959 the remaining courses were either phased out or moved to other bases.

In October 1957, responsibility for Scott moved from Air Training Command (ATC) to Military Air Transport Service (MATS). As a consequence of the realignment, Scott’s wing host, the 3310th Technical Training Wing was redesignated on October 1, 1957, as the 1405th Air Base Wing. In the years following the transition, Scott‘s central location and extensive medical facilities led to it becoming an aeromedical evacuation hub. On June 1, 1964, the 1405th was redesignated as the 1405th Aeromedical Transport Wing in conjunction with its assuming responsibility for all aeromedical evacuation operations within the continental United States. However, the 1405th would only fill this role for about 18 months due to a major airlift reorganization.

As part of an Air Force consolidation of strategic, tactical, and logistics airlift under one command, MATS was redesignated as Military Airlift Command (MAC) on January 1, 1966. In support of the reorganization, the 375th Troop Carrier Wing was redesignated in December 1965, as the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing (AAW), and was subsequently activated and organized on Scott AFB on January 12, 1966. In accordance with the activation order, the 375th assumed all the resources and manpower of the 1405th as that wing was discontinued. The addition of a fleet of C9A Nightingales in 1968 further expanded the 375th’s aeromedical mission and by 1970 the 375th AAW moved an average of 60,600 patients a year mainly from the Vietnam Theater.

In 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed and ended the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. That same year, the 375th AAW’s Patient Airlift center coordinated 61 aeromedical missions to bring 367 former POWs back to the U.S. in Operation HOMECOMING.

By 1978 the 375th took on the mission of Operational Support Airlift and was managing a dispersed continental fleet of T-39A Saberliners which flew a combined 92,000 hours a year flying passengers and cargo around the world. The T-39As were eventually phased out in 1984 and Scott received C-21A Learjets.

Big changes occurred in the 1990s. In 1991 the 375th AAW became the 375th Airlift Wing and, in 1992, the Military Airlift Command inactivated and its personnel and assets were combined with others to form Air Mobility Command (AMC) headquartered at Scott. In that same year, the Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) began operations at Scott and optimized air refueling and the way military cargo and passengers reached their destination. In 1998, the MidAmerica Airport moved to Scott as did the 126th Air Refueling Wing in 1999.  

Into the 2000s, AMC went through a major reorganization to establish its warfighting headquarters. AMC‘s Fifteenth and Twenty-First Air Forces became Expeditionary Mobility Task Forces in 2003. They, along with all AMC‘s wings and independent groups realigned to a newly activated Eighteenth Air Force on Scott AFB. The new ready mobility operations capability would speed support for contingencies and humanitarian missions. The retirement of the C-9A Nightingale and the reduction of the C-21A fleet led to a flying mission restructuring that today has Scott using a diverse mix of assigned and non-assigned aircraft to support aeromedical airlift, operational support airlift and air refueling missions.

While all these changes occurred, Scott AFB continued to play a crucial role in military operations and worldwide events. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the TACC ensured military planes stayed in the air by means of air refueling and that search and rescue crews arrived safely in New York and Washington D.C. From September 18, 2001 to December 2015, AMC aircraft, including those from the 375th, completed over 138,624 sorties and transported 2,779,261 passengers and 1,484,469 tons of cargo in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and AMC tankers offloaded 523,981,520 pounds of fuel to 32,531 receiving aircraft in Operation NOBLE EAGLE.  

On August 30, 2005, a team from the 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron deployed to Kessler AFB, Mississippi and airlifted victims from areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. A few days later on September 6, over 200 375th members supported Joint Task Force Katrina. Medical Group personnel set up a medical evacuation center at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans while Civil Engineer members helped with cleanup, restoration of utilities, and establishment of a tent city for the 82nd Airborne Division.

 The 906th Air Refueling Squadron moved (without personnel and equipment) from the 319th Operations Group, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, to the 375th Operations Group, Scott AFB. The 906th became an active associate unit flying the KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft of the 126th Air Refueling Wing, Illinois Air National Guard. In conjunction with the 906th‘s realignment, the 375th Airlift Wing was redesignated as the 375th Air Mobility Wing.

Today Scott AFB continues to be the home of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, the 618th AOC (TACC), the 18th Air Force, Air Mobility Command, and the United States Transportation Command. 

Note: Accurate as of May 2017