A HISTORY OF SHOWCASE ACHIEVEMENTS
During World War I, Secretary of War Newton Baker advocated an expanded role for aviation. Business and political leaders on both sides of the Mississippi River wanted the Midwest to be 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.
After inspecting several sites, the U.S. War Department agreed to the lease June 14, 1917. Congress appropriated $10 million for its construction, and 2,000 laborers and carpenters were immediately put to work. The government gave the Unit Construction Company 60 days to erect approximately 60 buildings, lay a mile-long railroad spur and to level off an airfield with a 1,600-foot landing circle. Construction was underway when the government announced it would name the new field after Cpl. Frank Scott, the first enlisted service member killed in an aviation crash.
Frank Scott enlisted in the Field Artillery at the age of 24. An illness in July 1911 led to his reassignment to the Signal Corps Aviation School at College Park, Maryland, where he served as a mechanic for one of the Wright Type-B biplanes. Interested in flying, Cpl. Scott asked Lt. Lewis Rockwell to take him along on a flight. Lt. Rockwell first made a solo run over College Park. Confident everything was in good order; he landed and brought Cpl. Scott on board. After reaching 150 feet, the pilot leveled off. As he brought the plane in for landing, the craft developed engine trouble and crashed. Cpl. Scott was killed instantly, Lt. Rockwell died later that evening. The decision to name the aviation site at Belleville after Cpl. Scott is a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives during the early years of military aviation.
Construction was completed in August, and the first flight from Scott Field occurred on Sept. 2, 1917. Flying instruction began Sept. 11, 1917. Scott officers designed two air ambulances by modifying Jenny aircraft to carry patients. On Aug. 24, 1918, Scott’s air ambulance transported its first patient after an aviator broke his leg.
Scott Field’s future became uncertain after the end of World War I. Welcomed news came early in 1919, with the War Department’s announcement of its decision to purchase Scott Field. A new mission came in 1921, when Scott Field was selected to become a lighter-than-air station. Many new facilities were built to accommodate its new balloon/airship mission. The most notable addition was the airship hangar. It was second in size only to the naval station hangar in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The mission came to an abrupt end in 1937, when the Chief of the Army Air Corps decided to stop all lighter-than-air activities.
The following year, Scott was chosen to become the new home to the General Headquarters Air Force. Scott Field more than doubled in size as the Works Progress Administration constructed nearly 100 colonial-style buildings.
With the outbreak of World War II, the headquarters move was canceled and Scott reverted back to a training installation. Its communications training era began September 1940 with the opening of the Radio School. To accommodate the new training mission, Scott Field went through yet another period of expansion and construction. During World War II, Scott’s Radio School produced, as its slogan professed, “The best damned radio operators in the world!”
The U.S. Air Force became a separate service on Sept. 17, 1947, and on Jan. 13, 1948, Scott Field was redesignated as Scott AFB. Throughout the USAF transition, Scott’s primary mission remained technical training; however, Scott’s aeromedical evacuation mission continued to grow. By the end of 1950, Douglas C-54 Skymasters were bringing 200 patients a week to Scott.
In October 1957, Scott realigned from Air Training Command to the Military Air Transport Service. Aeromedical evacuation continued to grow, and in 1964, Scott’s host wing was redesignated as the 1405th Aeromedical Transport Wing. Increasing importance placed on airlift led to the Military Air Transport Service being redesignated as Military Airlift Command in 1966. Associated with this reorganization, the 1405th was discontinued and its mission and resources were absorbed by the newly activated 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing. The addition of a fleet of C-9A Nightingales in 1968 further expanded the 375th’s aeromedical mission. In 1973, Scott’s Patient Airlift Center coordinated 61 aeromedical missions to bring 357 former prisoners of war back to the U.S. By 1975, the 375th gained responsibility for the worldwide aeromedical evacuation system.
The 375th gained another mission in 1978: Operational Support Airlift. Scott received its first T-39A Sabreliner in 1962. After 1978, the 375th was managing a dispersed continental fleet of 104 Sabreliners flying a combined 92,000 hours a year. The CT-39As were phased out in 1984, the same year the first Gates C-21A Learjets arrived at Scott.
As the 375th reorganized, it transitioned to a Military Airlift Wing in 1990 and an Airlift Wing in 1991. In 1992, Military Airlift Command inactivated and its personnel and assets were combined with others to form Air Mobility Command (AMC). Later in the 1990s, two new partners joined Scott’s team, MidAmerica Airport and the 126th Air Refueling Wing. A 1987 Federal Aviation Administration authorization, followed by a 1991 joint use agreement, resulted in the 1998 opening of the new MidAmerica Airport. Similarly, the 1992 realignment of refueling units to AMC, plus the planned MidAmerica construction, led to a 1995 Base Realignment and Closure committee recommendation to relocate the 126th Air Refueling Wing to Scott AFB.
AMC’s 15th and 21st Air Forces became Expeditionary Mobility Task Forces in 2003. They, along with all AMC wings and independent groups realigned to a newly activated 18th Air Force. The new ready mobility operations capability would speed AMC’s support for contingencies and humanitarian missions. In 2003, age, noise, maintenance and lack of demand led to the retirement of the C-9A Nightingale. In the years that followed, the C-21A fleet was reorganized and reduced. These events caused 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.
The 375th Airlift Wing officially became the 375th Air Mobility Wing on Sept. 30, 2009. The Total Force Integration effort called for the creation of an associate unit consisting of active-duty KC-135 pilots, boom operators and maintainers who worked side by side with their counterparts in the 126th Air Refueling Wing. The 375th Operation Group staff had administrative responsibilities for 135 aircrew members and maintainers under the 906th Aerial Refueling Squadron, a unit that moved from Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. The 126th Air Refueling Wing maintained the operational direction and control of the mission execution responsibility of these Airmen. Scott AFB served as one of six locations in Air Mobility Command and one of 10 throughout the Air Force where TFI efforts unfolded.