Columbus AFB Community

History

When you arrive at Columbus Air Force Base, you’ll join a team with a proud heritage. From our earliest days as an Army Air Corps pilot training base to the Cold War when our runways trembled under the roar of the mighty B-52s, to our reputation today as one of the world’s premier flying training bases, you’re joining a tradition of “Columbus Class.”

Columbus Air Force Base began as an advanced twin-engine flying school during the rearming of America prior to World War II. Efforts by local civic leaders in the 1930s to secure an airport shifted to obtaining a military flying field as U.S. forces geared up for war. On June 26, 1941, the War Department announced Columbus’ selection as the site for an Army Air Corps pilot training school. Construction got underway in 1941, and pilot training began in 1942. With an unparalleled safety record, this is where both instrument training and flying standardization boards got their start, earning the Columbus Army Flying School national recognition in Time magazine and The New York Times. More than 8,000 students came to Columbus for pilot training during World War II to become flying officers in the Army Air Corps. AT-6s, AT-8s, AT-9s, AT-10s, Lockheed-Hudson A-29s and TB-25s were used at Columbus during this time. By war’s end, the air base, then known as Columbus Army Air Field, had become one of the largest in the Southeast, with four runways and seven auxiliary fields. The base was closed in 1945 and remained inactive until the nation again faced the prospect of war, this time to defend South Korea.

Because post-World War II disarmament had been so extensive, the Air Force found itself pressed beyond its pilot training limits. The nation’s pilot production goal more than doubled to 10,000 annually, necessitating more training bases. The crisis impelled the Air Force to turn to contract pilot training, which could expand capacity quickly and inexpensively, so Columbus Air Force Base reopened in 1951 as a contract flying school. Air Training Command’s 3301st Pilot Training Squadron oversaw the contract flight instruction of about 3,000 pilots in PA-18 Piper Cubs and AT-6s. With the Korean War at an end and pilot production needs dropping, the decision was made to close the contract flying school at Columbus. Though desirable as a startup school, contract operations could operate economically only if the student load was at or near maximum capacity.

While the Air Force’s pilot training requirements were decreasing, its strategic air arm was expanding. During the 1950s, Strategic Air Command (SAC) wings had become extremely large. As the Russian missile threat became more pronounced and warning time decreased, SAC bases presented increasingly attractive targets. By providing additional bases to which the aircraft could be dispersed, the enemy’s targeting problem would be compounded, and more bombers could become airborne within a given time period. It was decided to break up these large concentrations of aircraft and distribute them among more bases. Thus, Columbus Air Force Base was relinquished to the Strategic Air Command in April 1955. After a four-year rebuilding program to prepare the base for its new mission, Columbus became home to a B-52 bomber squadron and a KC-135 tanker squadron in 1958. Beginning in 1965, the same year it won the coveted Fairchild Trophy as “Best in SAC,” Columbus’ 454th Bombardment Wing deployed to the western Pacific, completing more than 100 missions to South Vietnam. A convergence of situations brought a close to the Strategic Air Command years at Columbus. As the demand for pilots to support the war in Southeast Asia increased, the number of B-52s stateside fell because they were needed overseas. At the same time, Minuteman and Polaris missiles were taking their places in strategic deterrence, replacing much of the bomber alert force.

After 14 years under Strategic Air Command, Columbus AFB rejoined Air Training Command on July 1, 1969, and resumed the mission for which it was originally activated: training pilots. The first undergraduate pilot training class, Class 71-01, entered training July 17, 1969, in the T-37 and later progressed to the T-38. Class 08-15 was the last class to fly the T-37s. After 39 years of service at Columbus AFB and being known as “the gateway to the sky” for more than 10,685 graduates, the T-37B Tweet was formally retired April 3, 2008. Two years earlier, the first of the replacement aircraft, the T-6A Texan II, arrived on base in October 2006. As a vital resource which allows for the continual accomplishment of the flying training mission, on Sept. 16, 2013, the completion of a six-month modernization and reconstruction effort resulted in replacement of Columbus Air Force Base’s nearly 60-year-old middle runway surface.

Today, Columbus Air Force Base is home of the 14th Flying Training Wing, Air Education and Training Command.

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