Air Force Bases

MacDill Air Force Base, Florida

During the Spanish-American War (1898), Tampa, because of its strategic location, was chosen as a rendezvous point for troops heading south to help Cuba gain independence from Spain. Approximately 10,000 of the 66,000 troops in Tampa waiting for ships headed to Cuba set up camp around what was then known as Port Tampa City, which bordered what is now MacDill AFB.
There are several dates surrounding the history of MacDill AFB. Official records report an establishment date of 24 May 1939, date construction began 6 September 1939, date of beneficial occupancy 11 March 1940 and formal dedication 16 April 1941. This last date is normally associated with the age of the base. 

Originally known as Southeast Air Base, Tampa, and later named MacDill Field in honor of Colonel Leslie MacDill, the field became MacDill Air Force Base shortly after the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947.
Flying operations at MacDill began in 1941 with the base’s first mission including transitional training in the B-17 Flying Fortress. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacDill became a major staging area for Army Air Corps flight crews and aircraft. In just 60 days, 15 LB-30 and 63 B-17 aircraft departed MacDill via the south Atlantic and Africa to Australia.

The base’s mission converted to B-26 “ Marauder” training in 1942 and it was the B-26 that earned the slogan “one a day in Tampa Bay.” The aircraft proved hard to fly and land by many pilots due to its short wings, high landing speeds, and fighter plane maneuverability. Nine of the 12 combat groups that flew the B-26 in Europe were activated and trained at MacDill and in combat the B-26 enjoyed the lowest loss rate of any Allied bomber.

In 1943 the base discontinued B-26 training and returned to B-17 training which continued through the end of World War II. During the war as many as 15,000 troops were stationed at MacDill at one time. A contingent of Women’s Army Corps (WACS) troops arrived in 1943.

Estimates of the number of crew members trained at the base vary from 50,000 to 120,000. Several bases in Florida, including MacDill, served as detention centers for German prisoners-of-war (POWs) in the latter part of 1944 and 1945. At its apex, 488 POWs were interned at MacDill. 

Following the end of hostilities in Europe, MacDill transitioned to a B-29 training base in January 1945, and after the war, continued B-29 training through 1953.

After World War II, MacDill became an operational base for Strategic Air Command with training activities focused around P-51, B-29, and in 1950, B-50 training. This aircraft is of the same type residing in MacDill’s memorial park today. 

In 1951, MacDill’s operational mission transitioned to new B-47 medium jet bombers and KC-97 tanker aircraft, with a primary mission as a strategic bombardment and air refueling base.

Plans to close MacDill surfaced in 1960, however the Cuban Missile Crisis highlighted the strategic location of the base and led to a reprieve of the planned cutbacks. In 1961 the United States Strike Command was established at MacDill as a unified command with integrated personnel from all branches of the military capable of responding to global crisis. 

The base began training crews in F-84 aircraft in 1962, and MacDill became a Tactical Air Command base in 1963. In 1965, MacDill’s two combat-ready F-4 wings (the 12th and 15th Tactical Fighter Wings) deployed to Vietnam. The 12th’s deployment became permanent while the 15 TFW returned to MacDill and became a replacement training unit with F-4 and B-57 aircraft.

In 1970, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing moved to MacDill replacing the 15 TFW and continued F-4 training, losing the B-57 mission in 1972. MacDill’s U.S. Strike Command was redesignated U.S. Readiness Command in 1972. In 1975, the 56 TFW replaced the 1 TFW and continued F-4 training until 1979 when F-16 aircraft were brought to the base. The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, forerunner of U.S. Central Command, activated at MacDill in 1983.

In 1987, U.S. Special Operations Command replaced U.S. Readiness Command. Helicopter operations ended at MacDill in 1987 after more than 25 years of service. 

Between 1979 and 1993 approximately half of all F-16 pilots were trained at MacDill. During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, accelerated training programs expanded to allow many pilots to go straight from initial training to combat units in the gulf. 

In 1991, due to military downsizing, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (DBCRC) required MacDill to cease all flying operations by 1993. The action effectively transferred MacDill’s 100-plus F-16 mission to Luke AFB, Arizona.
1993 legislation reversed the flightline closure ruling and allowed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to transfer to MacDill to utilize the runway. 

The base became home to the 6th Air Base Wing in 1994 with a primary mission of operating the base in support of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and a large number of tenant and transient units. 

In late 1994 the base quickly became a major staging area for operations in Haiti when the flightline became a temporary home to approximately 75 C-130 aircraft.

The successful operation highlighted MacDill’s strategic location and flightline capabilities, which in turn led to the 1995 DBCRC’s recommendation to bring a KC-135 refueling mission to MacDill. In 1996 the base’s host wing redesignation to an Air Refueling Wing marked the beginning of a new era for MacDill.

The redesignation marked the addition of a KC-135R squadron and mission which expanded in 1997 with the add-on of EC-135 and CT-43 aircraft and missions. Revitalized flying operations at MacDill now enhance the posture of military air refueling and airlift operations in the southeastern part of the United States. Since the redesignation, MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, have contributed to military operations around the world at locations including Istres, France; Ramstein AB, Germany; Soto Cano and Taszar, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; Tuzla, Bosnia; Incirlik AB, Turkey; and Al Kharj and Riyadh, Saudia Arabia.