Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma
Origin of current name: Named after a city in Oklahoma
Date current name was assigned to base: March 3, 1953
Previous Names: AAF Advanced Flying School, Altus, OK, September 14th 1942; Altus Army Airfield, April 8th 1943; AAF Pilot School (Advanced TE), Altus Army Air Field, August 6th 1943-April 23rd 1946.
Date Established: June 17, 1942
Date Occupied: December 23, 1942
Construction Began: June 3, 1942
Changes in Capability: Runways, taxiways, hangers, operations building, fuel storage facilities, and utilities completed mid-1943; World War II twin-engine training graduated 5,377 pilots; after reactivation in 1953 a TAC troop carrier wing operated the base for a short period; assignment to SAC brought a large construction program, including runway extension, warehouses and recreational facilities 1954-1956; 12 Atlas missile sites, April-August 1960 to July-October 1965 (inactivated); Altus became primary C-5 and C-141 formal training base when assigned to MAC in 1968; another large construction program, including C-5 and C-141 flight simulators, alteration of hangers and hangar test cells, new operations and training facilities, field maintenance hangar, and inspection, repair, communications, and electronics shops completed 1969-1970; C-5 maintenance fuel dock and C-141/KC-135 maintenance dock completed fall 1970; new hospital opened 1979.
Changes in Status: On temporary inactive status, May 15th 1945; surplus, October 10th 1945; custody assumed by Army Division Engineers, April 23rd 1946; transferred to WAA, August 27th 1946; activated, January 8th 1953; base annexed into Altus city limits, March 16th 1960.
Altus Air Force Base - Born out of the cotton fields of southwestern Oklahoma, Altus Air Force Base first became home to military aircraft and personnel in 1943. With an average of over 300 days of weather favorable to flying each year, a generally flat landscape and few obstructions, the base was then and is still, ideally situated to be a perfect location for young airmen to hone their skills. Originally called Altus Army Air Field (AAF), construction of the new base began in May 1942. Over the next five decades, the base evolved to become the premier air mobility training location in the United States Air Force (USAF).
The base became operational on January 1943, training new pilots on multi-engine aircraft. The primary training aircraft were the Cessna AT-17 Bobcat and the Curitss AT-9 Jeep. After the students perfected their skills with these aircraft, they transferred to units that would prepare them to fly the actual type of aircraft they would use in combat over Europe and in the Pacific theaters during WW II. At the end of hostilities in Europe, Altus AAF was slated for inactivation and on 15 May 1945 placed on temporary inactive status.
The base would only sit idle for a few years. The onset of the Korean War in June 1950 created the need for more men to fly and service aircraft. During the early years of the conflict, many WWII airfields were examined for reactivation. On 1 August 1953, Altus Air Force Base reactivated as a training base for transport aircraft. The durable C-47 Skytrain and the feisty C-45 Expediter were the main aircraft assigned to the base, run briefly by the 63d Troop Carrier Wing from 8 January until 15 October 1953 under the watch of the Tactical Air Command. During the 1950s, the base would undergo many changes in the new and maturing Air Force. Later that same year, 18 November, the 96th Bombardment Wing, Medium, (96 BW) would arrive and begin operations under Strategic Air Command (SAC) with three squadrons of bombers and one air refueling squadron. These squadrons eventually flew the first all jet-engine bomber, the B-47 Stratojet and the KC-97 Stratofreighter, a dual-purpose cargo and air refueling aircraft. By the end of the decade both of these aircraft would be replaced by aircraft still in the Air Force inventory, the KC-135 Stratotanker and the B-52 Stratofortress. The KC-135 is the first all jet engine air refueling aircraft and the B-52 remains the backbone of the bomber fleet. When the 96 BW moved to Dyess AFB Texas the 11th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, activated and stood countless hours on alert during the Cold War with this formidable duo. As the base moved into the 1960s, more changes would occur.
In June 1961, the personnel on the base witnessed the activation of twelve Atlas "F" intercontinental ballistic missile sites within a 40-mile radius of the base. Controlled by the 577th Missile Squadron, the missiles sat inside a silo, constructed underground with a launch facility, manned around the clock. The missile silos became operational on 10 October 1962 but the activation would be short lived. By April 1965 the Atlas missile would be outdated and was phased out of the national strategic defense plan. However, a bigger plan was on the horizon for the base.
In August 1966, the 4th Mobile Communications Group transferred from Hunter AFB, Georgia to Altus. The units mission consisted of providing mobile and transportable communication services, aids to navigation and air traffic control for use in any area of the world. The arrival of this unit also offset the impact the local community experienced with the loss of the missile squadron and B-52 mission. The arrival of this 800-person unit helped offset the impact the community suffered as a result of the deactivation of the missile squadron.
Then 1967 the Air Force searched for a base that could handle the training for its most versatile transport or cargo aircraft, the C-141 Starlifter and its newest and largest transport aircraft, the enormous C-5 Galaxy. Again, the clear skies and wide expanses of land native to Oklahoma proved to be best suited for the mission. At the end of the search, the Military Airlift Command assumed control of the base and activated the 443d Military Airlift Wing, Training, to fly alongside the SAC aircraft now just a tenant of the base. By the start of the 1970s, Altus AFB would have three aircraft assigned, the KC-135, the C-141, and the C-5. On 1 October 1984, the 11th Bombardment Wing transferred to Bolling AFB, Washington D.C. To man the KC-135s under SACs control the USAF activated 340th Air Refueling Wing. Through the 1980s and 1990s, these three aircraft would be as common a sight in the skies above southwestern Oklahoma as the local sparrows, meadowlarks, and hawks.
The end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century would see many changes for the base. First, on 1 June 1992, the Air Force reorganized and the Military Airlift Command became the Air Mobility Command (AMC). Second, the 443d Airlift Wing and the 340th Air Refueling Wing were inactivated and on 1 October the first Air Mobility Wing (AMW), the 97th arrived. Then on 1 July 1993 the 97 AMW transferred from AMC to the new Air Education and Training Command.
However, more changes were on the horizon. In 1996, the latest addition to Altus AFB, the agile C-17 Globemaster III, arrived. This "hot rod of the heavies," with a unique winglet, an expansive cargo area, and powerful engines, is the newest cargo aircraft in the Air Force. Even before its arrival, the base began training pilots and loadmasters to operate and fly the aircraft designed for use as an intermediate short airfield cargo aircraft. Then, on 28 July 2001, the base witnessed the retirement of an old friend. After 32 years at Altus AFB, the C-141, piloted by the men and women of the 57th Airlift Squadron, was released from active duty and transferred to the capable hands of the USAF Reserve.
The new millennium continues to bring changes to the base in August of 2002 the mission of the wing grew when the Air Force moved the basic loadmaster course from Sheppard AFB Texas to Altus. This initiative combined similar training programs to reduce the number of moves required by trainees while cutting overall costs. In addition, in August 2002, the wing reorganized as a "combat wing." The 97th Support Group became the Mission Support Group, gaining the new 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron (comprised of the former 97th Supply and Transportation Squadrons and logistics plans flight) and the 97th Contracting Squadron. Also, the Logistics Group inactivated and the 97th Maintenance Directorate was activated. This directorate is comprised of civil service personnel who are responsible for the care and maintenance of all three aircraft at the base.
As the base moves into the twenty-first century it continues to perform the basic mission it started in 1943, providing a safe, comfortable location to train military personnel on the intricacies of operating multi-engine aircraft.
History of the Atlas Missile at Altus can be found here.