Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma
Traffic on US Highway 81 came to a near standstill as trucks began delivering construction materials to a flat area of farmland just south of Enid on a hot summer day sixty-five years ago. Construction of what would become Vance Air Force Base began on 12 July 1941 and it seemed the entire area was only a cloud of dust for the next several weeks as two shifts of workers graded and prepared the land. The construction company had actually begun work a month early. The War Department officially announced the project on 16 August at a cost of $4,034,583.
The first officer to arrive was Army Air Corps Project Officer, Maj. Henry W. Dorr. He supervised the construction and developed the basic pilot training base to train aviation cadets as pilots and commissioned officers in the Air Corps. Since it was impossible to work at the construction site, he set up his headquarters in Enid where it remained until late November 1941 when the Army officially established the installation as the US Army Air Corps Flying School Enid.
The airplane saw its first use as a weapon system during World War I and the potential of airpower was a popular topic in magazines and journals in the 1920s and 1930s. Both Germany and Japan began using airpower in combat as early as 1936. By the time France fell to Hitler's Luftwaffe in mid-1940, the national defense was a growing priority and President Franklin D. Roosevelt had an unprecedented $2.5 Billion request for funding the Army Air Corps in front of Congress.
The 84-Group Expansion Plan cleared Congress in March 1941 and provided funding for 20 new flying fields including one near Enid, Oklahoma, to train more than 50,000 pilots a year. A few far-sighted members of the Enid Chamber of Commerce recognized the benefits of having a military installation in the community. Enid's Mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce formed a committee to find and secure the necessary land for a new military installation.
Negotiations between the War Department and the City of Enid resulted in a successful site visit by a team of six officers led by General G.C. Brandt in early May.
Meanwhile, the city held a $300,000 bond issue to raise funding to provide electrical, telephone, water service as well as roads to the new base. It passed with an overwhelming majority. On 19 June, Senator Josh Lee told the Associated Press Enid would be the site of a basic military flying school.
Contracts were set up with Oklahoma Natural Gas, the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, and the Red Ball Bus Company to provide service between Enid and the new base.
On 21 November 1941 Lieutenant Colonel Albert B. Pitts took command of the base, still without an official name but generally referred to as the Air Corps Basic Flying School of Enid. A week later, more than 800 permanent party personnel from Randolph Field in San Antonio arrived and set to work to make the base ready for the first class of aviation cadets.
The first class of aviation cadets (Class 42-D), consisting of 63 members from Sikeston, Missouri, arrived on 14 December and moved into newly constructed barracks. Training started two days later and after training all day, the cadets typically returned to their quarters to clean windows, and scrub red Oklahoma dirt and mud from on going construction off the walls and floors.
One aviation cadet described the process as "trying to make a first class hotel from third grade lumber with a razor blade and a mop." Steady improvements continued over the years as new buildings were completed, muddy roads were graded and rolled, and sidewalks constructed.
The first aircraft used was the BT-13A, later supplemented by the BT-15. These were the only aircraft used for basic pilot training during World War II. However, in 1944 advanced students were graduated in the TB-25 and TB-26. For the duration of the war, the basic phase of training graduated 8,169 students, while the advanced phase of training graduated 826.
As the demand for pilots decreased after World War II, the Enid Army Flying Field (as it was named in 1943) closed Jan. 31, 1947. With the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service in September 1947, it became evident that once again the Enid training facilities would be required. The base was reactivated, and its name changed to Enid AFB on Jan. 13, 1948, as one of the pilot training bases within Air Training Command.
Its mission was to provide training for advanced students in multi-engine aircraft. The four-month program, later expanded to six months, included training in the AT-6 and TB-25.
In keeping with the Air Force tradition of naming bases for deceased Air Force flyers, on July 9, 1949, the base was renamed after a local World War II hero and Medal of Honor winner, Lt. Colonel Leon Robert Vance Jr.
Late in 1950 the T-28 replaced the T-6, and in 1952 the Vance mission was changed from advanced multi-engine pilot school to basic multi-engine pilot school.
In 1956 the T-33 single-engine jet replaced the TB-25. The twin-engine T-37 jet, designed as a primary trainer, became operational at the base in 1961. Replacing the T-33 in 1963-64 was the T-38, an advanced supersonic jet trainer. The T-37 and T-38 are the aircraft still used for pilot training at Vance today.
In 1960 Vance was selected by the Air Force as part of an extended experiment in contract services. Under this plan a civilian contractor furnishes the support facilities normally provided by base agencies. The contractor performs aircraft and base maintenance, ground transportation, fire protection, procurement, supply, photographic and other services. All military training, academic instruction and flying training continues, however, under military supervision.
Serv-Air, Inc. began support services in October of 1960. Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services, Inc., assumed the support services at Vance in 1972. Since 1960, Vance has had a contractor in place to provide support services.
In March 1990 Air Force officials announced that Vance would add a new aircraft to its inventory. The 71st Flying Training Wing took delivery of the Beechcraft T-1 Jayhawk in December 1994, and moved to specialized undergraduate pilot training (SUPT) in September 1995. Under SUPT all students started out flying the T-37, then branch off to specialized training. Those heading for tanker/transport assignments will train in the T-1. Fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance pilots will train in the T-38. In July 1995, the BRAC Commission recommended closure of Reese Air Force Base, and Vance was given the joint specialized pilot training (JSUPT) mission. As of 2006, all joint specialized pilot training (JSUPT) students accomplish primary training in the T-6 Texan II.
The current operations squadrons that fall under the 71st Flying Training Wing are the Operational Support Squadron, the 8th Flying Training Squadron, the 25th Flying Training Squadron, the 32nd Flying Training Squadron, and the 33rd Flying Training Squadron. A reserve unit, the 5th Flying Training Squadron, augments all phases of flying training by providing qualified instructor pilots to the other flying squadrons.
In the many years that Vance has been active, it has consistently had a profound effect upon the community of Enid, Air Education and Training Command and the U.S. Air Force.