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From its first flight to cyber-operations, Scott Air Force Base celebrates 100 years

Back in 1917, it was known as Scott Field.

The U.S. had just entered World War I, and the War Department leased 624 acres near Belleville, Illinois, to help train pilots to send to Europe. The field was named after Cpl. Frank Scott, the first enlisted service member to be killed in an aviation crash. 

Today, Scott Air Force Base covers more than 3,500 acres and employs 13,000 military and civilian service members. It’s also home to more than 30 mission partners, including the U.S. Transportation Command, Air Mobility Command and the 18th Air Force.

To celebrate its 100th year, Scott Air Force Base will host an air show June 10-11, featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman spoke with Air Force Network Integration Center historian Dan Williams about the 100-year history of Scott.

Air Force Network Integration Center historian Dan Williams talks about Scott Air Force Base's 100-year history with St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman.

Timeline of Scott Air Force Base:

April 6, 1917  Congress declares war on Germany and formally enters World War I. Secretary of War Newton Baker calls for an increase in the number of planes and air fields.

June 14, 1917 — The War Department signed the lease for 640 acres of land near Belleville, Illinois. Congress appropriated $10 million for the field’s construction. About 2,000 construction workers were employed to build 60 buildings in 60 days. 

Sept. 2, 1917  The first flight takes off from Scott Field. Flight instruction begins a few days later. It was standard for units to organize and train at the field before deploying to Europe. The standard training planes were the Curtiss JN-4D, or “Jenny.”

Credit Courtesy of Scott Air Force Base
JN-4H Jenny, 1918-21: Earl Hoag (officer-in-charge of flying) and A. J. Etheridge (post engineer), along with 2nd Lt. Seth Thomas, designed two air ambulances, or hospital ships, by modifying Jenny aircraft to carry patients. On Aug. 24, 1918, Scott’s air ambulance transported its first patient.

Aug. 24, 1918 — Scott’s air ambulance transported its first patient after an aviator broke his leg. Scott officers made two air ambulances by modifying Jenny aircraft to carry patients.  

1919 — The War Department purchases Scott Field.

1921 Scott Field becomes a lighter-than-air station, housing dirigibles and balloons used for observation, aerial photography, navigation and armament. Several new facilities are built, including the second-largest airship hangar in the world, with an eye-catching checkered roof.

Credit Courtesy of Scott Air Force Base
On June 28, 1921, Scott Field got a new mission as a Lighter-Than-Air station. This led to Scott Field getting initial funding of $1.25 million ($17 million in 2015 money) for a new airship hangar at Scott Field. Construction was finished Jan. 31, 1923, and it stood at over 810 feet long, 206.5 feet wide and 178 feet high.

1937 — The Chief of the Army Air Corps stops all lighter-than-air activities.

1938  Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring recommends that General Headquarters Air Force relocate to Scott Field, the air combat arm for the U.S. Army.

1939  Scott’s size more than doubles. World War I-era buildings are torn down, as well as almost all lighter-than-air structures. Nearly 100 colonial-style buildings are added, which still stand today.

1940  The onset of World War II prevents Scott from becoming the Air Force headquarters. It instead becomes a hub for communications training. The Radio Communications School would train more than 150,000 students by 1959.

January 1943 — More  than 300 black servicemen, assigned to the 46th Aviation Squadron, entered the Radio School, and in May 1943, they graduated, ready to help Tuskegee Airmen fly. These radio school graduates were a part of a bigger initiative of the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command to supply black flying squadrons with sufficient support personnel.

March 1943  The 58th Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps Post Headquarters Company becomes the first female unit stationed at Scott Field. The WAACs later took the enlistment oath in the woman’s Army Corps in August 1943.

Sept. 18,1947 — The U.S. Air Force becomes a separate service.

Jan. 13, 1948 — Scott Field officially becomes Scott Air Force Base.

1957 — Military Airlift Transport Service, the predecessor to Air Mobility Command, took up permanent residence at Scott AFB and oversaw all aspects of global mobility in the Aeromedical Evacuation, aerial refueling, cargo and senior leader transport missions.

1964 — Scott AFB becomes responsible for all aeromedical transportation within the United States.

Credit Courtesy of Scott Air Force Base
As Scott became even more focused on aeromedical airlift in the 1960s, another change swept the base: Military Air Transport Service became the Mobility Air Command, which changed the host unit from MATC to the newly activated 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing on Jan. 12, 1966.

1966 — Military Airlift Transport Service (MATS) is redesignated as Military Airlift Command (MAC).

August 10, 1968 — Gen. Howell Estes, Jr., commander of the Military Airlift  Command, flies the first C-9A to Scott AFB. The C-9A became the symbol of aeromedical airlift.

1973 — Military Airlift Command takes responsibility for the planning of Operation Homecoming. Overall, 591 American prisoners of war were transported back to their home.

Credit Courtesy of Scott Air Force Base
The return of Vietnam POWs during Operation Homecoming in 1973.

1987 — The U.S. Transportation Command is created with the mission to "provide global air, sea and land transportation to meet national security needs" and located at Scott AFB.

1992 — Military Airlift Command is inactivated and its personnel and assets are combined to form Air Mobility Command (AMC), headquartered at Scott AFB. The Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) also began operating at Scott AFB to optimize air refueling and how military cargo and passengers reached their destination.

1999 — 126th Air Refueling Wing moved to Scott AFB.

2003 — Air Mobility Command’s wings and independent groups are realigned to a newly activated Eighteenth Air Force on Scott AFB.

2015 — The 688th Cyberspace Operations Group joined Scott AFB’s mission partners to support the Department of Defense’s global mobility operations on the cyber front.

2016 — A new 164,000-square-foot complex that houses the Defense Information Systems Agency's Global Operations Command opens.  It’s the largest cyber-operations center in the U.S.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.