|Brooks Air Force Base|
|San Antonio, Texas|
11th School Group Consolidated PT-1 trainers, Brooks Field, Texas, March 1926. Brooks Field became the center for primary Army pilot training in 1922.
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Owner||City of San Antonio|
|Condition||Closed, turned over to civil control.|
World War I
World War II
In 2002 Brooks Air Force Base was renamed Brooks City-Base when the property was conveyed to the Brooks Development Authority as part of a unique project between local, state, and federal government. The Brooks Development Authority is now the owner and operator of the property, and is redeveloping it as a science, business, and technology center. The Air Force was the largest tenant at Brooks City-Base.
Brooks Air Force Base was one of thirty-two United States Army Air Service training camps established in 1918 after the United States entry into World War I, being established on December 8, 1917 as Kelly Field No. 5. Flying at Brooks, however predates its military establishment, as the facility was known as Gosport Field prior to the first Army airplanes arriving on December 5, 1917.
Brooks Air Force Base was named to honor San Antonio aviator Sidney Johnson Brooks, Jr. Cadet Brooks died on November 13, 1917 when his Curtiss JN-4 nosed down as he prepared to land after his final training flight at Kelly Field, Texas, possibly because he had blacked out in reaction to the inoculations they had been given shortly before the flight. Brooks was one of the first to volunteer at the call for men for the American Flying Corps; he was about to complete his training for a commission as a military aviator. He was awarded his wings and commission posthumously.
The history of Brooks Air Force Base parallels the history of military aviation and aviation medicine in the United States. After the United States entered World War I, in April 1917, the U.S. Army recognized the need for trained flying instructors. San Antonio was chosen for a year-round training site due to its favorable climate, good water supply and convenient transportation facilities.
The Chamber of Commerce assembled an 873-acre tract southeast of the city near Berg's Mill and offered it as the site for the new aviation field. The site was originally called Gosport Field, a name derived from the flight instruction system used at the new base. On December 5, 1917, the Army named the site Kelly Field No. 5, and on 8 December, ground breaking ceremonies were held.
On February 16, 1918, Kelly Field No. 5 became a separate post and named Brooks Field by the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps The first commander of Brooks Field was Lt. Col. H. Conger Pratt, who until the preceding October had been a cavalryman.
The first aircraft flown from the new Brooks Field, on March 28, 1918, was a Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" of World War I fame, piloted by Maj. Leo A. Walton. Brooks Field, contained the principal flight instructor's school. Brooks Field was used as the Air Service Flight Instructor's School. It was a six-week course, with a maximum student capacity of 300.
During its first year of operation, Brooks Field consisted of 16 hangars with extensive support facilities. Of these early buildings, Hangar 9, now the Edward H. White II Memorial, is the only structure still in existence.
Squadrons assigned to Brooks Field:
On 13 December 1919, the United States House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill for $9.6 million for the purchase of additional land at military camps "which are to be made part of the permanent military establishment." Brooks Field was allocated $140,446 of this amount.
In May 1919, the pilot instructor school was closed and a Balloon and Airship School was opened for pilots and ground crew members. A huge 91,000-square-foot airship hangar was constructed.
However, a series of mishaps in operating the hydrogen-filled craft led to the transfer of the school from Brooks to Scott Field, Illinois on June 26, 1922. The base commander at the time, Major John A. Paegelow, an experienced commander in lighter-than-air craft activities, left for the position of executive officer at Scott Field the same year. After the cancellation of the airship training, the 11th School Group was formed at Brooks Field as the Primary Flying School for the Air Service and Army Air Corps, replacing the World War I school at Carlstrom Field, Florida.
The Primary Flying School operated between September 1922 through July 1931. The school took about six months initially, with advanced training later divided into three months each of basic and advanced instruction. The dual trainer initially used was the Curtiss JN-6H. Brooks later accepted other planes, including Vought VE-7 Bluebirds and Dayton-Wright TA-3s, for evaluation, but JNs were used until 1926. The beginning class in March of that year was the first without Jennies. Students now flew in the new Consolidated PT-1, with tandem seats and a Wright E engine. A few National Guard officers went to Brooks Field in January 1923 for pilot instruction. World War I flyers underwent refresher training while others took the regular course. Eight of the ten officers entering graduated to become junior airplane pilots. The Air Service suggested, and the Militia Bureau adopted, a policy of giving men flying training before commissioning them in the Guard. During the 1920s, the Primary Flying School at Brooks expanded but still could not accommodate all primary students. Needing another school, the Air Corps reopened March Field, California.
Reorganizing pilot training, the Air Corps created a Training Center at San Antonio with Brig. Gen. Frank P. Lahm in charge. He opened headquarters at Duncan Field on September 1, 1926. As an Assistant Chief of Air Corps, he commanded the Primary Flying School and the School of Aviation Medicine (Flight Surgeons) at Brooks Field, and the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field. In 1927 basic moved out of the advanced phase and combined with primary. At that point, primary-basic changed to eight months in length and advanced to four months. With the beginning of the five-year expansion program. More than 1,400 pilots were trained during those years and graduates included such notable aviation figures as Generals Claire L. Chennault, Thomas D. White, Nathan F. Twining, and Col. Charles A. Lindbergh.
Also during this period, the School of Aviation Medicine was moved from Mitchel Field, New York, to Brooks. The flying school was a source for aviation medicine research and, in turn, the School of Aviation Medicine provided a means to screen, examine and upgrade the caliber of cadets being trained at Brooks. Both organizations were transferred to the newly constructed Randolph Field in October 1931.
On September 28, 1929, Brooks was the site for the first successful mass parachute drop in the world. The concept, conceived and implemented at Brooks, confirmed the practicality of tactical paratrooper warfare. The concept proved its value during World War II.
During the 1930s, Brooks was the center of aerial observation activity and several units were trained in tactical observation. In 1938, the Air Corps wanted to move Headquarters 21st Balloon Group to Brooks Field to organize a balloon school. Ten years had passed since it had trained observers at Scott Field. It needed 300 more observers for balloon units in mobilization plans. It wanted to run two sessions a year at Brooks, with five officers of the Regular Army and 15 from the National Guard in each class. The War Department thought the proposal significant enough to merit further study. On September 21, 1938, the small band of lighter-than-air enthusiasts in the Air Corps lost their leader (General Westover) in an aircraft crash. Instead of letting the Air Corps open a school, the War Department inactivated the 21st Balloon Group at Scott Field on June 1, 1939. Thus, the lighter-than-air branch consisted of 3 balloon squadrons, plus 10 officers and 350 enlisted men, when war broke out in Europe. In 1940, Brooks became the site for a special school for combat observers.
During World War II, Brooks Field housed the School for Combat Observers and the Advanced Flying School (Observation). To cope with the huge buildup in personnel and equipment, the Air Corps adopted a policy of using temporary constructio for housing and permanent structures for technical buildings, putting up tents to accommodate personnel.
The observation observers and pilots were graduates of the Advanced Flying School and were selected for this hazardous duty, as the observation aircraft were unarmed when flying over enemy-held territory. They flew the North American O-47 two-man aircraft, with the pilot being in charge of the aircraft and the aircraft observer taking photographs and notes of the ground below.
The Observation School course was ten weeks in length. The observers were thoroughly trained in code practice and the use of the radio for air-to-ground communication, and the pilots were trained in transition flying. Later in the course, photography from aircraft was taught and concentration of instruction was performed in flying as a team. Six student observers and three pilots were assigned to each flight.
The program remained in operation until 1943 when it was disbanded. Training in the school then switched to twin-engine aircraft, flying the Curtiss AT-9 "Jeep," the all-wood Beechcraft AT-10 Wichita, or the Cessna AT-17 Bobcat, subsequently training pilots to fly the B-25 Mitchell bomber beginning in 1943 until the end of the war.
When pilot training at Brooks Field concluded at the end of World War II, the base took on a new mission. In September 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, the Air Force established a reserve training center at Brooks Air Force Base. The 907th Air Reserve Wing was assigned to the center. Conceived originally as a troop carrier unit, the wing did not receive its first planes until the summer of 1952. The planes were T-6 Texans, an indication of the 907th's new mission, Air Force Reserve pilot training.
Almost before it began its new mission, the 907th Air Reserve Wing was replaced by the 8707th Pilot Training Wing (Single-Engine). On the first anniversary of its activation, the 8707th had six T-6s and two C-46 Commandoes assigned. That began to change in April 1953 when the wing acquired its first five North American T-28 Trojans.
In 1954 Colonel David L. "Tex" Hill, a fighter pilot who made his reputation as a member of Chennault's Flying Tigers, took over the wing's pilot training program. At year's end the wing converted to C-46s and the 8707th was replaced by the 433d Troop Carrier Wing.
In 1956 reservists celebrated their fifth anniversary at Brooks with the arrival of another aircraft, the C-119 Flying Boxcar transport. Four years later, the 433d Troop Carrier Wing moved to Kelly AFB. From the time the Reserve first established a wing at Brooks in 1951, whatever the numerical designation, the people of San Antonio have always referred to the unit as the Alamo Wing.
An era in aviation history ended on June 20, 1960, when the last plane took off from Brooks. The aircraft was a C-131 Samaritan piloted by Col. L.B. Matthews, commander of Det. 1, 1st Aeromedical Transport Group.
During the late 1950s, Brooks was transformed from a flying training center to a center for modern medical research and development and education. The transition started in the summer of 1959 when the School of Aviation Medicine returned to Brooks from Randolph AFB. Brooks became the headquarters for the School of Aerospace Medicine (SAM). In 1957, SAM scientists moved into the newly completed center at Brooks AFB. SAM aided the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with Project Mercury and served as a back-up site for lunar samples brought back to Earth on the Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972. The air evacuation program at Brooks AFB proved vital to the care of wounded personnel in the Vietnam War.
On November 1, 1961, Air Training Command transferred jurisdiction of Brooks AFB to Air Force Systems Command (AFSC). This was all part of an Air Force plan to reorganize aerospace medical research. Along with the transfer of Brooks, ATC passed to AFSC (and its newly formed Aerospace Medical Division at Brooks) control of the USAF Aerospace Medical Center, the School of Aerospace Medicine, the USAF Hospital Lackland, and the 3790th Epidemiological Laboratory. (The School of Aviation Medicine had been re-designated as the School of Aerospace Medicine on May 8, 1961.) However, the Medical Service School at Gunter AFB, Alabama remained in the command, reassigned from the medical center to Headquarters ATC on October 1.
United States President John F. Kennedy dedicated the School of Aerospace Medicine on November 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated in Dallas. This was Kennedy's last official act as president.
In 1962, USAF Colonel B. Dean Smith was conducting a test of the Gemini space suit with a colleague in a pure oxygen chamber at Brooks when a fire broke out, destroying the chamber. Smith and his partner narrowly escaped. On January 31, 1967, Airman 2/C William F. Bartley, Jr., and Airman 3/C Richard G. Harmon were killed in a flash fire while tending laboratory rabbits in the Two Man Space Environment Simulator, a pure oxygen chamber at the School of Aerospace Medicine. Like the Apollo 1 spacecraft fire, which occurred four days earlier, the SAM fire was caused by an electrical spark in a pure oxygen environment. The widows of the Apollo 1 crew sent condolence letters to Bartley and Harmon's families.
After the Vietnam War, the base's mission narrowed to one centered on specific research related to aeronautically rated U.S. Air Force personnel (e.g., pilots and navigators, to include USAF astronauts) and enlisted aircrew. The aerospace era placed new demands on medical research and education, particularly in space medicine. Research efforts at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine were instrumental in making manned space flight a reality. Researchers continued to study man's interaction with the aerospace environment, seeking ways to maximize a pilot's ability to use modern, high performance aircraft. Flight simulation devices, the centrifuge, altitude chambers, lasers and other specially developed equipment, enabled researchers to perform laboratory studies of man's tolerances in the aerospace environment.
In the early 1980s, other organizations relocated to Brooks AFB. Among them were the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory and the USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory. In addition to the Air Force Office of Medical Support, Brooks became home to the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory and the Air Force Systems Command's Systems Acquisition School.
A new Schriever Heritage Park, named for General Bernard A. Schriever, first commander of Air Force Systems Command, was dedicated on October 7, 1986, during the celebration of Aerospace Medical Division's 25th Anniversary. The Aerospace Medical Division was redesignated the Human Systems Division on February 6, 1987.
In November 1987, Brooks celebrated its 70th anniversary. During the celebration the Sidney J. Brooks Jr. Memorial Park was dedicated. This area, along with Schriever Heritage Park, provides a quiet beauty to the base and offers a spot for remembrance of the heritage that is Brooks AFB.
The 1990s ushered in a new era. For several years the Department of Defense had been looking for leaner, and smarter cost-saving ways to do business. However, this process was intensified with the unexpected collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union. Americans expected a peace dividend--a reduction in defense spending. Downsizing became the key word, but Brooks AFB continued to grow.
In 1991 four of its laboratories--the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory, the Harry G. Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, and the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, as well as the laboratory function of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine--combined to become the Armstrong Laboratory, one of four super laboratories in the Air Force.
Also, the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence was formed and located at Brooks. This organization has the monumental task of restoring closing installations to their original state and of ensuring that future installations are environmentally safe.
Consolidations continued in 1992 with the merging of the Air Force Systems Command and the Air Force Logistics Command into a new organization called the Air Force Materiel Command. As a part of the new command, the Human Systems Division at Brooks again changed its name to the Human Systems Center. Although the Air Force continued to shrink, it would be flexible enough to respond on short notice to a wide range of regional crises and contingencies.
Following the 1995 BRAC, when Brooks AFB was removed from the Base Realignment and Closure list, city, state, military, and community planners began several years of hard work to develop a plan to privatize approved the gradual transition in ownership of Brooks AFB from the Air Force to the Brooks Development Authority. This transition came into full effect on Jul. 22, 2002, when the Brooks Development Authority assumed control of the newly named Brooks City-Base.
In 2005, Brooks City-Base was once again placed on the BRAC list. Air Force operations ceased on Sep. 15, 2011. The Brooks Development Authority has demonstrated economic development success with projects including a 62-acre (250,000 m2) retail development, approximately 256,000 square feet (23,800 m2) of research and distribution facilities for DPT Laboratories, the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (an infectious disease research institute coordinated with the University of Texas at San Antonio), an international pharmaceutical company, and a $25.5 million City/County emergency operations center which opened in the fall of 2007. The 311th Air Base Group inactivated on Sept. 1, 2011, and the remaining few USAF personnel had shuttered the base for good by the 15th of that month.
In the spring of 2006, construction of Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering, a STEM charter school, started on 8 acres of land in the southeast part of Brooks City Base. Classes had already started in August 2006 at a temporary location on South Presa Street (in the far west part of Brooks City Base), and then students were relocated to the current location of Brooks Academy (on the north side of Lyster Road) in March 2007.
In August 2011, Texas A&M University opened a satellite campus at 2601 Louis Bauer Drive (in the west part of Brooks City Base), and uses this building for the College of Business and the Department of Counseling and Leadership.
In 2012, the $90 million Mission Trail Baptist Hospital opened at 3327 Research Plaza.
On August 8, 2016, the University of the Incarnate Word opened a School of Osteopathic Medicine on 16 acres in the northwest part of Brooks City Base (at 100 Kennedy Circle), in buildings which were once the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. Classes began in August 2017.
Brooks Field Hangar 9 was restored in 1969 to become the U.S. Air Force Museum of Aerospace Medicine. This museum is to display the early history of Brooks Field and to preserve and display an extensive collection of photographs and equipment related to aviation and aerospace medicine.
United States Air Force