SAC Bases: McConnell Air Force Base

Located in America’s
heartland, airmanship in the Wichita area began in the first decade
of the century. In 1916, as the US prepared to enter the World War,
the city of Wichita started buying land to build a municipal airport.

In October 1924,
Wichita hosted the National Air Congress that attracted over 100,00
people. The event highlighted an air race of 47 military and civilian
aircraft participating, including the locally produced Swallow.
After this nationally recognized event, several new aircraft manufacturing
companies opened. Firms such as Travel Air, Beech Aircraft’s predecessor,
Boeing, and Cessna began operations. With this growth of aviation
in Wichita, aviators began pushing for the proposed municipal airport’s
construction. Construction crews broke ground on 28 June 1929; however,
the Great Depression delayed the terminal’s completion of almost
six years.

McConnell Construction Picture

only one hangar and three small warehouses available for use, the
Army Air Force Material Center (Material Command) established its
headquarters in the Wichita Municipal Airport Administration Building
in March 1942. The Material Command chose this site to take advantage
of the airport’s five 50 foot wide runways, each with a 60,000 pound
wheel load capacity. In September 1945, the Material Center moved
to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma eventually becoming the Air Force Logistics
Center at what is now Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the 4156th
Army Air Field Base Unit arrived at Wichita to service and maintained
transient and locally based aircraft. One year later, this unit
disbanded, and the Air Force would not return until 1951.

McConnell Construction PictureSince
Wichita Municipal bordered the Boeing plant, the Air Force moved
back into the site in June 1951 and changed the name to Wichita
AFB. This time, the Air Training Command’s 3520th Combat Crew Training
Wing (CCTW), under the command of Col H.R. Spicer, began training
Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber aircrews. For the first six months
after the activation, a “tent city” housed assigned personnel.
This “city” consisted of 174 tents, a fire tower, and
a few leased buildings in Wichita.

From 1954 to 1956, a $22 million construction program turned the
old airport into one of the Air Force’s major bases. These improvements
included 490 Capehart style housing units, ten miles of paved streets,
and two hangars. Other improvements included clubs, theater, commissary,
bank, hospital, and base exchange. In 1958 4547 CCTW, under SAC,
replaced the 3520th.

The Flying McConnells

The McConnell Brothers

In April 1954, the base became McConnell Air Force Base in honor of
two of the three “Flying McConnell Brothers” of World
War II. The brothers, from Wichita, entered the Army Air Corps together
during WW II. The trio gained fame as “three of a kind.”
Second Lieutenant Thomas McConnell perished in July 1943, when his
B-24 Liberator crashed into a fog covered mountain while en route
to his home base in Guadalcanal after a bombing mission. Captain
Fred McConnell died when his private plane crashed in October 1945
near Garden Plains, Kansas, while on his way to Garden Plains Air
Force Base. Edwin passed away in August 1997 at the age of 76. During
a rededication ceremony on 14 June 1999, base officials added Edwin’s
name to the installation, making McConnell the namesake of all three

The McConnell Brothers

Strategic Air Command

McConnell Construction PictureDuring
this time, SAC selected site for 18 Titan II missile complexes for
the newly activated 381st Strategic Missile Wing (SMW). Using McConnell
as a base, the silos formed a ring from the northeast and south
to the west 20 to 50 miles from the installation. Construction crews
finished the project in the early 1960s, costing $80 million.

Tactical Air Command

McConnell Construction PictureIn
October 1962, the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) started at McConnell
and flew the F-100C Super Sabre, and later the F-105D Thunderchief.
This wing inactivated in 1964.

Operations in South East Asia

Two years later,
the 388th began operating from Korat RTAFB, Thailand. The 23rd TFW,
replaced the 388th. It trained F-105 crews for combat in Southeast
Asia. The 355 TFW transferred from George AFB, California, in July
1964, joining the 23 TFW at McConnell under the 835th Air Division.
Squadrons of both wings saw action in Vietnam.

The base received
a new mission in April 1971 with the arrival of the 91st Air Refueling
Squadron and their KC-135A Stratotankers.. In July 1972, the 23
TFW departed for England AFB, Louisiana, making the 381 SMW host
unit. The 384th Air Refueling Wing’s (ARW) arrived began its tour
McConnell AFB in December 1972.

In October 1981,
President Reagan announced that the Air Force would phase out its
Titan II ICBMs. In early 1983, the 384 ARW’s leadership learned
that it would be the first wing to receive the R model KC-135 tanker
and the B-1B Lancer bomber. On 8 August 1986, the 381 SMW inactivated.

The 384 ARW became
the host organization and redesignated to the 384th Bombardment
Wing (Heavy) in the summer of 1987. The 91st Air Refueling Squadron
inactivated later that year, and the 384th Air Refueling Squadron
(ARS) became the sole refueling unit. The first B-1B touched down
at McConnell on 4 January 1988 and one year later the first Lancer
aircrew and aircraft assumed alert duty.

In August 1990,
Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. McConnell members deployed throughout
the area of responsibility to help eject the invaders from the small

1991 Tornado Changes the Landscape

On 26 April 1991,
a tornado devastated McConnell. The cyclone destroyed 102 base housing
units and nine major facilities including the base hospital as it
traveled from southwest to northeast. Despite the colossal property
damage, there were 16 reported injuries and no deaths. As a result
of the tornado, the base constructed new facilities to replace the
destroyed base services. Three years later, the prize of that construction,
Emerald City opened up, containing the bowling center, officer and
enlisted clubs, and various other services.

Change Becomes Common

In mid-1992 the
384th became the 384th Bomb Wing. At the same time, the Air Force
restructured the major commands. The 384 BW and the 384 ARS moved
from the inactivated SAC. The 384 BW moved under the newly activated
Air Combat Command (ACC) with the 384 ARS and joined the Air Mobility
Command (AMC) remaining at McConnell as an associate unit.

In May 1992, the
Air Force announced more significant changes McConnell. The Kansas
Air National Guard (the 184th Fighter Group), long a resident of
McConnell, would lose their F-16s and gain the B-1B bombers and
become the 184th Bomb Group. In January 1994, the 22 ARW assumed
the role as host wing, moving without personnel and equipment from
March AFB, California. The 384 BW became the 384th Bomb Group until
the unit transferred all of its Lancers to the air reserve component
before inactivating on 30 September 1994.

On 1 January
1995, the 931st Air Refueling Group (ARG) joined Team McConnell.
The Air Force Reserve associate unit provides aircrews while the
22d furnish the maintenance crews and aircraft

Since 1996, McConnell
served as the test site for the PACER CRAG avionics modernization
program. The next year, the base became the test unit for the multi
point refueling. In the same year, the Republic of Singapore’s Air
Force chose McConnell over two other American bases to train their
KC-135 aircrews and maintenance.

In 2002, as part
of a plan to reduce and consolidate the Air Force’s B-1 fleet, the
184th Bomb Wing’s B-1s were transferred to other bases. In September
2002, the 184th took on a new mission flying KC-135s and was officially
designated the 184th Air Refueling Wing.

McConnell came a long way since the days of landing planes in hayfields to living
in tents in the 1950s to surviving the devastation of the 1991 tornado.
The professionals of Team McConnell and the 22 ARW have a rich history
and a proud future.

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