Amarillo AFB, TX
Amarillo Air Force Base (AFB), currently Amarillo International Airport, is located in Potter County, Texas, approximately 6 miles East of downtown Amarillo within the easternmost city limits. The City of Amarillo is located on the boundary of Potter and Randall Counties in the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle. The Energy Department operates the nearby Pantex Plant, a major nuclear weapons facility.
In 1955 Amarillo AFB was selected for SAC B-52 operations. The city of Amarillo bought 2,750 acres of land, which was deeded to the Air Force for airfield expansion. During the next four years, large concrete runway, base housing and support buildings were constructed and expanded to accommodate an air wing of the Strategic Air Command. By 1958 the base encompassed 5,454 acres. The DOD improvements included over 700 support buildings, 500 housing units, sewage treatment facilities, landfill, ordnance storage facility, roads, runways, taxiways, rifle range, skeet range, boundary and security fences, and several recreational facilities.
The base was redesignated Amarillo Technical Training Center in 1959, when the 4128th Strategic Air Wing concluded a joint-tenancy agreement with Air Training Command. The 4128th Strategic Wing inactivated on 01 February 1963, and was succeeded by the 461st Strategic Wing (Heavy), which remained at Amarillo AFB until it inactivated on 25 March 1968.
A dispersal program by 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB included deployment of Detachment 2 to Amarillo Air Terminal (formerly Amarillo AFB) and Detachment 3 to Clinton-Sherman Industrial Air Park (formerly Clinton-Sherman AFB). Both detachments were active from around 1969 until 30 March 1975 when they were inactivated.
Amarillo Army Air Field was activated in April 1942 and formally named an army air field in May 1942. It was eleven miles east of Amarillo on a 1,523-acre tract of land adjacent to English Field, a commercial airfield serving the Panhandle. In 1929 Harold English opened English Field on the site of the present Amarillo International Airport, and the next year airlines shifted their operations to English Field. In 1941 the city of Amarillo bought English Field and began constructing paved runways and ramps.
Amarillo Army Air Base was established in 1942 on the east portion of English Field. Technical and flying training was conducted here during World War II. The field, one of the largest installations in the Western Technical Training Command, was established for training of air crew and ground mechanics to service B-17 aircraft. From 1943 to 1945 basic training and special courses of instruction were conducted. The school was later designated to train technicians for B-29 aircraft in addition to the B-17 technical training. Flying operations were also inaugurated. The field was closed on 15 September 1946, its buildings were converted to peacetime uses or destroyed, and the base was returned to the city of Amarillo.
The base was reactivated as Amarillo Air Force Base in March 1951 and became the first air force all-jet mechanic-training base. By 1952 the program reached a planned maximum of 3,500 students. Mechanic training continued throughout 1953 and 1954 and included a course on the B-47 jet bomber. The base was declared a permanent installation in 1954. Four new courses were added a year later, and the number of students climbed to about 5,000. When the two-phase system of basic training began in 1956, Amarillo Air Force Base was selected as one of the bases to administer the technical second phase. The base continued to grow in the late 1950s, and a missile-training department was established.
By May 1960 Amarillo was the site of all Air Training Command resident training in administrative, procurement, and supply fields; it continued to train thousands of jet aircraft mechanics, jet engine mechanics, and air-frame repairmen.
By 1964 the United States Department of Defense had decided to close the base. Largely because of a meningitis outbreak at Lackland AFB, in February 1966 the Air Force diverted incoming recruits to Amarillo, a base scheduled to close in July 1968. Lackland sent a sizable cadre of permanent party personnel to Amarillo to assist. It was not until the latter part of March that Lackland was back to normal. However, due to the influx of trainees for the Vietnam buildup, Amarillo continued basic military training until November 1968. The last class was graduated on 11 December 1968.
The base was deactivated on 31 December 1968. Extreme security was associated with the SAC base and its closure was performed under the most careful security conditions. The US Government reserved the right to recapture and reuse the property in time of a national emergency. Following closure, US Government agencies owned approximately 175 acres, including the 274 acres owned by the Department of the Army.
In 1967 the center's facilities covered 5,273 acres and had about 16,300 assigned personnel. The closing damaged the economy of Amarillo. The Air Force Base closure resulted in a population decrease in the area of around 11,000 people from 1960 to 1970. Strong leadership helped the City survive and thrive after the Air Base closing. The 1970s were a period of recovery for Amarillo, and population and development grew during the decade.
Disposition of the Air Force Base began in 1963 and continued into 1970. A total of 5,454 acres was reported excess to Government Services Administration (GSA) on 19 November 1964 (5,026 purchase fee acres and 428 easement acres). Property disposition occurred as follows: 231 easement acres to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad 15 purchase fee acres to Potter County Consolidated School District No. 3 by Deed Without Warranty; 0.26 easement acres to the City of Amarillo by Quitclaim deed: 2,000 acres (1,988 purchase fee acres and 12 easement acres) to the City of Amarillo by Indenture; 158 acres (49 purchase fee acres and 109 easement acres) to the Federal Aviation Administration by transfer agreement; 18 purchase fee acres to the US Department of Commerce Environmental Science Service Administration, Weather Bureau, by transfer 26 purchase fee acres to the Federal Aviation Administration by transfer: 1,050 purchase fee acres to the City of Amarillo, 1,559 purchase fee acres to the State of Texas by Deed Without Warranty: 76 easement acres to the City of Amarillo, 47 purchase fee acres to Melville Meyers by Deed Without Warranty and 274 purchase fee acres to the Department of the Army by the Department of the Air Force transferred by memo.
Current ownership is now divided among the City of Amarillo, the State of Texas, and the US Government. The City of Amarillo owns the airfield structures (runways, hangars, fuel storage), most of which is being utilized for Amarillo International Airport. They also own and operate the deep water wells and the sewage treatment facilities. The State of Texas owns the area which includes the barracks, areas around the family housing complex, and training areas. The State of Texas, in turn, leases these facilities to the Texas State Technical Institute (TSTI) (barracks and training areas). The US Government owns portions of the facility used by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Texas National Guard.
Another part of the base was used for the Amarillo Air Terminal, which opened on 17 May 1971. The existing terminal building is located on the 43-acre concrete ramp previously used for Air Force B-52 aircraft parking. In 1976 Amarillo Air Terminal was renamed Amarillo International Airport, and in 1978 the Concorde supersonic airliner made its first landing at Amarillo during a Braniff Airways demonstration flight. The number of passengers boarding airlines out of Amarillo has remained relatively flat during the past several years and overall activity at the airport has been consistently busy with revenues increasing slightly each year. Amarillo is served by five airlines: American, American Eagle, Continental Express, Southwest and United Express. In 1999, Atlantic Southeast pulled out at the end of April and United Express came into the market in May to fill the void.
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