Columbus Air Force Base began as an advanced twin-engine flying school during the rearming of America prior to World War II. Efforts by local civic leaders in the 1930s to secure an airport shifted to obtaining a military flying field as US forces geared up for war. On June 26, 1941, the War Department announced Columbus' selection as the site for an Army Air Corps pilot training school. Construction got under way in 1941, and pilot training began in 1942. More than 8,000 students came to Columbus for pilot training during World War II to become flying officers in the Army Air Corps. AT-6s, AT-8s, AT-9s, AT-10s, Lockheed-Hudson A-29s and TB-25s were used at Columbus during this time. By war's end the air base, now known as Columbus Army Air Field, had become one of the largest in the Southeast, with four runways and seven auxiliary fields.
The base was closed in 1945 and remained inactive until the nation again faced the prospect of war, this time to defend South Korea. The crisis impelled the Air Force to turn to contract pilot training, which could expand capacity quickly and inexpensively, so Columbus Air Force Base reopened in 1951 as a contract flying school. Air Training Command's 3301st Pilot Training Squadron oversaw the contract flight instruction of about 3,000 pilots in PA-18 Piper Cubs and T-6s. With the Korean War at an end and pilot production needs dropping, the decision was made to close the contract flying school at Columbus. Though desirable as a start-up school, contract operations could operate economically only if the student load were at or near maximum capacity.
While the Air Force's pilot trainining requirements were decreasing, its strategic air arm was expanding. During the 1950s, Strategic Air Command wings had become extremely large. As the Russian missile threat became more pronounced and warning time decreased, Strategic Air Command bases presented increasingly attractive targets. But by providing additional bases to which the aircraft could be dispersed, the enemy's targeting problem would be compounded, and more bombers could become airborne within a given time period. It was therefore decided to break up these large concentrations of aircraft and distribute them among more bases. Thus Columbus Air Force Base was relinquished to the Strategic Air Command in April 1955.
After a four-year rebuilding program to prepare the base for its new mission, Columbus became home to a B-52 bomber squadron and a KC-135 tanker squadron in 1958. Beginning in 1965, the same year it won the coveted Fairchild Trophy as "Best in SAC," Columbus' 454th Bombardment Wing deployed to the western Pacific, completing more than 100 missions to South Vietnam without losing a single bomber to enemy aircraft fire.
A convergence of situations brought a close to the Strategic Air Command years at Columbus. As the demand for pilots to support the war in Southeast Asia increased, the number of B-52s stateside fell because they were needed overseas. At the same time, Minuteman and Polaris missiles were taking their places in strategic deterrence, replacing much of the bomber alert force.
After 14 years under Strategic Air Command, Columbus Air Force Base rejoined Air Training Command July 1, 1969, and resumed the mission for which it was originally activated-training pilots. Today Columbus Air Force Base is home to the 14th Flying Training Wing of Air Education and Training Command's 19th Air Force.
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