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Altus Air Force Base

Altus Air Force Base - Born out of the cotton fields of southwestern Oklahoma, Altus AFB first became home to military aircraft and personnel in 1943. With an average of more than 300 days of weather favorable to flying each year, a generally flat landscape and few obstructions, the base was then and is still, ideally situated to be a perfect location for young Airmen to hone their skills. Originally called Altus Army Air Field, construction of the new base began in May 1942. Over the next six decades, the base evolved to become the premier air mobility training location in the United States Air Force.

The base became operational in January 1943, training new pilots on multi-engine aircraft. The primary training aircraft were the U.S. Air Force Cessna AT-17 Bobcat, the U.S. Air Force Curtiss AT-9 Jeep and the U.S. Air Force C-45 Expediter. After the students perfected their skills with these aircraft, they transferred to units that would prepare them to fly the actual type of aircraft they would use in combat over Europe and in the Pacific theaters during WWII. At the end of hostilities in Europe, Altus Army Air Field was slated for inactivation and on May 15, 1945, was placed on temporary inactive status.

The base would only sit idle for a few years. The onset of the Korean War in June 1950 created the need for more men to fly and service aircraft. During the early years of the conflict, many WWII airfields were examined for reactivation. On Aug. 1, 1953, Altus AFB reactivated as a training base for transport aircraft. Initially the durable U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain and the venerable U.S. Air Force TB-25 served in this role flown by the 63rd Troop Carrier Wing from Jan. 8 until Oct. 15, 1953, under the watch of the Tactical Air Command. During the 1950s, the base would undergo many changes in the new and maturing Air Force. Later that same year, Nov. 18, 1953, the 96th Bombardment Wing, Medium, would arrive and begin operations under Strategic Air Command with three squadrons of bombers and one air refueling squadron. These squadrons eventually flew the first all jet-engine bomber, the U.S. Air Force B-47 Stratojet and the U.S. Air Force KC-97 Stratofreighter, a dual-purpose cargo and air refueling aircraft. By the end of the decade, both of these aircraft would be replaced by aircraft still in the Air Force inventory, the U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker and the U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress. The KC-135 is the first all-jet engine air refueling aircraft and the B-52 remains the backbone of the bomber fleet. When the 96th Bombardment Wing moved to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, the 11th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, activated and stood countless hours on alert during the Cold War with this formidable duo. As the base moved into the 1960s, more changes would occur.

In June 1961, the personnel on the base witnessed the activation of 12 Atlas "F" intercontinental ballistic missile sites within a 40-mile radius of the base. Controlled by the 577th Missile Squadron, the missiles sat inside a silo, constructed underground with a launch facility, manned around the clock. The missile silos became operational Oct. 10, 1962, but the activation would be short lived. By April 1965, the Atlas missile would be outdated and was phased out of the national strategic defense plan. However, a bigger plan was on the horizon for the base.

In August 1966, the 4th Mobile Communications Group transferred from Hunter Air Force Base, Ga., to Altus AFB. The unit's mission consisted of providing mobile and transportable communication services, aids to navigation and air traffic control for use in any area of the world. The arrival of this 800-person unit also offset the impact the local community experienced with the loss of the missile squadron and B-52 mission. Then in 1967, the Air Force searched for a base that could handle the training for its most versatile transport or cargo aircraft, the U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter and its newest and largest transport aircraft, the enormous U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy. Again, the clear skies and wide expanses of land native to Oklahoma proved to be best suited for the mission. At the end of the search, the Military Airlift Command assumed control of the base and activated the 443rd Military Airlift Wing, Training, to fly alongside the Strategic Air Command's Stratotankers, a tenant unit at the base. By the start of the 1970s, Altus AFB would have three aircraft assigned, the KC-135, the C-141, and the C-5. On Oct. 1, 1984, the 11th Bombardment Wing transferred to Bolling Air Force Base, Washington D.C. to man the KC-135s under Strategic Air Command's control, and then the USAF activated 340th Air Refueling Wing. Through the 1980s and 1990s, these three aircraft would be as common a sight in the skies above southwestern Oklahoma as the local sparrows, meadowlarks, quail and the state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

The end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century would see many changes for the base. First, on June 1, 1992, the Air Force reorganized and the Military Airlift Command became the Air Mobility Command. Second, the 443rd Airlift Wing and the 340th Air Refueling Wing were inactivated and on October 1, the first Air Mobility Wing, the 97th arrived. Then on July 1, 1993, the 97th Air Mobility Wing transferred from Air Mobility Command to the newly named Air Education and Training Command. The new millennium continued to bring changes to the base when the 340th inactivated the 97th assumed the role of trainer for all crew positions in the Stratotanker.

However, more changes were on the horizon. In 1996, the latest addition to Altus AFB, the agile C-17 Globemaster III arrived. This "hot rod of the heavies," with a unique winglet, an expansive cargo area and powerful engines, is the newest cargo aircraft in the Air Force. Even before its arrival, the base began training pilots and loadmasters to operate and fly the aircraft designed for use as an intermediate short airfield cargo aircraft. Then, on July 28, 2001, the base witnessed the retirement of an old friend. After 32 years at Altus AFB, the C-141, piloted by the men and women of the 57th Airlift Squadron, was released from active duty and transferred to the capable hands of the USAF Reserve.

In August 2002, the wing reorganized as a "combat wing." The 97th Support Group became the 97th Mission Support Group, gaining the new 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron (comprised of the former 97th Supply and Transportation Squadrons and logistics plans flight) and the 97th Contracting Squadron. Also, the Logistics Group inactivated and the 97th Maintenance Directorate was activated. This directorate is comprised of civil service personnel who are responsible for the care and maintenance of all three aircraft at the base. In 2005, the wing completed the expansion of the Sooner Drop Zone and began dual-row airdrop certifications. This allows the students to receive hands-on training on the dual-row airdrop delivery capability of the C-17 Globemaster III. Utilization of this feature doubles the amount of equipment and supplies that the C-17 aircrews can bring directly into the combat theater of operations. In 2006, the wing began training the C-17 aircrew on the use of night vision goggles, providing the crews with increased survivability during low-light operations in high threat environments.

The most recent historic moment at Altus AFB occurred on June 29, 2007, when the wing held the fly-away ceremony for the C-5 Galaxy ending a prestigious 38-year stint. Since the stand-up of the schoolhouse in 1969, and the arrival of the first Galaxy on Dec. 17 of the same year, every aircrew member trained on the Mighty C-5 passed through the 56th Airlift Squadron and the Southwestern skies of Oklahoma. Now, in the 21st century, Altus AFB continues to perform the basic mission it started in 1943, providing a safe, comfortable location to train military personnel on the intricacies of operating multi-engine aircraft.

In 2012, Altus AFB gained a new addition under its wing--the 730th Air Mobility Training Squadron. The 730th re-activated as a member of Altus AFB's total force initiative between the active-duty 97th AMW and the 452nd AMW under 4th Air Force and the Air Force Reserve Command. This group of "citizen Airmen" work side-by-side with active-duty Airmen in the 97th AMW, training C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew members. The new association was intended to increase global mobility and engagement options in support of peacetime and combat operations, forging combat mobility forces and deploying Airman warriors.

Activated in 1943 during World War II, the 730th has performed a variety of missions - from bombardment to night photo and tactical reconnaissance; to troop carrier, tactical and military airlift in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. The unit first saw reserve duty when activated in the reserve on Aug. 1, 1947. On Mar. 25, 1968, the 730th Military Airlift Squadron became the first associate reserve unit, which is when a reserve unit shares facilities and aircraft with an active-duty unit. It was re-designated the 730th Airlift Squadron (associate) on Feb. 1, 1992 and then deactivated on March 19, 2005. The 730th has flown a multitude of aircraft including the B-17 Flying Fortress, T-6 Texan, T-7 Navigator, T-11 Kansan, B-26 Marauder, F-51 Mustang, C-46 Commando, C-119 Flying Boxcar, C-141 Starlifter and now the C-17 and KC-135.

Despite the 97th Air Mobility Wing's primary mission of training airlift and air refueling crews, the wing has deployed its members to support a number of worldwide contingencies, such as Operations; NORTHERN WATCH, DESERT STORM, DESERT FOX, ALLIED FORCE, JOINT GUARD, ENDURING FREEDOM, NOBLE EAGLE and IRAQI FREEDOM. Additionally, the wing has supported relief operations following hurricanes; Katrina, Rita, Wilma, in 2005, and Gustav and Ike in 2008. In January 2010, just a few days after a catastrophic earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation of Haiti, aircrew and maintenance personnel flew 97th Air Mobility Wing C-17s to the East Coast in support of earthquake recovery operations and delivered much needed relief supplies and evacuated injured and elderly Haitians to relief hospitals in the region. In the years following the earthquake, the wing continued to support the relief effort through airlift and manpower in conjunction with the Denton Amendment. The Mighty 97th also supported North Atlantic Treaty Organization efforts to augment Turkey's self-defense capabilities by leveraging the deployment of two Patriot Missile Batteries from the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. As the aerial port of debarkation, the wing supported the movement of 365 troops, 1,100 tons of equipment and supplies over a six day period.

The continued dedication and expertise of the personnel assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing earned Altus AFB the 2014 Commander in Chief's Award for Installation Excellence. Following this announcement, clear skies and wide expanses of land again proved to be ideal for transport and cargo aircraft training, as Air Force officials announced April 23, 2014, that Altus AFB is the Air Force's KC-46A Pegasus formal training unit. Altus AFB will begin receiving aircraft in fiscal year 2016, and will activate the 56th Air Refueling Squadron. The squadron will consist of up to eight KC-46A aircraft with a mission to train personnel to safely and effectively fly and operate the KC-46A aircraft. The KC-46A aircraft will replace a portion of the aging KC-135 fleet which has been the USAF's primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. The KC-46A will provide improved capability, including boom and drogue refueling on the same sortie, world-wide navigation and communication, airlift capability on the entire main deck floor, receiver air refueling, improved force protection and survivability, and multi-point air refueling capability.

(Current as of May 2014)