VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The first class of fresh 2nd lieutenants destined to fly, fight and win over the skies of Europe and the Pacific arrived at the Army Air Corps Flying School of Enid Dec. 16, 1941. They were part of Class 42D.
Since then, more than 33,300 aviators have earned their wings here. Some of the all-star Airmen who graduated from here include Gen. Richard Myers, the 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two Air Force Chiefs of Staff: Generals Merrill McPeak and Ronald Fogleman, and the first female Space Shuttle mission commander retired Col. Eileen Collins.
Now called Vance Air Force Base, this small installation, home to the 71st Flying Training Wing, has only ever had one giant mission, training the world's finest aviators.
In early May 1941, the War Department visited Enid looking for a place to train Army Air Corps pilots. The city then voted and issued a $300,000 bond to build roads, and install water, sewer and electric lines. This was just beginning of a relationship between a base and community that is unrivaled in the Air Force.
It is unknown who purchased the land for the base; it could have been the City of Enid or the War Department, either way the project was announced June 19, 1941, by Senator Josh Lee. Construction workers broke ground July 12 of the same year, hand digging the flightline and runway.
Rather late to the game, the War Department announced the project Aug. 16 and the first enlisted troops arrived Nov. 28, although officers had been trickling in for months to oversee the construction process.
Although construction was not yet complete, the base was put on alert Dec. 16, 1941 when the first students arrived, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and every training base was needed at full capacity.
After the base was opened, it was named Enid Army Air Field, a name it retained until July 9, 1949, when it was re-designated in honor of Enid native and World War II Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance, who distinguished himself in a bombing mission over Wimereaux, France, June 5, 1944.
While the primary mission at Vance has never changed, it has had many unique variations along the way. For example, the base enjoyed a unique training mission with NASA in which astronaut came here for training until the early 90s.
For many years, Vance was the only Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training base in the Air Force, training Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aviators, a mission it acquired from Reese Air Force Base in the mid-90s. Although this mission ended two years ago when the Departments of the Navy and Air Force decided to end the joint training mission, naval aviators remain here as instructor pilots.
Currently boasting a fleet of more than 240 aircraft, Vance students have flown 12 types of trainers in the last 76 years, from the BT-13 to the Air Force's newest trainer, the T-6 Texan II.
Vance trained pilots have had an international impact since World War II. Chinese pilots trained here under the radar, but there is little documentation of it, almost like it was a secret they were here.
The first official international students to complete the entire flying training course beginning to end were from the Netherlands, and they graduated in 1952. Around that same time, Vance hosted its first international instructor pilots from Australia.
Team Vance is a base unique in the Department of the Air Force, as it has maintained a large contract presence since its earliest days. Now it is home to nearly as many contractors as military and civilian Airmen combined. This partnership has provided stability for maintenance of the base’s large fleet of aircraft, buildings and grounds.
From developing the world’s finest pilots and air traffic controllers, to deploying warfighters in support of combatant commanders, and developing Airmen with a sense heritage, honor, and integrity, Team Vance has contributed to every major conflict that the U.S. has been involved in since World War II.
The base celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2016 with an Open House, and is proud to be home to the premiere pilot training mission in the Air Education and Training Command which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary throughout 2017.
*Editor’s note-this article is part of a series focused on the roles AETC’s wings have played in the command’s first 75 years.