McConnell AFB, KS Image 1
    McConnell AFB, KS Image 2

    McConnell AFB, KS History

    Today McConnell AFB is a USAF global airlift and air refueling center, but it started as the local Wichita Municipal Airport. Even before the Wichita Airport, the site was used by early aerial exhibitions and demonstrations as far back as 1908. In 1916, Clyde Cessna, founder of the Cessna Aircraft Company, moved to Wichita to begin building his aircraft, establishing an early foundation in local aircraft manufacturing.

    In 1924 Wichita hosted the National Air Congress, a fly-in convention with roughly 100,000 attendees, also a fundraiser which led to the creation of the Wichita Municipal Airport. The airport was begun in 1929, functional shortly, and finished by 1935. Wichita made a clear and obvious location for a national airport, being close to the geographical center of the USA, and other aircraft manufacturers began building in or near Wichita in the 1920s and 1930s, including Beechcraft, Mooney, and later Boeing, Learjet, and Airbus.

    The Wichita Municipal Airport was leased by the US Army Air Corps in mid-1941, and a construction program followed; the airfields were more than adequate, but there was only one hangar and three small warehouses. There was no facility for troop housing or messing, limited office space, and no fuel storage. All of these problems were solved in short order by the new Wichita Army Airfield and operations for the AAF Materiel Center began in March 1942. This field provided reception of bombers from the nearby Boeing Airplane Company Plant No. 1, and covered the plant against (unlikely) enemy air attack.

    One of the primary missions of Wichita AAF was to receive and test the ultramodern B-29 Superfortress, which was design-ready in 1940, but suffered from a long, painful development and prototype phase. The very complex B-29 was hand assembled, and many parts suffered from variable quality; the harsh winters made assembly very difficult, and Air Force requirements changed frequently. By the end of 1943, only about 15 B-29s were airworthy, out of a production run of over 100; crash program effort resolved most of these problems and B-29s entered service in 1944. The B-29 was a highly advanced bomber of the time; the first pressurized bomber, which allowed the airplane to reach the dizzying height of over 31,000 feet, higher than enemy fighters could climb or anti-aircraft guns could generally reach, and at 350 mph, faster than fighters could pursue. The B-29 also featured superior cockpit visibility and a bomb load of 20,000 lbs. Other planes were received into service at Wichita, including trainers, transport planes, and a great many medium bombers. By war's end Wichita production and assembly plants accounted for some 12%, about 1/8th, of all US airplane production.

    The end of the war returned Wichita AAF to civilian service as a (much improved) municipal airport. This continued until 1951, when the double pressure of the Cold War and the Korean War prompted a general military buildup. Wichita Airport was entirely acquired by the US Air Force, and named Wichita Air Force Base. The base's mission was to receive the new B-47 Stratojets, a medium bomber, and converted B-29s, still in service as tankers, and to train crews for bomber operation. The newly reacquired base, once improved for World War Two, was again too small for it's military mission, and a new round of construction followed, improving housing and living amenities for a long term base residence. At the same time, a new Wichita Mid-Continent Airport was being constructed; airport functions were performed at the Air Base until they could be transferred to the new civilian airport. This occurred in 1954, and Wichita Air Force Base was renamed McConnell Air Force Base in honor of two brothers, World War Two veterans Captain Fred and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas McConnell of Wichita, killed in separate crashes in 1943 and 1945. (The third McConnell brother, Edwin, was added after his death, in a rededication ceremony in 1999.)

    The 1960s brought a strategic missile mission to McConnell, with the 1962 addition of 18 Titan II missile silos, in an irregular pattern around the base. Later that year the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing was also added to McConnell, the first of a series of tactical fighter units rotated through McConnell in defense of the strategic base.

    A strategic refuelling mission was added to McConnell's base in 1971, a mission that continues to this day. Ten years later, the developing Cold War led to the Strategic Modification, which phased out the Titan II missiles; these silos were deactivated and removed over the next few years. A new strategic bomber mission replaced the missile wing with the arrival of the B-1B Lancer (or "Bone") bomber, a mission that continued to 2002.

    The close of the Cold War brought broad strategic adjustments, and the forces at McConnell gradually reduced in the 1990s; nevertheless, McConnell units participated in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In 1991, McConnell took a direct hit from a powerful F5 tornado, which barely missed a line of B-1s and their hangars, but did destroy the much of the base housing, the hospital, Officer's Club, and Enlisted Club. Current Emerald City facilities were built to replace those destroyed buildings.

    Since 2000 McConnell has flown airlift and air refuelling missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism, including Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.