||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2011)|
|Schilling Air Force Base|
|Salina, Kansas in United States|
|2006 USGS Orthophoto|
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Owner||United States Air Force|
|Controlled by||Strategic Air Command|
Schilling Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force Base located three nautical miles (6 km) southwest of the central business district of Salina, a city in Saline County, Kansas, United States. It was also known as Smoky Hill Air Force Base.
During World War II, "Smoky Hill Army Airfield" (AAF) became significantly historic as it was in the first group United States Army Air Forces B-29 Superfortress bases for initial training on the aircraft in the summer of 1943. Along with Walker Army Airfield near Victoria, Pratt Army Airfield near Pratt and Great Bend Army Airfield near Great Bend the initial cadre of the 58th Bombardment Wing was formed. The 58th Bomb Wing was the first B-29 combat wing of World War II and engaged in the first long-range strategic bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands beginning in March 1944 from bases in India.
Later, during the postwar years and the Cold War era, the base was one of the initial airfields of the new Strategic Air Command in 1946, and the United States Air Force upon its establishment in 1947. Later it was a major SAC base that hosted two B-47 Stratojet Bombardment Wings, and the headquarters of an Air Division and an ICBM squadron. When it closed in 1965, it reopened as Salina Municipal Airport.
The construction of military airfields after the Pearl Harbor Attack that caused the entry of the United States into World War II resulted in the construction of the Smoky Hill Army Airfield (AAF) on 2,600 acres (1,052 ha), southwest of the Salina, Kansas. The first unit associated with the airfield was the 376th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, whose engineers first laid out the base beginning in April 1942. Construction began in May 1942 with the aid of nearly 7,000 construction workers. The airfield was officially activated on 1 September 1942 and was assigned to the II Bomber Command, Second Air Force.
Enough construction was completed that the 376th moved into facilities on 10 September. The first aircraft to arrive, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, arrived later that month and were assigned to the 346th Bombardment Group. The mission of Smoky Hill AAF was that of a Second Phase Heavy Bomber Operational Training Unit (OTU). Combat groups formed in First Phase training were reassigned to the airfield, training focused to teamwork of the combat crew was stressed: bombing, gunnery, and instrument flight missions were performed by full crews. Upon completion, the groups moved on to third phase the final level of training before overseas deployment to the combat theaters.
The 366th was joined by the 400th Bombardment Group in the training mission at Smoky Hill AAF on 31 July 1943. The 366th concentrated on B-17 Fying Fortress training; the 400th on B-24 Liberator training.
The 58th Bombardment Wing was moved to Smoky Hill AAF on 15 September 1943 from Marietta, Georgia and the mission at the airfield changed from heavy bomber training, to organizing and getting into combat the new B-29 Superfortress. The first Superfortress wing initially had 5 groups (the 40th, 444th, 462d, 468th, and 472d). The 472d BG was destined to remain at Smoky Hill AAF as the B-29 OTU, and the others were to be deployed to India. It was found that the Operational Training for B-29 groups was much more complex than the B-17/B-24 training program developed by the USAAF. It usually took 27 weeks to train a pilot, 15 to train a navigator, and 12 to train a gunner. The complexity of the B-29 was such that a lengthy process of crew integration had to take place before combat deployment could begin. By the end of December 1943, only 73 pilots had qualified for the B-29 and very few crews had been brought together as a complete team.
Also development problems with the B-29 meant that only 16 of them were really airworthy. Most of the others were in AAF modification centers, located near the Bell-Marietta and Martin-Omaha plants and at air bases in Kansas, undergoing a series of modifications and changes necessitated by the lessons of air combat over Europe. Also, engine fires were still plaguing the B-29 program.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the B-29 bombing raids against Japan to start by January 1944. However, delays in the B-29 program forced the Chief of the Army Air Forces, General Henry H. Arnold to admit to the President that the bombing campaign against Japan could not begin until May 1944 at the earliest. Alarmed at the slow pace of bringing adequate numbers of Superfortress into service, on 27 November 1943, General Arnold set up a new organization to take responsibility for the overall control of the Superfortress units. This was to be the XX Bomber Command. At the same time, a new wing, the 73d Bombardment Wing, was added to the XX Bomber Command with four more groups to absorb the second batch of 150 Superfortress, and three additional airfields (Pratt, Great Bend, and Walker) in Kansas were made part of the B-29 development Program. The resulting burst of activity that took place between 10 March and 15 April 1944 came to be known as the "Battle of Kansas". Beginning in mid-March, technicians and specialists from the Boeing Wichita and Seattle factories were drafted into the modification centers to work around the clock to get the B-29s ready for combat. The mechanics often had to work outdoors in freezing weather, since the hangars were not large enough to accommodate the B-29s. As a result of superhuman efforts on the part of all concerned, 150 B-29s had been handed over to the XX Bomber Command by 15 April 1944. These aircraft were assigned the first B-29s to squadrons within the 58th Bombardment Wing and dispatched them immediately to India, to take part in Operation Matterhorn.
The crew training program at Smoky Hill and the other Kansas B-29 bases was one of the more difficult aspects of the entire B-29 program. Because of the complexity of the B-29 aircraft, a lengthy process of crew integration was required before combat operations could begin. There was no time to start from scratch, so volunteers were called for from B-24 crews returning from operations in Europe and North Africa. In addition, there were very few bombers were ready to receive them. At that time, there was only one Superfortress for every twelve crews, and most crews had to train on Martin B-26 Marauders or Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses. Many gunners did not even see their first B-29 until early 1944. As production ramped up at Boeing-Wichita, Seattle and Bell-Marietta, more and more aircraft begin to be delivered though 1944. At Smoky Hill, the following B-29 groups were trained and deployed to the Pacific Theater:
With the Japanese capitulation in August 1945, B-29 training at Smoky Hill ended with the last group, the 456th being graduated in mid-October and being inactivated. Its crews were reassigned to other Continental Air Forces bases.
Shortly after the Japanese Capitulation, the 485th Bombardment Group moved to Smoky Hill AAF from Sioux City Army Air Base, Iowa where the group had competed 2d phase training on B-29s. The 485th was previously a Fifteenth Air Force B-24 Liberator group which had served in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), and returned to the United States for transition training in B-29s before deploying to the Pacific Theater.
Smoky Hill Army Airfield was designated a permanent airfield by HQ USAAF on 1 September 1945. being assigned to Second Air Force, Continental Air Forces. Many of the personnel of the 485th Bomb Group demobilized at Smoky Hill after V-J Day, however the unit remained active with a skeleton force of personnel. In addition, the 44th Bombardment Group was moved to Smoky Hill from Great Bend Army Air Field, Kansas in December. The mission of Smoky Hill remained as that of a training organization, and to complete the training of both the 485th and 44th Bomb Groups, although the personnel would be reassigned as replacement personnel to other B-29 units in the United States. Training was completed by the summer of 1946, and the 44th was inactivated on 12 July; the 485th on 4 August.
On 21 March 1946, Continental Air Forces was disestablished as part of a major reorganization of the USAAF, being replaced by Strategic Air Command. Smoky Hill was reassigned to the new Fifteenth Air Force.
With the inactivation of the CAF training units, the B-29 aircraft and equipment were reassigned to the newly assigned 97th Bombardment Group, which had been administratively transferred from the United States Air Forces in Europe on 4 August. New personnel were assigned to the 97th and were trained in B-29 operations. the 97th was also designated as the host unit for Smoky Hill. A second group, the 92d Bombardment Group had been formed at Fort Worth Army Airfield, Texas, on 4 August and was sent to Smoky Hill on 25 October. After training was completed in June 1947, it departed to become the host unit at Spokane Army Air Field, Washington.
With the establishment of the United States Air Force in September 1947, the new USAF quickly established its own identity. Army Air Fields were renamed Air Force Bases and the name of the base was changed to Smoky Hill Air Force Base in January 1948
In the postwar era SAC frequently juggled its table of organization to match scarce personnel and budgets with its mission. With the 92d moving to Spokane, it was replaced with the 301st Bombardment Group, which moved in from the inactivating Clovis Army Airfield, New Mexico. The 97th Bomb Group was moved to Biggs AFB, Texas in May 1948 to establish SAC there, and the 22d Bombardment Group, which had been assigned to the 316th Bombardment Wing, Far East Air Force at Kadena AB, Okinawa, was returned to the United States on 1 August 1948 and was assigned to Smoky Hill. The 22d did not remain long in Kansas, as it was sent to March AFB, California on 10 May 1949 to become the host unit there.
The 301st, which had been designated the 301st Bombardment Wing on 5 November 1947 as part of the Hobson Plan remained as the host unit at Smoky Hill with the departure of the 22d Bomb Wing to California. Strategic Air Command, however, decided to close Smoky Hill AFB in 1949, as its budget was again reduced. The 301st was reassigned to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana on 7 November 1949. Smoky Hill AFB was then closed and turned over to Air Material Command, being placed in the care of the 3902d Air Base Wing, Offut AFB, Nebraska in standby status.
Due to the needs of the Air Force as a result of the Korean War and the expansion of the Air Force due to the Cold War, the USAF optioned the right to reactivate Smoky Hill AFB on 1 August 1951. A Air Material Command caretaker unit was sent to the base for basic facilities activation and restoration. The first elements of the 310th Air Base Wing were activated on 1 January 1952. Smoky Hill Air Force Base was assigned to 802d Air Division, Fifteenth Air Force on 28 March 1952. Significant upgrades were made to the World War II and postwar facilities, along with the construction of a new 12,300' jet runway over the existing 17/35 North/South wartime runway, along with an expanded parking apron and jet fuel facilities. The 802d Air Division was activated at Smoky Hill AFB on 28 May 1952, replacing the 310th ABW as the base host unit.
The 40th Bombardment Wing was activated also on 28 May, but it was not manned or equipped due to the ongoing construction at the base. On 4 September, enough construction was complete to allow the 310th Bombardment Wing to be moved from Forbes AFB to Smoky Hill, both wings coming under the 810th AD. In February 1953, the 40th BMW gained personnel and equipment from the 40th Tactical and Maintenance Squadron (Provisional) established at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona as a holding unit for people and equipment surplus to the 303d Bombardment Wing being formed at Davis-Monthan. Once activated, the wing received control and guidance from the 310th Bombardment Wing at Smoky Hill until 1 May 1953 when it stood up as an active unit.
Both the 40th and 310th BMW were initially equipped with second-line B-29 Superfortresses in 1953–1954 which had returned from Kadena AB, Okinawa while becoming operational. In 1953, the 40th BMW gained the 40th Air Refueling Squadron, equipped with KC-97 Stratotankers. Operational squadrons of the 40th Bomb Wing included the 25th, 44th and 45th Bombardment Squadrons; the 310th Bomb Wing consisted of the 379th, 380th, and 381st Bombardment Squadrons. The 310th Air Refueling Squadron, assigned to the 310th BW brought a second KC-97 squadron to the base.
Both wings replaced their propeller-driven B-29s with new B-47E Stratojet swept-wing bomber medium bombers in 1954, capable of flying at high subsonic speeds and primarily designed for penetrating the airspace of the Soviet Union and became combat ready in April 1955. The aircraft was assigned to the 40th Bombardment Wing, and by the end of 1954 boh the 40th and 310th BMW. had completed conversion to B-47s. The wings were designated combat ready in April 1955, and the 802d Air Division was reassigned to Eighth Air Force on 1 July 1955 after becoming operationally ready with the B-47.
The 40th BMW performed bombardment training and air refueling operations to meet SAC's global commitments. Attached to the 7th Air Division From 9 June to 9 September 1955 while deployed to RAF Lakenheath, England. Deployed to RAF Greenham Common, England July–October 1957; the 310th BMW also participated in SAC REFLEX deployments, deploying to RAF Upper Heyford, England, 10 March – 8 June 1955, and at RAF Greenham Common, England, 3 October 1956 – 9 January 1957.
On 16 March 1957, Smoky Hill AFB was redesignated Schilling Air Force Base to honor Colonel David C. Schilling.
In 1959, to provide air defense of the base, United States Army Nike-Hercules Surface-to-air missile sites were constructed during 1959 near Bennington (SC-01) and Smolan (SC-50) , Kansas, but were never made operational.
The 40th Bomb Wing was reassigned to Fifteenth Air Force along with the 802d AD on 1 January 1959. With Schilling under construction, the 40th BMS was reassigned to Forbes AFB, Kansas on 20 June 1960 and the Second Air Force, 21st Air Division. The 310th BMW deployed to England, being temporarily assigned to RAF Greenham Common, returning to Schlling in August 1960.
Beginning in August 1960 the Site Activation Task Force at Schilling constructed and turned over to the Strategic Air Command the first operational HGM-16 Atlas-F hardened silo missile squadron. Planning for Atlas missile deployment at Schilling had begun in 1958, and were originally slated to receive horizontal Atlas-E launchers. Site selection for three complexes of three missiles each (3 x 3) was completed in the fall of 1958. In early 1959, a decision to deploy Atlas-F missiles to nine separate sites as a defensive measure against an enemy first-strike attack required additional site surveys.
With the activation of the 550th Strategic Missile Squadron, the 310th was redesignated as the 310th Strategic Aerospace Wing on 1 March 1962.
The Atlas F was the final and most advanced version of the Atlas ICBM and was stored in a vertical position inside underground concrete and steel silos. However, the exposure on the surface that this procedure entailed was the great weakness of the Atlas F. It was exposed and vulnerable during this time.
On 15 May 1964, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara directed the accelerated phase-out of Atlas and Titan I ICBMs.
Later that year, the 550th Strategic Missile Squadron received the last Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). The Atlas F missiles were deactivated on 25 June 1965, completing the phase-out of this weapon system. Meanwhile, the B-47s were also being phased out of the SAC arsenal. 25 June 1965. The B-47s began being sent to AMARC at Davis-Monthan in early 1965; and the 310th BMW was inactivated on 30 June.
On 1 October 1965 Schilling AFB was officially closed. The ICBM sites, however remained under the control of F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, the last of the sites was demilitarized and sold off in 1971.
After closure and as a part of the Army Community Service (ACS) program, the former base housing area of Schilling AFB was converted into a subpost of nearby Fort Riley, and was used for housing waiting wives and families for families of military personnel serving in South Vietnam. Schilling Manor officially came into being on 1 January 1966 when the Army assumed responsibility for the 735-unit housing area left vacant by the deactivation. Thirty families from Fort Riley moved to Schilling Manor in the fall of 1965 after their husbands departed for Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division. It operated until 1974 after the last United States Army forces left Vietnam and returned to the United States. The housing area was sold by the federal government in 1977.
Compared to the World War II and SAC years, what was Schilling Air Force Base is today a very quiet place. The civil airport has one commercial airline, Seaport Airlines, and also has an active general aviation use with state-of-the-art runways. The aircraft parking ramp is relatively empty, parts of it being converted to non-aviation uses. Most of the SAC hangars remain. The ground station has been redeveloped, being used by Kansas State University at Salina and Salina Area Technical College. Other private businesses can be found on the old air base, some of the old streets still in use, others replaced with new construction. The base housing area exists, although the old Capehart Housing units have long since been rebuilt or replaced. No evidence of the base golf course can be seen in aerial images.
A few Air Force barracks are still in use, along with the base chapel as the "All Saints Orthodox Church". The Kansas Army National Guard also uses some former Air Force Buildings.
The 550th Strategic Missile Squadron operated twelve missile sites, of one missile at each site.