|N O T E S||A R C H I V E S|
Published by the Office of History
Kelly Air Force Base is the oldest, continuously active air base in the United States Air Force today. The history of Kelly begins only 13 years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. From that quiet beginning, American airpower has emerged as a vital element of our national defense. For over 70 years the men and women of Kelly have been a part of that process, helping defend the United States against any challenge to its liberty and freedom.
On May 10 1911, the Alamo City experienced its first air fatality when Lieutenant Kelly crashed trying to land a Curtiss "pusher" aircraft. After Kelly's death, the commanding general at Fort Sam Houston forbade further flying at his post, and military aviation left San Antonio for several years.
Military aviation returned to San Antonio four years later when Foulois brought the 1st Aero Squadron to Fort Sam Houston in 1915. He then led the squadron into Mexico to join General John J. Pershing's troops against Pancho Villa's marauding guerrillas. However, the poor showing of the Air Service's 1st Aero Squadron during the 1916 Mexican Punitive Expedition contrasted greatly with the daily demonstration in Europe of aviation's combat potential. This prompted Congress in August 1916 to provide $13.3 million for military aeronautics and increase the strength of the aviation section.
Consequently, Foulois returned to San Antonio in November to choose a site for a new aviation center that would accommodate the rapidly expanding Aviation Section. On November 21, 1916, General George Scriven, Chief of the Signal Corps, visited San Antonio and approved Foulois' choice of a 700-acre tract of land seven miles south of the city adjacent to the Missouri-Pacific railroad.
In December 1916, Congress authorized the lease of the land; and by March 1917, men from the newly formed 3rd Aero Squadron were hard at work clearing the cotton plants and laying foundation for hangars and mess halls. On April 5, 1917, one day before the United States entered World War I, four JN-4 "Jennies" landed at the new field.
American entry into the "Great War" brought tremendous expansion to the embryonic field. Thousands of recruits poured through Kelly's gate, and tent cities sprang up to accommodate them. On June 11, 1917, the Army named the new field in honor of Lieutenant Kelly, the first American aviator to lose his life while piloting a military aircraft.
By the end of June, it was clear that Foulois' original site, known unofficially as Kelly Field Number 1, was too small to train both new recruits and aviation cadets. Working closely with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the Army leased more land to the north of the first site to expand its training area. Field Number 2 became home to the flying training center.
Kelly soldiers organized approximately 250,000 men into aero squadrons during the hectic months of 1917 and 1918. The Enlisted Mechanics Training Department turned out an average of 2,000 mechanics and chauffeurs a month. Most of the American-trained World War I aviators learned to fly at this field, with 1,459 pilots and 398 flying instructors graduating from Kelly schools during the course of the war. The Aviation General Supply Depot moved to the field from its old location in downtown San Antonio.
The thousands of enlistees who came to Kelly devised numerous ways to entertain themselves during their infrequent time off. Among these organizations were a glee club, a minstrel show, and the "Famous Kelly Field Players," a club of professional vaudeville entertainers in uniform. Many clubs traveled around the South Texas area and gained fame for the morale-building shows.
At the end of the war, the air Service, along with the rest of the Army, faced crucial reductions. Thousands of officers and enlisted men were released, leaving only 10,000 men to fly and repair the planes and engines left over from the war. Hundreds of small flying fields closed, forcing consolidation of supply and aviation repair depots. Kelly, however, was one of the few that remained open. In 1921, the aviation repair depot in Dallas moved to Kelly to join with the supply depot, forming the San Antonio Intermediate Air Depot.
The Advanced Flying School moved to Kelly Field Number 2 in 1922. There, student pilots mastered the advanced skills of pursuit, bombardment, attack, and observation. Most of the Army aviators trained between the two World Wars attended this school. Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, graduated from the Advanced Flying School in 1925. Other graduates included former Air Force Chiefs of Staff Generals Thomas D. White, Curtis R. LeMay, John P. McConnell, Hoyt Bandenberg, and John D. Ryan. Major General Claire Chennault of World War II “Flying Tiger” fame taught at the school.
In 1925, Kelly Field Number 1 was renamed Duncan Field in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Duncan. Formerly stationed at Kelly Field, Duncan died in an airplane accident at Bolling Field in Washington, DC. Kelly Field number 2 became simply, Kelly Field. Both fields conducted their training, maintenance, command, and supply functions separately for the next 18 years.
Low pay and worn-out planes and equipment did not halt the small band of mechanics and fliers from proving their professional dedication. Army personnel pushed forward the frontiers of aeronautics in the 1920s. The aircraft used for Jimmy Doolittle's 1922 transcontinental flight received preflight servicing at Kelly Number 1. Kelly Number 2 was Doolittle's sole refueling stop during the flight itself. In 1926, Kelly was the starting point of the Pan American Goodwill Flight. Their air excursion was a 175-day adventure to "show the flag," with five planes and 10 pilots landing at 23 Central and South American countries. Captain Ira Eaker, Commander of the 8th Air Force during World War II and a Kelly graduate, was one of the pilots of that enterprise.
Much of the pioneering work of Major William Ocker and Captain Charles Crane in the filed of instrument flying took place at Kelly. Their efforts resulted in the development of the first "blind flying" curriculum at the Advanced Flying School and won Crane the Mackay Trophy.
Public enthusiasm for "those daring young men in their flying machines" encouraged Army pilots to display their skill in an effort to gain public acceptance of the airplane as an ever-capable instrument for American's expanding society. Air circuses and balloon races were exciting events in the Roaring Twenties, and the pilots at Kelly were happy to provide the thrills and air spectacles the public loved. Kelly hosted the National Elimination Balloon Race in 1924 and welcomed thousands of San Antonians to see the lift-off, aerial demonstrations, and other exploits of "daring-do."
But perhaps no event matched the production of the Hollywood film "Wings" in 1926. Kelly hoped to make motion picture history by providing pilots, aircraft, extras, and technicians to assist in the filming of this World War I epic. Clara Bow (the famous "it" girl), Buddy Rogers, and Richard Arlen starred in this silent movie classic which was filmed in and around San Antonio. A young newcomer, Gary Cooper, had a bit part in the show. "Wings" received the first Academy Award for "Best Production of the Year" for 1927-1928, the only silent film ever to win this honor.
Suffering from a chronic lack of funds, the Air Corps' struggle for better aircraft continued until the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia. Adolph Hitler and the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) demonstrated that airpower had become an important factor in international relations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the significance of the Luftwaffe's role and took the first steps toward United States rearmament.
In 1939, Congress authorized $300 million for the Air Corps. Hundreds of new planes, officers, and enlisted men made their way to Kelly. Besides money for new equipment and more personnel, funds became available for construction of sorely needed barracks, offices, classrooms, and warehouses. Many of the facilities built during this period remain in use today. The present Officer's Club (originally built for cadet housing) and the Air Logistics Center headquarters building (originally used for classrooms) were constructed to meet the increased demand for facilities during this period of expansion.
Other facilities built during the construction boom included the unique Miniature Range building, then used for aerial observation training, and the "Palace," a huge complex of enlisted quarters, dining halls and offices. Originally called "Buckingham Palace," the building received its nickname because it was so much more "palatial" than the tents and crude wooden barracks the men had been living in.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the need for more pilots, bombardiers, and navigators resulted in the rapid expansion of the United States Army's air arm and the Advanced Flying School. Night flying was added to the school program and the amount of training time doubled. Between January 1939 and March 1943, over 6,800 men graduated from Kelly's Advanced Flying School and approximately 1,700 additional pilots graduated from various other courses in the Instructor's School. In order to house the rapidly growing pilot trainee population, a "tent city" sprang up as it had in World War I.
By the summer of 1942, congestion caused by the close proximity of four flying fields - Duncan, Kelly, Brooks, and Stinson - had become dangerous. Consequently, in March 1943, Kelly and Duncan were reunited under the name of Kelly Field. Kelly Field's primary functions became that of maintenance and supply. This was a major change in mission for Kelly as flying training moved elsewhere.
Kelly's World War II mission turned the base into a huge industrial complex. A new organization, the San Antonio Air Service Command, managed the increased supply and maintenance workload. Kelly workers overhauled, repaired, and modified aircraft, engines, and related equipment.
Kelly's maintenance shops worked on thousands of Army aircraft, including B-17s, B-25s, B-29s, P-51s, and the C-47 cargo plane. Rapid production lines established a rate of overhaul on accessories, bombsights, guns, and electrical equipment that set records for both military and commercial repair agencies.
By 1944, Kelly's workforce had grown tremendously. In 1939, old Duncan Field had 1,100 civilian employees and only 10 military personnel. By 1945, over 15,000 civilians and 16,000 military worked at Kelly. During World War II, nearly 40 percent of the workers at the field were women. "Kelly Katies" were the Kelly counterparts to "Rosie the Riveters," women everywhere who did non-traditional work, contributing greatly to the successful war effort. They worked in nearly every shop at Kelly, including engine overhaul.
Because of the need for more storage space, Kelly annexed Normoyle Ordnance Depot, known today as East Kelly, in 1945. An out-processing center for the thousands of soldiers who had received their discharges was also located at Normoyle.
When World War II ended in August 1945, America demobilized as rapidly as it had after the First World War. Over 3,000 Kelly civilians resigned or retired within weeks of V-J Day. Nevertheless, more and more AT-6, P-51, and B-29 aircraft were delivered to Kelly for maintenance and storage. Disposal and aircraft storage programs took up more and more of Kelly's time and space. Kelly's maintenance workers stopped repairing very heavy bombers and began supporting the occupational forces in Europe and Japan with air transportation, communications, and weather systems. In 1946, the San Antonio Air Technical Services Command became the San Antonio Air Materiel Area (SAAMA).
In July 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act, which, among other things, created an independent United States Air Force. Over the next few years, the youngest of the armed services separated itself from the Army way of doing things. In January 1948, Kelly Field became Kelly Air Force Base.
THE COLD WAR
The end of World War II did not mean the end of American military assistance and responsibility. By 1947, American leaders were aware of the potential threat posed by Communist expansion and had created a dynamic policy of economic and military aid to other nations in an effort to prevent it. The Marshall Plan provided immediate economic aid to war-torn Europe, while the Truman Doctrine aided countries threatened by aggression. Never again could the United States retreat behind its ocean boundaries.
By June 1948, Russia, in a move to push the Allies out of Berlin, closed all water, rail, and highway links to the western part of the city. Forced to choose between abandoning West Berlin or supplying all goods by air, the western powers began around-the-clock airlift of vial supplies and material into the beleaguered city. The airlift, nicknamed "Operation Vittles," became the largest air cargo operation of all time. The prime workhorse of the Berlin Airlift was the C-54 Skymaster cargo aircraft, and Kelly was the only depot in the country repairing and overhauling replacement Pratt and Whitney R2000 engines used on the aircraft. By December 31, the Supply Division had shipped 1,317 R2000 engines worth $1.7 million for the airlift.
There were thousands of flights made into Berlin, with aircraft landing
or taking off at three-minute intervals, twenty-four hours a day, in all
types of weather. In 15 months, “Operation Vittles” delivered over 2.3
million tons of food, fuel, and supplies to Berlin, proving beyond a shadow
of a doubt that anything within reason could be moved by air anywhere in
the world. Without a doubt, "Operations Vittles" was a victory for the
Allies in the Cold War.
The outbreak of the Korean War in June of 1950 found Kelly once again
responding almost overnight. The Kelly maintenance line went into full-steam
production to recondition B-29s for overseas service. Work continued into
the night by use of special outdoor lighting. The aircraft production line
earned the nickname of the "Great White Way" as the glow of lights reflected
on the aluminum skin of the bombers and lit up the evening sky. When the
fighting subsided in Korea in July 1953, Kelly workers had once again proven
their commitment to meet whatever challenges faced them.
As the Air Force moved through its first decade of independence, its aircraft, engines, accessories, and support equipment became increasingly sophisticated and complex, requiring use of new technologies and innovative programs to meet the challenges of the future.
By 1951, the Convair B-36 began arriving in ever-increasing numbers at Kelly. With its powerful R4360 engines, the B-36 rapidly took the place of the B-29. Nicknamed the "Peacekeeper," the B-36 was radical in its design; its six pusher engines gave it a top speed of over 400 miles per hour, and it was the first American bomber capable of reaching any target on the globe.
R4360 engines also powered the XC-99. Convair built this one-and-only transport in 1947 to use the technology of the B-36 more effectively. As the large cargo plane to date, the XC-99 set many world records between 1953 and 1955, before the Air Force decided it did not need large transport planes. The longest flight - 12,000 miles to Rhein Main Air Base in Germany - began on August 13 1953. Carrying the 61,000 pounds of vital cargo, it flew to Germany via Bermuda and the Azores and returned a week later carrying another 62,000 pounds. Every place the XC-99 landed, newspaper, radio, and television reporters were there to convey to the public the excitement of the spectacular flight.
Another record-breaking flight took place during May 1955. The XC-99 was put to the test in support of PROJECT DEWLINE. In conjunction with the Military Transport Service, the XC-99 airlifted 380,000 pounds of cargo to Iceland from Delaware, a distance of 2,500 miles. The plane was airborne 210 hours and 41 minutes. Some trouble was experienced, but the 31 civilian technicians from the San Antonio depot successfully repaired the XC-99 at Dover AFB.
Jet engines had become extremely important to the Air Force by 1955. The Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber was the first full weapons system bomber. Designed in 1945, the B-47 was powered by six General Electric J47 turbojet engines and featured swept-back wings and tail surfaces. Its mission was to deliver conventional or nuclear ordnance to enemy targets. On November 30, 1959, a B-47 bomber set a world endurance record, remaining airborne for three days, eight hours, and eight minutes, and covering a distance of 32,900 miles. After relegating the bomber to reconnaissance and training missions, the latest Stratojets were taken out of the active United States Air Force inventory in 1966.
The B-58 "Hustler" was yet another important addition to the Air Force inventory. As America's first supersonic bomber, it could range higher and faster than any other bomber aircraft in the world, flying at twice the speed of sound. Its four J79 engines produced over 41,000 pounds of thrust that could push the sleek bomber at more than 1,300 mph. The first B-58 arrived at Kelly on March 15, 1960 to be used for training maintenance personnel for the new overhaul workload. On May 26, 1958, SAAMA opened the B-58 Logistics Support Management Office. It became the forerunner of a major area organizational realignment whereby worldwide weapons management functions would be separated organizationally from the internal depot operations. Responsibilities outlined for the weapon system manager included budgeting, funding, computing requirements, and arranging for maintenance.
Kelly repaired and overhauled B-52s for over 30 years. In the early 1960s, the B-52 was the major depot-level maintenance workload for SAAMA.
Modifications to the B-52s performed at Kelly increased the load capability
of each plane and increased the aircraft's range. In addition, the San
Antonio shops camouflage-painted the B-52s for Southeast Asia operations.
This era in Kelly's history ended when the Air Force shifted the B-52 workload
to Oklahoma City in the spring of 1993. The 36-year old relationship between
Kelly and the big bomber was the longest association between any Air Force
weapons system and a single ALC to that point.
Kelly's workload remained relatively stable until the mid-1960s, when American efforts to prevent the fall of the South Vietnamese government led to direct American involvement. Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, all air materiel areas began supporting Southeast Asia on a 24-hour basis. For the next 11 years, Kelly employees were deeply involved in supplying parts and expertise for the conflict in Southeast Asia, working both within the United States and overseas.
In May 1965, during the build-up of American forces in Vietnam, the Logistics Command started sending teams of supply personnel to the Pacific Air Forces. Kelly had a lot of volunteers. By December 31, 1965, SAAMA had sent 11 supply teams, totaling 89 personnel, on temporary duty to Southeast Asia to establish supply centers throughout the western Pacific, including Vietnam.
Kelly also sent maintenance teams to Southeast Asia. The first team consisted of six jet engine mechanics that worked in the Philippines on J57 engines for F-100s. Other Kelly workers served in Vietnam on special F-5 modification teams, helped reassemble newly shipped F-5 aircraft at Bien Hoa Air Base, and assisted in the creation of an engine repair facility at Bien Hoa. Some workers served on rapid area maintenance supply support or area transportation teams while others served as weapon system logistic officers. Those who remained in San Antonio also strove to meet the demands for materiel and aircraft maintenance.
On July 1, 1965, Kelly opened as an aerial port of embarkation to provide though-plane cargo service to Southeast Asia. Kelly Air Force Base personnel processed and routed vital war material earmarked for Vietnam to the Southeast Asian Theater. By 1967, the pace of the United States build-up intensified. The C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft began to enter the Air Force inventory in sufficient numbers to replace the aging C-124 Globemaster. With air terminal modernization and the increased use of C-141 aircraft, Military Airlift Command aircrews seldom experienced any delays at Kelly's aerial port.
On November 1, 1965, SAAMA assumed responsibility for the Air Force's entire watercraft program. This included all landing-type vessels, spares, engines, and combat ships. Other items included cargo tanks, special service vessels, barges, small craft, dredges, rigging, and marine hardware. Earlier that year, on August 3, Kelly became responsible for assembly and shipment of the necessary airfield lighting equipment to establish four semi-fixed installations in Southeast Asia.
In August 1996, the Air Force Logistics Command established PROJECT LOGGY SORT (LOGGY-Specialize Overseas Repair Test) to study the requirements for repair and maintenance of United States Air Force tactical aircraft in a combat environment in Southeast Asia. The goal was to provide tactical fighter units with greater mobility and flexibility. The F-4C aircraft was selected as the test vehicle because it was the most modern system in existence and best represented planned future weapon systems. SAAMA, as manager for the F-4s aerospace ground equipment, accumulated, analyzed and established base level repair restrictions on the items.
Weapon systems used in Southeast Asia managed by SAAMA included F-102, F-106, A-37, O-2, and F-5 aircraft, while the major maintenance workloads centered around aircraft engines, airfield lighting equipment, life support system items, aerospace ground equipment, and fuels. Specific maintenance workloads were B-52 aircraft modifications such as the T34, T-56 and J79 engine overhaul and recoverable-aerospace item repair.
The early 1970s witnessed the establishment of the Vietnamization Program, also known as the Nixon Doctrine. This new policy was the key to planned reductions in the Untied States military forces in South Vietnam. As part of this effort, SAAMA personnel were deeply involved in the planning and construction of an engine facility at Bien Hoa Air Base. This assignment began in February 1971 when the Air Force Logistics Command gave the SAAMA the responsibility for developing complete plans and specifications for converting an existing building at Bien Hoa Air Base into an engine overhaul facility.
One month later, the San Antonio Air Materiel Area became involved with yet another project to provide logistics support. On October 20,1972, SAAMA initiated PROJECT ENHANCE PLUS, to transfer A-37, F-5, and T-38 aircraft, engines, and support spares to the Republic of Vietnam to carry on the war after American withdrawal. Nearly every directorate at Kelly contributed to this effort.
The San Antonio Air Materiel Area set several records during this period. In addition to the transfer of A-37s, F-5s, and T-38s, over 18.3 million pounds of cargo were sent on 232 missions using C-141, C-5, Boeing 707 and DC-8 aircraft. United States Air Force Headquarters congratulated all concerned for their support in this project. They said it was proud of the ability shown by all air logistics centers and other activities to get the job done in spite of the critical time, worldwide scope of the operation, and the many actions which had to be completed.
A year before the United States ended its involvement in Southeast Asian hostilities; the military services began to prepare for the return of North Vietnam-held Prisoners of War. With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1972, "Operation Homecoming" was on. The prisoners were flown from North Vietnam to the Joint Homecoming Reception Center at Clark Air Base, the Philippines. Once at Clark, the POWs were given medical checkups, issued uniforms and personal items, and made those very important phone calls home. After a minimum time at Clark, the POWs flew to the United States to be reunited with their families and to receive complete medical and psychological evaluation and treatment. Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston were designated as reception areas in San Antonio because each had hospital facilities to handle the needs of the returning prisoners of war. Kelly became the reception area. Flights bringing the former POWs to Kelly began on February 15 1973. Although crowds were deliberately kept small, the occasion was full of joy. The 11 flights that arrived at Kelly carried 20 Air Force and 12 Army men. Kelly Air Force Base took great pride in welcoming home the brave men who had spent years in captivity.
In 1974, San Antonio Air Materiel Area changed its name to the San Antonio Air Logistics Center, but the dedication and support to the Air Force mission remained the same.
The C-5A Galaxy, the world's largest aircraft, entered the Air Force inventory on October 8, 1965. San Antonio Air Materiel Area had both management and repair responsibility for the giant transport and its TF39 engine. Weighing about 350 tons, the aircraft can transport 98 percent of equipment issued to an Army division, including the 100,000 pound M-1 tank, self-propelled artillery equipment, missiles, and helicopters. On its initial visit to Kelly on January 31, 1970, prominent figures as well as public spectators greeted the C-5A. Since then, the C-5A has undergone engine and aircraft repairs and modifications. The largest modification program ever managed by an Air Logistics Center was the program to strengthen the wings on the C-5A. The project was a result of a fatigue testing which indicated that the C-5A wing had an operational life of only 8,000 mission hours. The goal, therefore, was to reach a 30,000-hour service-life by replacing the center, outer, and inner wing boxes. On May 14, 1980, a prototype-modified aircraft was ready for flight test. Two months later, a scientific advisory board met to review the results and recommended a continuation of the wing modification program.
As good as the C-5A was, Lockheed and the Air Force began plans to incorporate reliability and maintainability factors into the large cargo plane, producing the C-5B. The Galaxy "B" fleet added 7.5 million cargo tons per day to the United States military strategic airlift capability.
With the transfer of B-52 repair and overhaul to Oklahoma City in 1993, Kelly's workers shifted their attention to keeping the T-38 jet trainers of Air Education and Training Command ready to fly. This workload moved to Kelly in the spring of 1993.
The F100 engine became a major engine workload for Kelly in the late 1970s as F-16s and F-15s entered the Air Force inventory in increasing numbers. Air Force officials predicted the F100 to be Kelly's largest overhaul workload since the Pratt and Whitney R4360 engine, which dominated overhaul activities at the base for more than a decade. The San Antonio Air Materiel Area was designated as the Specialized Repair Activity for the F100 in 1969.
The first F100 engine arrived at the SA-ALC on August 9, 1974. Primarily used as a trainer, this first engine was also used as a prototype repair engine to determine the adequacy of planning documents, technical data, tools and equipment. Management and maintenance of the F100 is complicated by the unique design of the engine. The engine is divided into five modules. Defective modules could be removed and replaced with spares to return the engine to service more rapidly. Another unique aspect of the F100 engine is the "on-condition" maintenance feature. This occurs if an inspection team determines that the rest of the modules are in good working order. Only the affected part would be overhauled and the rest of the engine would be left alone. In addition, time between overhauls is measured in terms of cycles, or throttling up and down action, rather than flight hours.
The San Antonio Air Logistics Center also managed the new C-17, developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. This advanced aircraft is a rugged, reliable, modern airlifter designed to meet requirements established jointly by the Army, Marines, and the Air Force. The C-17 provides the United States combat commanders with the increased mobility to get to the battle sooner-and to win. Kelly's involvement in the C-17 program was further strengthened when Air Force Logistics Command named it the source of repair for the airframe. Logistics support responsibility for the aircraft was made virtually complete in March 1985 when AFLC gave SA-ALC management and repair responsibility for the C-17 engines, the F117.
Americans have always looked to the future, but the future of Kelly's involvement in space have been a "now" responsibility for more than 25 years. In August of 1962, SAAMA “loaned” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) six aircraft - two F-102s, two TF102s and two T33s - so the astronauts at the Houston Manned Spaceflight Center could maintain their flying proficiency. Two years later, Directorate of Maintenance workers built three Apollo capsule trainers for NASA. And Kelly's Directorate of Aerospace Fuels has supplied NASA with the required liquid propellants from the very beginning of the Space Administration's push into space.
On November 16, 1973, the Directorate of Aerospace Fuels provided propellants support to the last of the Skylab space program launches. In March 1979, the space shuttle "Columbia" perched atop a Boeing 747 arrived at Kelly Air Force Base for the first time for a refueling stop on its way to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was Kelly's most dramatic and visible participation in support of the space program.
Kelly is home to many other unique organizations. On June 16, 1958, prime maintenance responsibility for all items within the Air Force's Nuclear Weapons Program were assigned to SAAMA. The Directorate of Special Weapons remains the only logistical nuclear ordnance manager in the Air Force. It managed all United States Air Force nuclear weapon equipment such as missile re-entry systems, warheads, bomb arming and fusing devices, tools, and tests handling and training equipment.
Over the years, Kelly was an official "starting point" for many of the distinguished visitors who came to San Antonio and the surrounding area. These visitors include the Army Chief's of Staff John J. Pershing and Dwight D. Eisenhower, to several presidents - John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush.* Also, in recent years, the roll of Kelly's visitors continued to grow including visits from crowned heads of Europe, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain. Perhaps one of the most visible of recent visits was Pope John Paul II, who landed at Kelly on September 13, 1987.
As the Air Force Materiel Command (formerly Air Force Logistics Command) anticipated challenges facing the Air Force in the future, SA-ALC received several new assignments to lead the way. The new work included advanced metallics, advanced technology connectors, nondestructive inspection technologies, advanced technology testing architecture, and artificial intelligence (computers which "think" without being programmed), and robotics.
In the pre-dawn hours of December 19, 1989, Kelly learned of the role it would play in "Operation Just Cause," the American military effort to end the corrupt dictatorship of Panama's strongman Manuel Noriega. A few hours later, the first aircraft from Panama landed, carrying Americans seriously wounded in the fighting. During "Just Cause," Kelly served as a reception point for over 250 incoming wounded service members and as a transit point for over 8,200 troops deploying into and out of Panama. The base handled 230 tons of cargo, served over 9,600 meals to the troops, and used over two million gallons of aviation fuel.
Only eight months later, Kelly found itself supporting another American military effort overseas. In August 1990, Iraqi troops overwhelmed the tiny but oil-rich nation of Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. Response was immediate as the United States and other allied nations sent their military to halt any further aggression and force the troops of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Kelly's response was immediate, too, as its people began around-the-clock support for "Operation Desert Shield" and later "Operation Desert Storm." By the time allied forces had routed the Iraqis, March 1991, Kelly had moved over 10,000 short tons of material and 4,700 passengers and deployed 17 million pounds of Air Force munitions to Southwest Asia.
Over the next two years, Kelly went through many changes as a result of the end of the Cold War and a shrinking American military budget. Many other changes stemmed directly from the results of Defense Management Review conducted by the Department of Defense in 1989. This review was soon followed by a series of proposals, known as Defense Management Review Decisions or DMRDs. Perhaps the one of the biggest changes was the merger of Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Logistics Command in July 1992. Separated since 1961, the recombination of these two commands into a new command under the name Air Force Materiel Command brought with it a host of changes in management processes as personnel grappled with ways of providing support to weapon systems from "cradle to grave." Other DMRDs were aimed at altering the financial aspects of center operations. Funding for the acquisition of new parts needed in the repair of aircraft and engines, for example, shifted to a group of managed stock funds instead of being directly appropriated. An increased emphasis on competition also altered the way the center conducted its business. Under new guidelines, the center had to compete with the other services and with private companies for workloads. Officials believed that these changes would contribute to greater efficiency while also saving the government money. In the short run, though, these changes meant that Kelly's manager had to adapt to new accounting methods and a new operating environment without missing a beat in the continuing support of Air Force units around the globe.
Along with changing the financial and competitive aspects of center activities, other DMRDs forced changes in center organizations as the Department of Defense attempted to consolidate certain functions to cut back on layers of management and command. Among the most significant changes was the transfer of the supply function from the air logistics centers to the Defense Logistics Agency or DLA. In 1992, DLA took over ownership of the majority of the base's warehouse space, bringing an end to what had been a fundamental part of Kelly's operations since World War I.
Another significant change involved the center's communications and computer systems management, one of the fastest growing organizations within the center as computer technologies mushroomed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1992, defense planners began laying the groundwork for transferring this responsibility to a new Defense Information Systems Agency and creating local Defense Information Technology Services Organizations, which provided support to military bases on a regional basis.
During 1993, a new Joint Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB took control over central design activities and the local communications and computer center combined with the Defense Network Systems Organization to become a regional Defense Information Systems Organization. In May 1994, with the addition of the workload from the Air Force Military Personnel Center and the Computer Processing Services Center, this organization became one of the 16 national Defense Megacenters, the only such megacenter in Texas.
The San Antonio Air Logistics Center and the new Defense Megacenter are not the only Air Force and Department of Defense organizations that called Kelly "home" during the 1990s. As a result of the destruction wrought at Homestead AFB, Florida, by Hurricane Andrew in September 1992, the Air Force relocated the Inter-American Air Force Academy at Kelly and Lackland. In March 1993, Air Force chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak announced his decision to make this relocation permanent and by 1994 new facilities to house the academy began to appear along the ramps on the northern and eastern side of the main runway. Continuing organizational changes also meant that in 1994, as part of an effort to streamline operations and cut costs, the support staff and logistics directorate of the Cryptological Support Center, formerly one part of the Air Intelligence Agency, became part of the ALC.
Along with these organizations, the Air Force News Agency and the western regional headquarters of the Defense Commissary Service are also located on Kelly. Changes also had an impact on base support organizations. In October 1992, following the merger of Air Force Logistics Command and Air Force Systems Command, and in accordance with the objective wing structure that made the ALC commander also the commander of the base, the 2851st Air Base Group became the 651st Support Group. A year later it became the 651st Air Base Group. Just twelve months later, driven by continuing efforts to implement an objective wing structure, it became the 76th Air Base Wing. Each change meant a renumbering of the organizational components as well.
Continued efforts to cut defense spending by relocating some missions and closing some bases put Kelly and the San Antonio Air Logistics Center at risk in May 1993. At that time, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission added the center, along with three of the four other logistics centers, to the list of possible closures. The threat to the center, and thus to the economic health of San Antonio, galvanized the city and the public. During a visit by Commissioner Peter Bowman in June, some 20,000 people stood almost shoulder to shoulder along the three mile stretch of General Hudnell Drive leading to Kelly's main gate. More than 1,500 people then traveled to the regional hearing in Corpus Christi. The commissioners were impressed enough by both the outpouring of public support for the center and by the data that showed the kind of job workers were doing to remove the center (along with all the other ALCs) from the closure list.
The threats to the center's future that emerged in the mid-1990s only emphasized the key role Kelly played in San Antonio's economic and civic life. Despite several years of shrinking budgets and personnel cuts, the base remained the largest employer in San Antonio and continued to play a vital role in the overall economy of San Antonio and the surrounding areas. Kelly encouraged public awareness. Kelly supported San Antonio's annual Fiesta by sponsoring a colorful float, which also participated in hundreds of parades and events all around South Texas. Also, when Kelly hosted the Armed Forces Open House, record crowds of 335,000 or more saw exhibits and demonstrations from all branches of the military community. Other activities include the annual Alamo Science Fair, the hosting of the annual Underprivileged Children's Christmas Party for over 1,600 children, and a program to encourage local high school students to pursue careers in science and engineering called PROJECT UPLIFT.
On September 7, 1990, Kelly’s mentoring partnership with the Southwest Independent School District received President Bush's 242nd "Point of Light," an award honoring superior accomplishments by community volunteers.
With the publicity generated by the closure threats, few, if any, residents of San Antonio and south Texas were left unaware of the enormous impact of Kelly on the local area. More than just the possible loss of jobs and incomes, the threat to Kelly was a threat to an institution to which three generations of local people had devoted their professional lives.
But by early 1995, it was clear that the victory in 1993 was only the first one needed if Kelly and the San Antonio Air Logistics Center were to stay in business. Despite Air Force and Department of Defense recommendations that the depot (along with all the other Air Force ALCs) remain open, the 1995 BRAC decided to investigate the issue on its own. All five ALCs were added to the possible closure list. Once again, the city and base martialed their energies to persuade a commission that the services provided the country and the Air Force by the continued operation of the San Antonio ALC justified keeping it open. An estimated 30,000 people lined General Hudnell Drive to greet the arrival of a majority of commissioners during their visit to the center on Jun 6, 1995. Certainly as many people sat in tense anticipation as the commissioners made final arguments and voted in a televised hearing on June 22. This time, unfortunately, the arguments of civic and military leaders, as well as the evident passion of the Kelly workforce and the local community, were not enough. By a vote of six to two, the commission decided to close the San Antonio Air Logistics Center, realigning some missions and organizations under adjacent Lackland AFB and eliminating between 10,000 and 13,000 local jobs. The decision left local workers dazed as they wondered about an uncertain future and the loss of billions of dollars in the local economy. The sadness of the immediate loss was made even more profound by the knowledge that for over three generations the spirit of Kelly’s early pioneers had been a vibrant, living heritage, renewed every day by workers at Kelly. While the pain of losing Kelly and the San Antonio ALC ran deep, also painful was the awareness that so much dedication, pride, and history was being brought to an end.
Of course, the changes to Kelly and the ALC would take several years. During that time, the same pride and dedication shown in the past by Kelly's people would surely continue. From its humble beginnings as a farmer's cotton field, Kelly can look back on this past with pride and its people can enter the future with their heads held high, secure in the knowledge that whatever the decisions of far-off commissions, they did themselves and their country proud.
1. In less than six years following the publication above, San Antonio ALC workloads transferred to the remaining Air Logistics Centers: Ogden, Oklahoma City, and Warner-Robins. On 13 July 2001, the runway, tenants and other base operations became part of Lackland AFB as the City of San Antonio developed the remainder of the base into a business park named Port San Antonio (formerly KellyUSA).
2. Other images of aircraft that were worked or managed at Kelly include the C-5 (shown over Kelly), the C-130 Hercules, the F-101 Voodoo, the OV-10 Bronco, the T-37 Tweet, and the XB-70 Valkyrie. Other aircraft images are available at the Air Force Museum. Check out the Texas Air Museum where Kelly historical items are on display. Click More Kelly History for links to other Kelly history sites.
3. Check this map out. Worked in Bldg 375? PK? LF (FMS)? See more military aircraft images here, here, and here. Do you know this Kelly Field Jenny pilot? Want to search 550,000 USAF historical documents online?
5. This web site is not affiliated with nor sponsored by the United States Air Force or any of its units. Other than adding URL/image links, no changes were made to the text of "A Brief History of Kelly AFB." If you want a Kelly-related link (or image) added to this page, send me your suggestion(s).
Paul Proft, Webmaster
|H i s t o r y P a g e G u e s t B o o k A r c h i v e s|
|The June/July 2001 Kelly guest book records have been archived in a private folder and are available to former Kellyites via e-mail request.
Kjweb.com is currently sponsoring a web site for former Kellyites. KellyForever.Org has history and other interesting info you might find worth your while. (The message board, events, and personnel finder have been discontinued.)