Keeper of the Plains

Located in America's heartland, airmanship in the Wichita area began in the first decade of the century. In 1916, as the US prepared to enter the World War, the city of Wichita started buying land to build a municipal airport.

In October 1924, Wichita hosted the National Air Congress that attracted over 100,00 people. The event highlighted an air race of 47 military and civilian aircraft participating, including the locally produced Swallow. After this nationally recognized event, several new aircraft manufacturing companies opened. Firms such as Travel Air, Beech Aircraft's predecessor, Boeing, and Cessna began operations. With this growth of aviation in Wichita, aviators began pushing for the proposed municipal airport's construction. Construction crews broke ground on June 28, 1929; however, the Great Depression delayed the terminal's completion of almost six years.

Although only one hangar and three small warehouses available for use, the Army Air Force Material Center established its headquarters in the Wichita Municipal Airport Administration Building in March 1942. AFMC chose this site to take advantage of the airport's five 50 foot wide runways, each with a 60,000 pound wheel load capacity. In September 1945, the Material Center moved to Oklahoma City, Okla. eventually becoming the Air Force Logistics Center at what is now Tinker AFB, Okla. Meanwhile, the 4156th Army Air Field Base Unit arrived at Wichita, Kan. to service and maintained transient and locally based aircraft. One year later, this unit disbanded, and the Air Force would not return until 1951.

Since Wichita Municipal bordered the Boeing plant, the Air Force moved back into the site in June 1951 and changed the name to Wichita AFB. This time, the Air Training Command's 3520th Combat Crew Training Wing, under the command of Col. H.R. Spicer, began training Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber aircrews. For the first six months after the activation, a "tent city" housed assigned personnel. This "city" consisted of 174 tents, a fire tower, and a few leased buildings in Wichita, Kan.

From 1954 to 1956, a $22 Million construction program turned the old airport into one of the Air Force's major bases. These improvements included 490 Capehart style housing units, ten miles of paved streets, and two hangars. Other improvements included clubs, theater, commissary, bank, hospital, and base exchange. In 1958 4547th CCTW, under SAC, replaced the 3520th.

The Flying McConnell's

In April 1954, the base became McConnell Air Force Base in honor of two of the three "Flying McConnell Brothers" of World War II. The brothers, from Wichita, Kan. entered the Army Air Corps together during WW II. The trio gained fame as "three of a kind." Second Lieutenant Thomas McConnell perished in July 1943, when his B-24 Liberator crashed into a fog covered mountain while en route to his home base in Guadalcanal after a bombing mission. Capt. Fred McConnell died when his private plane crashed in October 1945 near Garden Plains, Kan., while on his way to Garden Plains AFB. Edwin passed away in August 1997 at the age of 76. During a rededication ceremony on June 14, 1999, base officials added Edwin's name to the installation, making McConnell the namesake of all three brothers.

Strategic Air Command

During this time, SAC selected site for 18 Titan II missile complexes for the newly activated 381st Strategic Missile Wing. Using McConnell as a base, the silos formed a ring from the northeast and south to the west 20 to 50 miles from the installation. Construction crews finished the project in the early 1960s, costing $80 Million.

Tactical Air Command

In October 1962, the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing started at McConnell and flew the F-100C Super Sabre, and later the F-105D Thunderchief. This wing inactivated in 1964.

Operations in South East Asia

Two years later, the 388th began operating from Korat RTAFB, Thailand. The 23rd TFW, replaced the 388th. It trained F-105 crews for combat in Southeast Asia. The 355th TFW transferred from George AFB, Calif., in July 1964, joining the 23rd TFW at McConnell AFB under the 835th Air Division. Squadrons of both wings saw action in Vietnam.

The base received a new mission in April 1971 with the arrival of the 91st Air Refueling Squadron and their KC-135A Stratotankers. In July 1972, the 23rd TFW departed for England AFB, La., making the 381st SMW host unit. The 384th Air Refueling Wing's arrived began its tour McConnell AFB in December 1972.

In October 1981, President Reagan announced that the Air Force would phase out its Titan II ICBMs. In early 1983, the 384th ARW's leadership learned that it would be the first wing to receive the R model KC-135 tanker and the B-1B Lancer bomber. On Aug. 8, 1986, the 381st SMW inactivated.

The 384th ARW became the host organization and redesignated to the 384th Bombardment Wing in the summer of 1987. The 91st Air Refueling Squadron inactivated later that year, and the 384th Air Refueling Squadron became the sole refueling unit. The first B-1B touched down at McConnell on Jan. 4, 1988 and one year later the first Lancer aircrew and aircraft assumed alert duty.

In August 1990, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. McConnell AFB members deployed throughout the area of responsibility to help eject the invaders from the small kingdom.

1991 Tornado Changes the Landscape

On April 26, 1991, a tornado devastated McConnell AFB. The cyclone destroyed 102 base housing units and nine major facilities including the base hospital as it traveled from southwest to northeast. Despite the colossal property damage, there were 16 reported injuries and no deaths. As a result of the tornado, the base constructed new facilities to replace the destroyed base services. Three years later, the prize of that construction, the Robert J. Dole Community Center opened up, containing the bowling center, officer and enlisted clubs, and various other services.

Change Becomes Common

In mid-1992 the 384th became the 384th Bomb Wing. At the same time, the Air Force restructured the major commands. The 384th BW and the 384th ARS moved from the inactivated SAC. The 384th BW moved under the newly activated Air Combat Command with the 384th ARS and joined the Air Mobility Command remaining at McConnell AFB as an associate unit.

In May 1992, the Air Force announced more significant changes McConnell. The Kansas Air National Guard (the 184th Fighter Group), long a resident of McConnell, would lose their F-16s and gain the B-1B bombers and become the 184th Bomb Group. In January 1994, the 22nd ARW assumed the role as host wing, moving without personnel and equipment from March AFB, Calif. The 384th BW became the 384th Bomb Group until the unit transferred all of its Lancers to the air reserve component before inactivating on Sept. 30 1994.

On Jan. 1, 1995, the 931st Air Refueling Group joined Team McConnell. The Air Force Reserve associate unit provides aircrews while the 22nd furnish the maintenance crews and aircraft.

Since 1996, McConnell served as the test site for the PACER CRAG avionics modernization program. The next year, the base became the test unit for the multi point refueling. In the same year, the Republic of Singapore's Air Force chose McConnell over two other American bases to train their KC-135 aircrews and maintenance.

In 2002, as part of a plan to reduce and consolidate the Air Force's B-1 fleet, the 184th Bomb Wing's B-1s were transferred to other bases. In September 2002, the 184th took on a new mission flying KC-135s and was officially designated the 184th Air Refueling Wing.

McConnell AFB came a long way since the days of landing planes in hayfields to living in tents in the 1950s to surviving the devastation of the 1991 tornado. The professionals of Team McConnell and the 22nd ARW have a rich history and a proud future.