Scott Air Force Base News

COMMENTARY: A look back at the history of Scott Field/Scott Air Force Base

Last year, many of you joined Team Scott and local communities in celebrating the Scott AFB Centennial among the fertile fields of America’s heartland.

This year, as we join our host state of Illinois in celebrating the bicentennial of statehood, it is time to reflect that the installation we know today as Scott AFB has been here for half of the history of the State of Illinois.

In this commentary, we’ll look back on Scott Field/Scott Air Force Base history and its contributions to the second century of Illinois history and to world history.


On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Imperial Germany and the Central Powers. Within a short time, area civic and business leaders on both sides of the Mississippi were invited by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, to consider sites near St. Louis for a new aviation station.

The War department chose an excellent site near Belleville under a lease agreement with seven local landowners, each receiving an annual rental payment of $7,400, with the government having an option to purchase the 624 acres occupied by the airfield by 1920. During WWI, Scott Field’s primary mission was to train pilots and ground crews for the American Expeditionary Force being deployed to France to fight Imperial Germany.

On Aug. 12, 1917, Airmen of the 11th and 21st Aero Squadrons of the U.S. Army Air Service (consisting of 300 men) arrived at the newly-built Scott Field from Kelly Field near San Antonio.

At Kelly Field, the Airmen had been accustomed to living in canvas tents with dust and cacti. The sight of the new white wooden buildings at Scott Field made the Airmen cheer as they marched up the streets on Sunday morning.

Construction of Scott Field was completed Sept. 1, 1917, slightly over two months after work had begun.

However, Scott Field had no airplanes, as the first shipment had been delayed in transit. It is believed that one or two Standard J-1 trainer aircraft were borrowed from Chanute Field near Rantoul, Illinois to make Scott Fields’s first training flight.

On Sept. 2, 1917, the very first training flight occurred at Scott Field, made by Major George E.A. Reinburg (Scott Field Commander) and William H. Crouch (civilian flight instructor).

By the end of WWI in November 1918, Scott Field had produced over 500 pilots and hundreds of mechanics and ground crews using the more efficient Curtiss JN-4 Jenny primary training biplane.

Immediately after the Armistice, the future of Scott Field looked bleak, as the pilot training mission wound down and many Airmen were demobilized. The only bright spot on the horizon was the War Department’s decision in 1919 to purchase of the land at Scott Field from local landowners for $120,000, ending the annual lease arrangement used since 1917. The War Department purchased Scott Field, due to its central location and reasonable purchase price.


On June 28, 1921, Scott Field was granted a new lease on life when the War Department revealed that two new mission were coming to Scott Field—the U.S. Army Air Service Balloon and Airship School and the Air Intermediate Depot. In a move to consolidate balloon and the airship training previously conducted at Brooks Field, Texas, Ross Field, California, and Langley Field, Virginia, at Scott Field, the decision spawned one of the most colorful and interesting chapters in Scott AFB history, the Lighter-than-Air Era, (1921-37).

The Air Intermediate Depot Scott Field soon gained approximately 1,000 Airmen, beginning with the arrival of the 12th Balloon Company (later redesignated 12th Airship Company) from Ft. Omaha, Nebraska, on Oct. 28, 1921, followed the next day by the arrival of the 9th Airship Company from Ft. Omaha. Soon, these units would be joined by the 16th Airship Company, 4th Balloon Companies, and 5th Balloon Companies from Brooks Field, the 10th Airship Company from Langley Field, the 8th Airship Company, and the 24th Service Company (Airship)—all under Scott-based 21st Airship Group.

Among the personnel transferred to Scott Field from Langley Field was German-born Maj. John A. Paegelow, a staunch and highly-respected LTA advocate. Paegelow commanded Scott Field and the 21st Airship Group from 1923-33, the longest-serving installation commander in base history. Other personnel assigned to Scott Field included an Ordnance Detachment, the 21st Photo section, and a detachment of the 6th Signal Service Company.

Along with the new Airship personnel came a construction boom at Scott Field. The most iconic LTA building was the massive Airship Hangar (Bldg. 75), completed Jan. 31, 1923, and the second largest airship hangar in the world when completed. Other key airship support facilities built during this period included the Airship Hangar Heating Plant (Building 73), Airship Hangar Electrical Substation (Bldg. 74—today’s Bldg. P-7), the Standard Balloon Hangar (Bldg. 76), Hydrogen Plants, Helium Purification Plant, helium cylinder storage facilities, an Airship Mooring Mast (Bldg. 99), several Colonial Revival-style duplexes, and the 9th Airship Company 200-man barracks (today’s Bldg. P-40E).

While construction was in progress, Scott Field conducted its first balloon ascent March 22, 1922, followed by the gradual arrival of several large, medium, and small training airships from other Army airship bases and new from the factories.

These included the British-built SST, A-4, OA-1 Baby Blimp, OB-1 Pony Blimp, D-2, D-4, D-5, TC-1, AC-1, TA-1, TA-2, TA-3, TA-5, TC-3, French-built RN-1 Zodiac, TC-5, TC-6, TC-7, TC-8, the semi-rigid RS-1, TF-1-261, TC-10-243, TC-10-252, TC-10-253, TC-11-271, TC-6-241, TC-12-264, and TC-14-351.

In addition to flying airships, Scott Field Airmen successfully competed in the then-popular sport of balloon racing at the national and international level. The highlight of Scott Field balloon racing was capturing the prestigious U.S. National Litchfield Trophy and the Gordon Bennett International Balloon Racing Trophy in 1928.

In addition, Scott Field balloonists pioneered the exploration of the upper atmosphere, gathering valuable weather data and setting world altitude records in the stratosphere.

Federal budget shortages during the Great Depression, coupled with rapid improvements in airplane technology during the 1930s, resulted in the decision by the War Department to discontinue airship and balloon operations at Scott Field in 1937 in favor of a new mission as General Headquarters, Air Force. The relatively new airship facilities, including the great Scott Field Airship Hangar and Airship Mooring Mast, were demolished in 1938 and sold for scrap as hazards to navigation.


In 1938, Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt the selection of Scott Field as the relocation site for the General Headquarters Air Force, which managed the air combat arm of the Army. GHQAF had been located at Langley Field since 1935 and was commanded by Brig. Gen. Frank M. Andrews.

Woodring considered the move of the GHQAF to a more central location to be in the best interest of national defense and, on the eve of WWII in Europe, advocated that the transfer occur as soon as possible. It was reasoned that from Scott Field, Brigadier General Andrews could plan and direct the entire air defense of the United States and would be no more than one day away by air from any of his units.

As a result, Scott Field underwent a major expansion, including the construction of major buildings, including General Headquarters AF (Bldg. P-3), Base Hospital (Bldg. P-4), Essex House, warehouses, runways, hangars, and the brick Georgian-Revival housing. The territory of Scott Field expanded from 628 acres to 1,574 acres.

In 1939, the acreage further expanded to 1,882 acres. The planned move of the GHQAF to Scott Field was never to be, overcome by events overseas, as WWII in Europe approached. GHQAF remained at Langley Field and Scott Field prepared for an important new mission.


In July 1939, the Basic Department, Air Corps Technical School at Chanute Field, Illinois, was transferred to Scott Field, bringing a new mission of providing prerequisite training for Air Corps radio operators and radio mechanics.

In September 1940, the Army Air Corps Communications School was moved from Chanute Field to Scott Field and Scott Field became the “Radio University of the Army Air Corps,” Scott Field experienced another building boom, as thousands of Radio School students required barracks, classrooms, mess halls, chapels, recreation centers, and other support buildings.

The last of the WWI-era and some Airship Era buildings were razed to make room for the construction of hundreds of wooden Emergency Mobilization Buildings. Scott’s role in WWII was to provide radio operator-mechanics by the tens of thousands for combat crews to man the armada being produced by American industry.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 1941, the strength at Scott Field was 234 officers, four warrant officers, 28 nurses, and 10,339 enlisted men. The Radio School students, between 10,000 and 12,000, were enrolled simultaneously and quartered in two cantonments, known as the 2nd and 3rd Areas. Each Area was set up as an independent unit, housing six school squadrons. Each group of six squadrons attended school in its own area during the 22-week radio course.

By the end of WWII, the Scott Field radio School had produced an astonishing 77,370 radio operators/mechanics for the war effort, including Allied nations, such as France, China, the Netherlands, and several Latin American nations. During WWII, approximately half of every U.S. Army transport, medium bomber, and heavy bomber had a Scott Field radio school graduate manning the radio compartment, making a significant contribution to the Allied was effort.

After WWII, Scott AFB continued to host the Air Force Radio Mechanic General Course and, in 1949, became the headquarters for the entire Air Training Command. Scott AFB produced thousands of radio operators and mechanics for service in the Korean War and Cold War.

From 1951-52, Scott Field hosted 113th Fighter Interceptor Squadron F-51H Mustang aircraft and from 1952-59 hosted the 85th Fighter Interceptor Squadron F-86D Sabre Dog aircraft defending the vital St. Louis Area from Cold War Soviet bomber attacks.

In 1959, Scott AFB began supporting the Army’s new Nike Ajax surface-to-air missile bases located at Pere Marquette State Park, Marine, and Hecker—all in Illinois—serving as the replacements for the fighter interceptor squadrons defending the St. Louis region. In 1957, the primary mission of Scott AFB changed again, this time, from Technical Training to Aeromedical Airlift.


The 40-year era as a major technical training installation ended in October 1957 when Scott AFB was transferred from the control of Air Training Command to the Military Air Transport Service.

This reassignment resulted in the redesignation of Scott’s 3310th Technical Training Wing as the 1405th Air Base Wmg on Oct. 1, 1957. Initially the 1405th ABW, as Scott’s host unit, supported the units assigned to the base and maintained Scott AFB properties. Responding in the 1960s and 1970s to the Cold War, Space Age, Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War, the 1405th ABW and Scott’s major tenants evolved into global organizations.

Technological advances during this period ushered In computers, jet aircraft, missiles, and satellites.which substantially changed wartime planning and day-to-day operations.

On June 1, 1964, the 1405th ABW was redesignated the 1405th Aeromedical Transport Wing, and, in addition to its host responsibilities, assumed control of all military aeromedical evacuations in the United States. When MATS became the Military Airlift Command on Jan. 1, 1966, the 1405th ATW was discontinued, and its missions and resources were absorbed by the 375th Aeromedical Airlift, activated at Scott on Jan. 12, 1966, as a Headquarters MAC direct reporting unit.

From Sept. 8, 1968, to June 1, 1973, the 1400th ABW served as Scott AFB’s host unit, freeing the 375th AAW to devote all of its resources to the aeromedical evacuation as the Vietnam War intensified and new jet aeromedical evacuation, specifically the McDonnell-Douglas C-9A Nightingale, entered into the inventory.

During this period, the 1400th ABW presided over Scott’s transformation into a truly modern Air Force installation. In the post-Vietnam period, the 375th AAW gained responsibility for the worldwide aeromedical evacuation system April 1, 1976, followed by the continental United States operational support airlift mission March 16, 1978.


Among the 375th AAW’s (now the 375th Air Mobility Wing) primary missions was supporting the important tenant units assigned to Scott AFB, which currently number 31.

Among these units are the Headquarters of the U.S. Transportation Command, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Headquarters 18th Air Force, the 618th Air Operations Center, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the Air Force Network Integration Center, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the 126th Air Refueling Wing, the 932nd Airlift Wing, the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing, and several other organizations dedicated to defending the U.S. against the growing international cyber threat.

Over the years, these mission partner units have grown in importance and are key to national defense.


Since the beginning in 1917, Scott’s community partners have been crucial to the success of Scott Field and Scott AFB. In return, Scott AFB has grown to become the largest employer in southern Illinois and the fourth-largest employer in the St. Louis region. Each year, Scott AFB injects over $3.5 billion into the economy of the 13 neighboring counties.


During the past 101 years, Scott military and civilian personnel have done great things for mankind from their base in America’s heartland, whether it be defending the nation during two world wars, pioneering lighter-than-air aircraft during the Jazz Age, exploring the stratosphere, bringing wounded servicemen home from battlefields around the world, providing a platform for our mission partners to accomplish their crucial missions, providing prosperity for the St. Louis region, or being a good neighbor to our local communities. No one knows what challenges the future may hold, but history proves that Scott AFB will adapt and overcome.