Bakalar Air Force Base

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Bakalar Air Force Base
Continental Air Command.png AFR Shield.svg
Part of Continental Air Command (ConAc)
Air Force Reserve (AFRES)
Located near: Columbus, Indiana
Jeep being dropped by Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar, 52-6024, 434th Troop Carrier Wing, Bakalar AFB, Indiana, about 1954. (note the parachute has not yet opened).
Bakalar AFB is located in Indiana
Bakalar AFB
Bakalar AFB
Location of Bakalar Air Force Base, Indiana
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Type Air Reserve Base
Site information
Controlled by  United States Air Force
Site history
Built 1942
In use 1943-1970
Garrison information
Garrison 60px 434th Tactical Airlift Wing
File:Atterbury Army Airfield - IN - 25 November 1943.jpg
Atterbury Army Airfield, 25 November 1943

Bakalar Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force base located 4.4 miles (7.1 km) north-northeast of Columbus, Indiana.

Opened during World War II, the base was a training base for medium-range C-46 and C-47 troop carrier planes and glider pilots. It also was used for training B-25 Mitchell and B-26 Marauder bomber crews. Reactivated during the Cold War, It was used as an Air Force Reserve training base for troop carrier, tactical airlift and special operations flying units. The base was closed in 1970.


It was established as a U.S. Army Air Forces installation initially known as Atterbury Air Base. It was named in honor of Brigadier General W.W. Atterbury. A graduate of Yale University, General Atterbury later became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad.[1]

The base was renamed Bakalar Air Force Base in a formal dedication ceremony held November 13, 1954, in honor of First Lieutenant John Edmond Bakalar, USAAF. A native of Hammond, Indiana, 1st Lt Bakalar, of the 353rd Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, was killed in action September 1, 1944, over France when his P-51D-5 Mustang, AAF Ser. No. 44-13895, crashed.[1][2]

World War II

Atterbury Army Airfield was opened in February 1943. Its history, however, dates back to June 1, 1942. Under the supervision of architect Stratton Hammon, construction began August 13, 1942. Four concrete runways, 5000 × 150' were constructed, oriented north/south; northeast/southwest; east/west, and northwest/southeast for the airfield. A large parking ramp was also constructed on the south side of the runway complex with several large hangars. A small secondary airfield, Bartholomew County Airfield was also used as an auxiliary airfield, its location and details today being lost to time.[3][4]

More than 1,000 workers employed during its construction. At the time Hammons took over the job of building the air base, he was 38 years old and had been an architect for 22 years. In December, with base nearly complete, promoted from captain to major and oversaw building of three more army fields, a general hospital, quartermaster depot, medical depot, and other structures. In order to finish base on time, Hammon needed a railroad spur to the base to ship in ten carloads of cement per day. Originally Pennsylvania Railroad refused to install the spur until other military obligations were met. Hammon ignored the military chain of command and appealed directly to the head of the War Production Board. Two days later, the spur was being built.[1][3]

Atterbury was over 2,000 acres in size and cost over four million dollars to construct. To make room for the base, fourteen families were forced to sell their property to the government. It included more than one hundred buildings, all intended to be temporary. Station buildings and streets were also constructed, the buildings consisting primarily of wood, tar paper, and non-masonry siding. The use of concrete and steel was limited because of the critical need elsewhere. Most buildings were hot and dusty in the summer and very cold in the winter. Water, sewer and electrical services were also constructed.[1][3]

I Troop Carrier Command

Jurisdiction of the new base was assigned to the I Troop Carrier Command, the mission of the base was to the training and organization of C-47 Skytrain and C-46 Commando transport aircrews. Also many Waco CG-4 glider pilots received training at Atterbury. On 5 May 1943, the 57th Station Compliment Squadron was activated on the airfield to organize military personnel and provide a station command organization. Atterbury Army Air Field was distinct base from the United States Army Camp Atterbury, which was finished in summer 1942 a few miles north of where the air base would be laid out. As originally conceived, Atterbury Army Air Field was intended to allow ground troops (Camp Atterbury) and air troops (Atterbury Army Air Field) to learn to work together in combat.[3][5]

By late summer 1943 most of the transport and glider training by I Troop Carrier command was being phased down at Atterbury, In September, elements of the III Bomber Command 596th Bombardment Squadron, 397th Bombardment Group from MacDill Field, Floria trained at the base. The unit flew B-26 Marauders from the field until early 1944 when they moved back to their unit, then stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia prior to their overseas deployment. From Hunter, the group was deployed and reassigned to Ninth Air Force, where they entered combat at RAF Gosfield (AAF-154), England.[3][5][6]

First Air Force

In 1944, a more controversial mission (at the time) began at Atterbury. Throughout World War II, continued pressure from African-American civilian leaders led the Army to allow blacks train as members of bomber crews, a step that opened many more skilled combat roles to them. In response to this pressure, jurisdiction of Atterbury AAF was transferred from I Troop Carrier Command to First Air Force on 24 August 1944, and the mission of the base was changed to training black airmen for B-25 Mitchell medium bomber crews. Two squadrons, the 618th and 619th Bombardment Squadron, assigned to the 477th Composite Group at Godman Field, Kentucky performed crew training at Atterbury between August 1944 and March 1945. Administrative functions of the station were maintained by the 118th Army Air Force Base Unit. Atterbury was used for B-25 training because the unit's main field in Kentucky was unsuitable for use by medium bombers.[6][7][8]

In March 1945 the 477th reached its full combat strength and B-25 Mitchell training under the 477th CG was moved to Freeman Field, Indiana which consolidated the group, which was scheduled to go into combat on 1 July. By April, most personnel had been transferred, and Atterbury was placed in a standby status under control of Godman Field. After the departure of the 477th, most facilities were closed. The facility operated as a communications site until December 1945 when it was closed and turned over to the War Assets Administration for disposal. After World War II, the base used periodically for pilot training.[3][5]

Cold War

From 1946 to 1949, the base was closed. However, in May 1949 it was announced that the Air Force was exercising a right of return to reopen the World War II airfield. The mission of Atterbury was to be a primarily as a summer training headquarters for 2-week active duty tours of 5,000 to 10,000 Air Force Reservists from 13 north-central states. It also served a dual purpose as a maintenance center.[5][9]

During the time of its inactivation, the Army Air Forces had been made a separate branch of the military as the United States Air Force. The base was renamed Atterbury Air Force Base, and placed under Continental Air Command, Tenth Air Force. The 2466th Air Force Reserve Combat Training Center re-opened the installation, and the reserve training center was moved from Evansville, Indiana. The bulk of rehabilitation work was completed on the base facilities during June.[5]

The 434th Troop Carrier Wing, Medium, was established and activated on 1 July 1949 in the Air Force Reserve at the new Atterbury Air Force Base. The Indianapolis-based 434th Troop Carrier Group, Medium, was moved to Atterbury on 1 July 1949 and assigned as the wing's operational component. The group had 4 C-47 Skytrain squadrons, the 71st, 72d, 73d and 74th Troop Carrier Squadrons.[8][10]

At Atterbury, the wing served as a training organization for Air Force Reservists, with most of the training was accomplished on weekends. In August 1949, the group converted to C-46 Commandoes, and training for the most part consisted of transition flying training. Before the transition was completed, the Group spent two weeks in the summer of 1950 (8–22 July) on active duty in a summer encampment.[9]

The 434th returned to its previous training role upon its return from the Korean War. On 13 November 1954, the base was renamed Bakalar Air Force Base in a formal dedication ceremony in honor of First Lieutenant John Edmond Bakalar. His decorations and awards included the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, both awarded posthumously, the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.[9]

Throughout the 1950s, the 434th TCW performed routine reserve training at Bakalar. In 1957, the wing transitioned from C-46 Commandos to the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. C-119's were flown by the 434th until the base was closed in 1970. 1959 saw the 434th Troop Carrier Group being inactivated on 14 April, its squadrons being assigned directly to the wing under the tri-deputate organization adopted by the wing. The 2466th Air Force Reserve Combat Training Center was inactivated on 1 July 1959 due to budget reductions, its mission being folded into that of the 434th TCW.[10]

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the 434th TCW was activated and brought under the operational control of Nineteenth Air Force, Tactical Air Command. The wing's C-119 squadrons began transporting supplies, equipment and Army personnel to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. The 73d Troop Carrier Squadron was deployed to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, where it operated from during the crisis. In December 1962, the wing was returned to control of the Fifth Air Force Reserve Region and resumed reserve training.[9]

In 1963, the 434th TCW was reorganized with the addition of three new reserve troop carrier groups being placed under its control. The 930th, 931st and 932d Troop Carrier Groups were activated and assigned on 11 February. The Wing's squadrons were divided between the three new groups, the 71st TCS being reassigned to the 930th TCG; the 72d to the 931st TGG, and the 73d to the 932d TCG. All were equipped with Wing's former C-119 Boxcars.[8][11]

On 1 October 1966, the 932d TCG was released from assignment to the 434th TCW and reassigned to the 442d Military Airlift Wing at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri, in preparation for heavy cargo operations. On 1 July 1967, the 434th was re-designated the 434th Tactical Airlift Wing, its subordinate groups and squadrons also being re-designated as Tactical Airlift units.[8][10]

On 13 May 1968, the 930th Tactical Airlift Group was activated for combat duty in the Vietnam War; the 71st TAS's C-119 aircraft were selected for modification to the AC-119G Gunship configuration. The group and its Bakalar Reservists were reassigned to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio on 11 June. The 71st was subsequently re-designated as the 71st Air Commando Squadron (ACS) on 15 June and eventually was deployed to Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam on 5 December where it was assigned to the 14th Special Operations Wing. Subsequently re-designated as a Special Operations Squadron, the 71st flew combat operations in South Vietnam until 5 June 1969 when its reservists were returned to the United States.[9][10][11]

The major command at Bakalar was changed from Continental Air Command (ConAc) to the Air Force Reserve (AFRES) on 1 August 1968, at the time a field operating agency, with Tactical Air Command (TAC) as the operational gaining command. The 434th TAW, however, remained as part of the Fifth Air Force Reserve Region.[9][11]

On 25 June 1969, the 931st Tactical Airlift Group was re-designated as the 931st Tactical Air Support Group, its 72d Tactical Airlift Squadron being re-designated and re-equipped with U-3A "Blue Canoe" light utility aircraft. The 931st TASG mission was charged with tactical air support. The group's C-119s were reassigned to the 71st Special Operations Squadron and modified to the AC-119G configuration.[10]


Due to funding reductions for CONUS bases in 1969 to fund combat operations of the Vietnam War, Bakalar Air Force Base was selected for closure. The 930th Special Operations Group was moved to Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana where it later became a Tactical Fighter Group in 1973, flying the A-37 Dragonfly. It was inactivated on 1 July 1975. Its 71st Air Commando Squadron was inactivated in 1973 and its AC-119s retired. It was later reactivated in 1987 as part of the new Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and now flies CV-22 Ospreys from Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.[10]

The 931st Tactical Air Support Group was also moved to Grissom AFB in 1969. It has gone though a number of changes over the years, and remains active today as the 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell AFB, Kansas. Its operational component is the 72d Air Refueling Squadron, flying KC-135 Stratotankers.[10]

The 434th Tactical Airlift Wing was inactivated on 31 December 1969 with the closure of Bakalar AFB. It was later reactivated as the 434th Air Refueling Wing, and now operates as the host reserve wing at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, flying the KC-135 Stratotanker.[10]

Bakalar AFB was closed by the Department of Defense in January 1970. The City of Columbus received the title in 1972, and in 1982 renamed it Columbus Municipal Airport.[3][9]

Current use

Today the former Bakalar Air Force Base is a first-class General Aviation airport. Some original World War II and Air Force buildings remain and are in use. Additionally, a museum, the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum, has been "dedicated to the memory of all military and civilian personnel who served there".[9]

In 1995, the local Aviation Board began a restoration of the former air base. During the process, the board determined that one of the few remaining World War II buildings on the base should be dedicated to a war hero. The original Atterbury Army Airfield Chapel was restored and named for Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) Jean Lewellen Norbeck.[9]

Norbeck (1912–1944) was a Columbus native, and was one of 38 WASP killed in service during World War II and the only woman from Bartholomew County killed in the line of duty. Stationed at Shaw Field, South Carolina, she was a test pilot for planes that had been marked unsafe. On October 16, 1944, she was killed when the plane she was piloting crashed. The restored chapel was dedicated to her on May 29, 1998.[9]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 History pages from the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum website
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Building an Airfield: Atterbury Army Air Field
  4. WW2 Military Airfields including Auxiliaries and Support fields Idaho - New Hampshire
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 AFHRA Atterbury historical records search
  6. 6.0 6.1 Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  7. Wikipedia contributors. "Freeman Field Mutiny." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Maurer, Maurer(1982). Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Office of Air Force history (1982). ISBN 0-8317-1501-4
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 Indiana Historical Bureau Atterbury Army Airfield
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 USAF Combat Wings
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 AFHRA Bakalar historical records search

External links