Art Leatherwood

KELLY AIR FORCE BASE. Kelly Air Force Base, the oldest continuously operating flying base in the United States Air Force, is located at the southwestern edge of San Antonio. It is the largest single employer in San Antonio; in 1989 it had more than 25,000 military and civilian employees, and its payroll exceeded $721 million. Capt. Benjamin Foulois, the "father of military aviation," selected the site in November 1916 to expand the activities of the fledgling Aviation Section of the United States Army Signal Corps from Fort Sam Houston. The new airfield was named for Lt. George E. Kelly, who was killed in a crash at Fort Sam Houston on May 10, 1911. He was the first American military aviator to lose his life while piloting a military aircraft. The base was initially called Aviation Camp, then Kelly Field. When the air force achieved autonomy in 1947, the name was changed to Kelly Air Force Base.

Flying activities began on April 5, 1917, and with America's entry into World War I grew rapidly. The facilities were divided into Kelly Number One, later to become Duncan Field, for maintenance and supply functions, and Kelly Number Two, devoted to flight training. The base served as a reception and testing center for recruits as well as a training center for almost all the skills required to operate an air force. Almost all of the combat aviators of World War I earned their wings at Kelly Field. At some point of their training most of the future leaders of the air force passed through Kelly Field. They included the later air force chiefs of staff Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, Hoyt Vandenberg, and Curtis LeMay; Charles Lindbergh earned his wings at Kelly Field, as did the famous "Flying Tiger" Claire Lee Chennault. In 1928 the Academy Award-winning film "Wings" was filmed at the base.

World War II brought major changes, including the consolidation of Kelly and Duncan fields. A part of Kelly became the Aviation Cadet Reception Center, later to become Lackland Air Force Base. All pilot training was transferred to other installations, and Kelly became the base for the San Antonio Air Materiel Area, which stored and distributed materiel and modified or repaired aircraft, engines, and related equipment. After the war Kelly continued to expand and had worldwide logistic responsibilities for such aircraft as the B-29, B-50, B-36, B-47, and B-58 bombers; F-102 and F-106 fighters; and various cargo aircraft, including the huge C-5 transport. To provide the facilities necessary to meet those responsibilities all of the remaining World War I hangers were removed, and a million-square-foot hanger was constructed. It was the largest structure in the world without center columns. In keeping with developing technology, mechanized central receiving operations, underground fuel and defuel systems, modern data-processing systems, and an automated air freight terminal were installed at Kelly. In addition to the logistical mission, Kelly AFB was host to the Electronics Security Command, the Air Force News Service, and national guard and reserve units. In 1993 Kelly was scheduled to be closed by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

A Brief History of Kelly Air Force Base (Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, n.d.). San Antonio Express-News, May 23, 28, 30, 1993. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Art Leatherwood, "Kelly Air Force Base," accessed March 20, 2018,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.