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Columbus AFB: A Heritage of Training

  • Published
  • By Leo Goodsell
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Historian

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss – For nearly 80 years, training pilots has been a cornerstone of Columbus Air Force Base’s rich history and a large part of Air Education and Training Command’s initiative and tradition to recruit, train and educate Airmen to deliver airpower for America.  

Columbus AFB began its training history on June 26, 1941, when the United States War Department approved an Army Air Field for the Columbus, Mississippi, area. Behind this approval were months of concerted efforts by the area’s leading citizens to secure a military air base near Columbus, Mississippi.

The base began as a twin-engine advanced flying school training fighters and bombers. Construction began in September 1941, and in January 1942, 100 enlisted men arrived to establish base operations. Initially named Kaye Field in honor of Capt. Sam Kaye, World War I flying ace from Columbus, the name was soon changed to Columbus Army Flying School due to a nearby base having a similar sounding name.

The Columbus flying school received its first aircraft in early 1942. The first 25 student pilots arrived from Barksdale Field, Louisiana, in February 1942. They graduated March 6, 1942, having completed a considerable amount of their training prior to coming to Columbus. During World War II, 7,412 graduated and received their commissions and silver wings. After the war, training was greatly reduced, leading the War Department to inactivate the base in 1946.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 increased the need for pilots. Air Training Command reactivated Columbus AFB as a station for a contract flying school. California Eastern Airways was contracted to provide pilot training.

On April 1, 1955, Columbus AFB was transferred from ATC to Strategic Air Command and Second Air Force. To accommodate the new mission of the base, city officials deeded an additional 3,000 acres to the base for building a northwest-southeast runway and additional housing.

In 1957, Columbus AFB became the home of a B-52 squadron and a KC-135 jet refueling tanker squadron as part of the new 4228th Strategic Wing. The first KC-135 Stratotanker, piloted by the wing commander, landed on the new runway on Jan. 7, 1959, followed by the arrival of the first B-52May 28.

In February 1963, SAC replaced the 4228th Strategic Wing with the 454th Bombardment Wing, Heavy to conduct air refueling operations and train in bombardment. Beginning in the summer of 1965, the wing’s headquarters staff, tactical aircraft and crews, and maintenance personnel became a part of SAC combat forces in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. While the 454th Bombardment Wing was involved in the Vietnam War, the 454th Combat Support Group operated Columbus AFB.

After 14 years as a SAC base, Columbus AFB was transferred back to Air Training Command and to its original mission of training pilots July 1, 1969. The training was under the command of the newly activated 3650th Pilot Training Wing. The first undergraduate pilot training class, 71-01, entered training July 17, 1969. ATC discontinued the 3650th on June 1, 1972, and activated the 14th Flying Training Wing in its place.

The 14th Flying Training Wing continues under 19th Air Force and AETC, housing the command’s largest fleet of 231 aircraft, including T-6s, T-1s and T-38s. In fiscal year 2021, the 14th FTW executed 76,000 flying hours and 35,000 sorties, and awarded over 350 wings to the Air Force’s newest pilots – the largest in Columbus AFB’s history.

This initiative will be furthered by the arrival of the T-7A program, which will help close vital training gaps between fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft. From the first flight at Columbus AFB to today’s flights, members of Columbus AFB continue to help advance the development of the force, while executing the wing’s mission to, “train world class pilots.”