|SAC Bases: Forbes
Air Force Base
| Forbes Field
(also known as the Topeka Army Airfield and later as Forbes Air Force Base
during DOD use) consisted of 4,233 acres. Forbes Field is located
approximately 3 miles south of Topeka, Kansas in Shawnee County. The site is
east of and adjacent to Highway 75. Forbes Field is an active municipal
airport operated by the Topeka Airport Authority. The former administrative
area is now used for commercial offices, state offices, and an industrial
park. The Kansas Air National Guard also uses a portion of the site. Most of
the site is developed, but there are portions of the site (south and east of
the main runway) that are heavily wooded and undeveloped.
World War II
Congress authorized the Topeka Army Air Field (TAAF)
building project within two weeks after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl
Harbor. Eight months later, the completed air base -- essential buildings,
hangars, repair shops, steam heating plants, fuel storage and three 7,000 by
150-foot paved runways -- was formally accepted by the Army Air Corps. In
August 1942 the first troops arrived and had to be quartered in the
agriculture building on the Topeka Fair Grounds because their green wood
two-story barracks buildings weren't finished yet. By September 1942, the
field was the home of the 333rd Bombardment Group. By 1945 TAAF was one of
three B-29 centers where newly transitioned crews claimed new
Superfortresses and took off for the Pacific to aid in the assault on the
Japanese home islands. On 31 October 1947 Topeka Army Air Field was
During World War II there were ammunition storage
bunkers and small arms ranges. These features were removed during
construction of the new runway. New ammunition storage bunkers and ordnance
storage warehouses were constructed. The bunkers are currently being leased
to a company for storage of explosives and are locked. The ordnance storage
warehouses are being used by the airport authority for storage. There is an
area south of the bunkers that is suspected of being a burial site for
rocket fuel and munitions.
The SAC Years
On 01 July 1948 Topeka Army Air Field
reactivated as a Strategic Air Command base (SAC); home to the 311th Air
Division, Reconnaissance, and to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.
That mission continued until 14 October 1949, when the base was again
inactivated. During that activation, TAAF was renamed Forbes Air Force Base
in memory of Maj. Daniel H. Forbes, a Topeka pilot killed June 5, 1948,
while testing the Northrop XB-49 "Flying Wing" jet bomber near Muroc Dry
During the Korean War, Forbes AFB reopened and was
again assigned to SAC. on 16 February 1951 the 21st Air Division was
activated at Forbes, and the division's 90th Bombardment Wing moved to the
base in February and March. The wing trained SAC's newly activated 376th,
308th and 310th Bomb Wings. From June 1951 to August 1953 it also trained
B-29 replacement crews for combat. About 10 a month were trained until
August 1952 when the bomb wing training program was concluded and the number
of B-29 crews produced was doubled.
On 16 June 1952 the 90th was redesignated the
90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Medium, and five months later started
training recon crews as replacements for Far East Air Forces. During October
1952 the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing moved to Forbes from Ramey AFB,
Puerto Rico, continuing its program of photography, photomapping and
In June 1960 the 90th SRW was deactivated and
replaced by the 40th Bomb Wing, transferred from Schilling AFB, Salina. The
40th was there until 1964 and it flew the B-47. The Tactical Air Command
began operation of the base in 1965.
In October 1958, Topeka received news that Forbes AFB
would support Atlas E missile sites to be constructed in the surrounding
area. The Corps of Engineers Kansas City District managed construction of
the nine “coffins” where the missiles would be stored horizontally. Although
Forbes was slated to have three sites with three missiles at each site, in
February 1959, the Air Force directed that each missile be placed at an
individual launch site, These sites were situated at or near Valley Falls,
Dover, Waverly, Osage City, Delia, Wamego, Overbrook, Holton, and Bushong.
Construction officially began on June 9,1959, when Kansas Governor George
Docking drove a silver nail into a construction form.
Site construction was split between two firms,
with one firm responsible for work at three sites and the other for work at
the other six. There were difficulties encountered due to some 519
modifications made during construction. One modification concerned the
propellant loading system. Prefabricated in Pittsburgh by Blaw-Knox
Manufacturing for Atlas E sites at Vandenberg AFB, California; Warren AFB,
Wyoming; Fairchild AFB, Washington; and Forbes AFB, the system components
were to arrive on skids bolted together. Unfortunately the skids often
arrived late and testing revealed system defects that took time to correct.
Labor-management problems caused occasional
setbacks in construction. During the project there were 22 work stoppages,
most of which were quickly resolved. However, in October and November 1960,
a long work stoppage occurred due to a work assignment dispute between the
hoisting engineers and the electrical workers. The problem was resolved
after the National Labor Relations Board issued a restraining order. There
were 25 lost-time accidents during construction, including two fatalities
that were electricity-related. One minor disturbance occurred at one of the
sites when student pickets from McPherson College arrived to protest the
deployment of ICBMs.
Despite the labor problems and student pickets, the
project continued on schedule. On July 1, 1960, the 548th Strategic Missile
Squadron stood up. Nearly 6 months later, on January 24, 1961, the first
Atlas missile arrived at Forbes. By October, all nine sites had their Atlas
E missiles. The Forbes sites were completed 3 weeks ahead of schedule. On
October 16, 1961, Air Force Ballistic Missile Activation Chief, Maj. Gen.
Gerrity turned over operational control of the sites to Second Air Force
Commander Lt. Gen. John D. Ryan. In the ensuing press conference the two
generals urged Kansans to become interested in constructing fallout shelters
as an insurance policy that could enhance deterrence.
As a result of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s
May 1964 directive accelerating the decommissioning of Atlas and Titan I
missile bases. The 40th Bomb Wing was discontinued and inactivated
September 1, 1964. The 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was deactivated on
March 25, 1965. Forbes became a Tactical Air Command facility , but was
closed by the Department of Defense in 1973. Improvements included runways,
hangars, barracks, administrative and support structures and facilities. The
site was disposed of in a series of transactions from 1945 to 1986.
Topeka Airport Authority
In January, 1974, the Metropolitan Topeka Airport
Authority was created by Topeka City Charter Ordinance to oversee the
transition period, the title for most of the 3100-acre facility was
transferred to the City of Topeka in April of 1976. Title was transferred to
the city, less the Air Guard enclave on the northern third of the 6,000-foot
north-south ramp, a portion of the south ramp and four associated buildings
reserved for the Kansas Army National Guard. Commercial air service was
moved to Forbes in May of 1976 and a month later Frontier Airlines initiated
the first-ever jet service to Topeka.
In November, 1978, Shawnee County voters approved
legislation making the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority an autonomous
agency working under state statutes. Taxing authority was established by KSA
27-333, which calls for 1.85 mills per year of county taxes. County voters
turned down a bond issue for a new air terminal in 1981 but passed the issue
a year later. The new five million dollar terminal was opened in 1985.
Currently US Airways serves the community. In addition, the new air terminal
has one rental car agency.
The Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority's
responsibilities also include Philip Billard Airport, a general aviation
facility Northeast of Topeka; the Topeka Air Industrial Park, the former
Forbes Cantonment Area; and Forbes Field.
The Industrial Park has undergone considerable
renovation. Over 90% of the original wooden structures have been removed and
the area cleaned up. Many of the remaining buildings are being
rehabilitated. Over fifteen million dollars have gone into the two airports.
Improvements have been made to all taxiways and runways at both Billard and
Forbes. Although considerable progress has been made, plans call for even
more renovation and construction to continue operating and developing the
community's airport system.
Air carrier operations were moved from Philip Billard
Municipal Airport to Forbes Field, and jet service was initiated there June
1, 1976. The field has an 8,000- by 150-foot and a 12,800- by 200-foot
runway, both maintained to a high standard by Defense Department funds, plus
a 100-acre parking apron and relatively moderate traffic level.
The 190th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) of the Kansas Air
National Guard (KANG) occupies 215 acres on the south side of Topeka
Airport, located approximately 5 miles south of downtown Topeka, Kansas. The
mission of the 190th ARW is to “Provide a professional trained militia,
ready to serve community, state and nation”. The unit currently flies the
KC-135E/D Stratotanker. The 190th ARW occupies 7 administrative facilities,
16 industrial facilities, and 2 services facilities totaling approximately
523,100 square feet with 323 full time personnel. Unit training drills
conducted once a month result in a surge of up to a total of 1152 personnel.