Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base
Ellington Air Force Base
|Part of Texas Air National Guard (TX ANG)|
|Located near: Houston, Texas|
MQ-1B Predator – 147th Reconnaissance Wing – Ellington Field Texas
|In use||1917 – present|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
147th Reconnaissance Wing
World War I
World War II
|IATA: EFD – ICAO: KEFD – FAA LID: EFD|
|Elevation AMSL||32 ft / 10 m|
- See: Ellington Airport (Texas) for civil airport information
Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base is a joint installation shared by various active component and reserve component military units, as well as aircraft flight operations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the aegis of the nearby Johnson Space Center. The host wing for the installation is the Texas Air National Guard's 147th Reconnaissance Wing (147 RW). Opened in 1917, Ellington Field was one of thirty-two Air Service training camps established after the United States entry into World War I.
The United States Air Force's 147th Reconnaissance Wing is an Air National Guard (ANG) unit operationally-gained by the Air Combat Command (ACC). The 147 RW provides a 24/7 capability with MQ-1B Predator Unmanned Aerial Systems. In its conduct of combat support sorties, the 147 RW provides theater and national-level leadership with critical real-time Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Air-to-Ground Munitions and strike capability. A collocated Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) provides terminal control for weapons employment in a Close Air Support (CAS) scenario, integrating combat air and ground operations.
New construction designated under the "Grow the Army" project was completed in 2010. The project consisted of ten buildings for the Army National Guard and reserve units, including a battle command training center complete with state-of-the-art computerized equipment. “This will be a tremendous cost benefit to the Army Reserve as travel and logistical costs will be streamlined,” noted Major General Eldon Regua, 75th division commander.
The $80 million construction project includes a 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) Battle Command Training Center, which simulates war conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan., a second Armed Forces Reserve Center with an assembly hall and offices, a Welcome Center, which will handle retention, recruitment and military identification services. The military ID center is expected to bring thousands of retired and active military annually to Greater Houston to renew or pick up IDs, Navy, Marine Corps and Army Reserve maintenance and storage facilities, a security checkpoint and the relocation of Coast Guard Sector Houston/Galveston from Galena Park to a new $20 millon facility scheduled to be completed in 2013.
Ellington now has the rare distinction of having all five military branches of the U.S. Department of Defense – Army, Navy and Marine Reserve units, Army and Air National Guard – in addition to the Coast Guard under the Department of Homeland Security, and NASA operations – on one base.
World War I
In 1917, the U.S. government purchased 1,280 acres (5.2 km²) of land from Dr. R. W. Knox and the Wright Land Company to establish an airbase in Houston. The location, near Genoa Township in southeast Houston, was selected because the weather conditions were ideal for flight training. Soldiers from nearby Camp Logan briefly assisted with the construction of the airfield when civilian workers went on strike. Soon after construction began on the airfield, the base was named after Lt. Eric Lamar Ellington, an Army pilot killed four years earlier in a plane crash in San Diego.
The base, which consisted of a few hangars and some wooden headquarters buildings, was completed in a matter of months. By the end of 1917, the field was ready to receive its first squadron – the 120th Aero Squadron, which was transferred from Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, along with its Curtiss JN4 Jenny biplanes, which were shipped in wooden crates via railroad. In December, the first planes from Ellington Field flew over Houston for a benefit for the American Red Cross. A flight of ten JN-4s took off from grass runways and followed the interurban tracks stretching north from Genoa to Houston. Throngs of men, women, and children watched in amazement as the JN-4s flew overhead. The roar of the aircraft was almost drowned out by the wail of sirens and factory whistles as the planes passed over. As the planes circled the city, they dropped paper flyers for the American Red Cross. Next, the formation flew to Camp Logan and then turned south toward Galveston Island. The entire flight took about an hour.
During World War I, Ellington served as an advanced flight training base. As of 1918, Ellington had its own gunnery and bombing range on a small peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico near San Leon, Texas. Training units assigned to Ellington Field were:
- Post Headquarters, Ellington Field, November 1917-January 1920
- 120th Aero Squadron (Service), November 1917-February 1918 (Deployed to: American Expeditionary Forces, France)
- 69th Aero Squadron (II), February 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "A", July–November 1918
- 70th Aero Squadron (II), March 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "B", July–November 1918
- 113th Aero Squadron (II), March 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "C", July–November 1918
- 232d Aero Squadron (II), April 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "D", July–November 1918
- 233d Aero Squadron (II), April 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "E", July–November 1918
- 250th Aero Squadron, November 1917
- Re-designated as Squadron "F", July–November 1918
- 272d Aero Squadron, April 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "G", July–November 1918
- 285th Aero Squadron, March 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "H", July–November 1918
- 286th Aero Squadron, March 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "I", July–November 1918
- 303d Aero Squadron (Service), June 1918
- Re-designated as Squadron "K", July–November 1918
- Squadron "L", August–December 1918
- Squadron "M", September–December 1918
- Squadron "N", November–December 1918
- 850th Aero Squadron,
- Re-designated as Squadron "O",
- Squadron "X", September–December 1918
- Squadron "Y", September–December 1918
- Squadron "Z", September–December 1918
- Flying School Detachment (Consolidation of Squadrons A-Z), November 1918-September 1919
For the first months of operation, Ellington Field had no pilot fatalities. Within the year, however, this record changed for the worse. By August 1918, Ellington Field recorded the most pilot fatalities of the 18 U.S. Army Air Service training bases in the United States. Ellington became well known in military circles, and had a series of "firsts", including the first camp newspaper, the first American aerial gunnery and bombing range, the first "canteen girls", and the first aerial ambulance in American military history. Before the end of the war, approximately 5,000 men and 250 aircraft were assigned to the base.
Ellington was considered surplus to requirements after World War I and the base was inactivated as an active duty airfield in January 1920. A small caretaker unit was kept at the airfield for administrative reasons, but generally, the only flight activity during this time was from Army pilots stationed at Kelly Field who flew down to practice landings on Ellington's runways.
In May 1923, the War Department had ordered the small caretaker force at Ellington Field to dismantle all remaining structures and to sell them as surplus. Orders to abandon Ellington Field were abruptly halted, however, when the War Department authorized the Texas National Guard to establish an aviation squadron. General John A. Hulen, commander of the U.S. 36th Division, announced the formation of the 111th Observation Squadron. General Hulen assured the citizens of Houston that the new air squadron was not a daredevil outfit. Hulen believed that the reactivation of Ellington Field as a reserve base would provide Houston an airfield and rekindle public interest in military aviation. With the news of the formation of the Air Squadron, one Houston Chronicle reporter christened the 111th Observation Squadron "Houston’s Own," thus beginning a long relationship between Houston and the National Guard. The squadron, which flew Curtiss JN-6Hs and Dayton-Wright DH-4s, provided mapping, photography, and reconnaissance support for the 36th Infantry Division.
Though the 111th Observation Squadron had the excess World War I storage and maintenance facilities at Ellington Field, the squadron did not have a true headquarters building. Major Law requested funds from Texas and the U.S. National Guard, but unfortunately monies were not available for new buildings. Law, however, was able convince several local Houston businessmen to donate space in a downtown office building. In 1924, the 111th Observation Squadron headquarters was relocated to the Gas Company Building in downtown Houston. The use of downtown civilian facilities, however, highlighted the two major inadequacies of Ellington Field: deteriorating facilities and the great distance of the field from Houston.
In 1925 General William Mitchell conducted a "flying tour" of all National Guard Observation Squadrons throughout the United States. On a return trip from the West Coast, General Mitchell came to south Texas for an inspection of Ellington Field. Once on the ground, Mitchell commented that the 111th Observation Squadron was one of the best units in the nation. Mitchell spoke to enthusiastic crowds at Ellington Field confirming his belief that a strong Air Force was vital to national defense.
Also the possibility of a new municipal airfield endangered the existence of Ellington Field, rumors circulated throughout the Texas National Guard that the War Department wanted to transfer the aviation schools at Kelly and Brooks Fields to Houston. In 1926, Houston was in the process of planning a modern municipal airfield so that Houston would remain a center of commerce and trade in south Texas.
Several years later in 1927, Ellington's status was again threatened as local city leaders began to discuss the construction of a municipal airport. That airport, the present day William P. Hobby Airport, confirmed the squadron's fears that Ellington's aging facilities were obsolete; as a result the Texas National Guard decided to move the 111th to new facilities at the municipal airport instead.
The Texas National Guard and 36th Infantry Division bought most of the airfield's buildings, but the field remained unused; by 1928 Ellington was again overtaken by tall prairie grass. That same year, a fire engulfed what was left of the airfield, consuming its remaining structures, except for the concrete foundations and a metal water tower. For the next 12 years, the U.S. military leased the land to local ranchers for use as pasture.
World War II
World War II, with its increasing need for trained pilots, helped to reestablish Ellington Field as an active facility. Rep. Albert Thomas, one of Houston's representatives in the United States House of Representatives, pushed for rebuilding Ellington as a pilot training center. Beyond the area's excellent weather for flying, Thomas argued that the Houston area's petroleum refineries, upon which the war effort depended, would need military protection in the region. In 1940, construction began on a much-expanded Ellington Field, which eventually included five control towers, two 46,000-square-foot (4,300 m2) hangars, the most modern medical complex in south Texas and 74 barracks.
Ellington Field was the site for advanced flight training for bomber pilots. Initial plans called for the training of 2,800 bomber pilots per year at Ellington Field or about ten percent of the total number of pilots trained throughout the United States. Beginning at five-week intervals, classes of 274 cadets entered the 10-week course. Cadets moved from the AT-6 to the more complex twin-engine AT-10 or AT-11. At that level, cadets were taught how to fly the larger multi-engine aircraft. After successful completion of the advanced training course, graduates were transferred to different airfields for more training in actual bombers. Eventually the USAAC Advanced Flying School was transferred to Blackland Army Airfield in Waco.
Ellington Field was also a site for the USAAC Bombardier School, also known as "the Bombardment Academy of the Air." At Ellington Field, officials planned to train 4,480 bombardier cadets per year. Bombardier cadets spent most of their time during the 10-week course in the classroom learning the skills necessary to accurately drop bombs on enemy targets. Hands-on training for the bombardier cadets took place over the Gulf of Mexico. In AT-10s or AT-11s, bombardier students practiced bombing several small islands in Matagorda Bay or small target boats anchored in the bay. The Bombardier School remained at Ellington Field until 1942.
In 1943 Ellington Field became the site for advanced navigator training. Army Air Forces Training Command transferred the Navigator School from Mather Field in California to Houston. The USAAF Navigator School consisted of a rigorous 18-week course consisting of instruction in celestial navigation and dead reckoning. To complete the course, cadets were required to have 100 hours in navigating both local and long-range flights. By 1944 the Navigator School used instructors with combat experience to teach classes. Veteran navigators from every theater of operations lectured cadets at Ellington Field. These lectures were invaluable to cadets because the veteran navigators gave their students insights into navigating under combat conditions and life overseas. From 1941 to 1945 the Navigator School graduated 4,000 USAAF navigators that were assigned to every theater of operations during the Second World War.
By the end of 1943, more than 65 women who served in the Women's Army Corps were also stationed at Ellington. The WACs worked in noncombat Army jobs in order to free men for combat duty. "By taking over an Army job behind the lines, she frees a fighting man to join his fellow soldiers on the road to Victory," stated WAC director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby. Ellington served primarily as a reserve airbase from the end of the war in 1945 until 1948.
Air Training Command
In 1948, Ellington Airport was one of many airfields selected to be reactivated in an effort to maintain a large military force in the United States after World War II. The airfield was reopened for active duty on 31 March 1949 and renamed Ellington Air Force Base. The Air Force activated the 3605th Navigation School and opened a USAF navigator school. The first class entered training on 8 August 1949. Navigator cadets trained in TB-25 "Mitchell" and T-29 "Flying Classroom" aircraft. The program was part of a two-base effort, in which Ellington would provide basic navigation training and its graduates would then be reassigned to Mather AFB, California for advanced training.
Navigation training was enhanced at Ellington when the Air Force installed a microwave navigation system. To help navigators learn celestial positioning, a Houston resident paid for the construction of a planetarium at Ellington. The planetarium, which stood 50 feet (15 m) high and was topped by an aluminum dome, could hold 40 students.
In 1952, Air Training Command (ATC) expanded the training program at Ellington with the establishment of a multi-engine flying training program as part of Flying Training Air Force. As a cost-cutting measure, Headquarters USAF directed ATC in November 1953 to reorganize its Air Force Observer training program and decrease training time. ATC managed the restructure by converting primary observer training into a primary basic course and by providing advanced instruction in the basic course. Ellington was designated to provide primary observer training, with the establishment of the 3605th Observer Training Wing. In 1956, navigator and observer training were consolidated, which consisted of 42 weeks, including 180 hours of in-flight training.
During 1958–59, USAF navigator training training operations were consolidated at Mather AFB and James Connally AFB, followed by a second consolidation to Mather AFB as the sole training location in the early 1960s.
Air Defense Command
Ellington AFB was selected as one of the first of twenty-four Air Defense Command stations of the permanent United States surveillance radar network. On 2 December 1948, the Air Force directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with construction of this and the other twenty-three sites.
Radar facilities were activated on 1 February 1953 with the 747th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron operating a pair of AN/FPS-10 radars The station was designated P-79. In 1955 the Air Force placed an AN/FPS-8 at Ellington that subsequently became an AN/GPS-3. This set operated until 1960. In 1957 an AN/FPS-6 set replaced the AN/FPS-10 height-finder radar.
In addition to the main facility, Ellington operated two AN/FPS-14 Gap Filler sites:
- Fannett, TX (P-79A):
- Van Vleck, TX (P-79B):
By 1960 Ellington performed air traffic control duties for the FAA with an ARSR-1 radar, being designated FAA site J-15. On 31 July 1963, the site was redesignated as NORAD ID Z-79. The 747th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was inactivated on 31 December 1969 and the FAA operated the ARSR-1 afterwards.
- 33d Air Division, 1 February 1953
- Oklahoma City Air Defense Sector, 1 January 1960
- 4752d Air Defense Wing, 1 September 1961
- Oklahoma City Air Defense Sector, 25 June 1963
- 31st Air Division
In late 1972 the radar facilities at Ellington were reactivated by Aerospace Defense Command, and given the new NORAD designation Z-240. Ellington became Operating Location "C" or the 630th Radar Squadron arrived which operated an AN/FPS-90 height-finder radar, which was modified to an AN/FPS-116 circa 1977. The AN/FPS-116 was retired circa 1988. Air Force use of Ellington ceased on 30 September 1998 when an FAA ARSR-4 radar was activated nearby at Morales, TX (J-15A) as part of the Joint Surveillance System (JSS).
Air Force Reserve
The United States Navy opened a short-lived Naval Air Reserve Center at Ellington in 1957. Navy pilots and aircrews flew amphibious UF-1 Albatross and land-based P2V Neptune aircraft on antisubmarine and maritime patrol training missions over the Gulf of Mexico, but budget problems forced its closure just a year later.
The Air Force transferred Ellington AFB to Continental Air Command effective 1 April 1958 and navigator training was reassigned to Mather AFB, California and James Connally AFB, Texas. As a result, in 1959, Ellington was downgraded to a reserve Air Force Base, and has served the military in that capacity since; the Civil Air Patrol also moved its national headquarters from Bolling Air Force Base, DC to Ellington the same year. In addition, Ellington also routinely hosted several college level Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps summer courses/Field Training encampments, hosting officer candidates from 22 states until that summer program was consolidated at the Air Force's Officer Training School facility at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. The Civil Air Patrol has also since relocated their national headquarters to Maxwell AFB, Alabama, but a local CAP unit still remains at Ellington.
After Ellington’s transfer to CONAC, Air Force Reserve activities played a larger role. In 1959, the 446 th Troop Carrier Wing hosted an "air rodeo." This event was held to determine which USAF Reserve cargo squadron was the most accurate in the nation. Competition took place in the skies above Ellington and on the blacktop tarmac below. Forty aircrews from 14 air cargo wings represented 12 states in the unusual contest. During the event, aircrews dropped 260-pound bundles from C-119s flying high above the base and attempted to hit designated targets on the ground. Ellington's own 446th Troop Carrier Wing won the first annual competition.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Ellington Field was utilized for pilot and navigator training for active air force, air force reservists, air national guardsmen, and Navy, Marine, and foreign students. NASA established Ellington as its base for astronaut flight training in the early 1960s because of its proximity to the newly constructed Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. The T-38 Talon (T-38N) is the primary jet aircraft used for astronaut training at Ellington. The field was the site of the Apollo lunar landing training program. Most of NASA’s aircraft based at the Johnson Space Center are kept and maintained at the base.
Ellington Field was officially inactivated by the Air Force in 1976 and all Air Force Reserve squadrons were transferred to other military facilities; however, the Texas Air National Guard, the Texas Army National Guard, the U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Navy Reserve, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard Air Station Houston) still maintain a military presence at the base. In 1984, the city of Houston purchased Ellington to use as a third civil airport, and it was renamed Ellington Airport on 14 January 2009, while the military cantonment area is known as Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base and Coast Guard Air Station Houston.
- Air National Guard
- Civil Air Patrol (US Air Force Auxiliary)
- List of active United States military aircraft
- List of military aircraft of the United States
- List of United States Air Force installations
- Texas World War II Army Airfields
- List of USAF Aerospace Defense Command General Surveillance Radar Stations
- List of Training Section Air Service airfields
- William R. Evinger: Directory of Military Bases in the U.S., Oryx Press, Phoenix, Ariz., 1991, p. 147.
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- "WACS Train at Ellington Field, Texas,". UT Discovery. Retrieved 2007-03-02.
- Cornett, Lloyd H. and Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 – 1980,  Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson AFB, CO (1980)
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- "Ellington name changes from “Field” to “Airport”." Houston Airport System. 15 January 2009. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.