Kearney Air Force Base

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Kearney Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png
Kearney Army Airfield

Part of Strategic Air Command
Center Township, Buffalo County, near Kearney, Nebraska
Kearney Air Force Base - Nebraska.jpg
2006 USGS Orthophoto
Kearney AFB is located in Nebraska
Kearney AFB
Kearney AFB
Coordinates 40°43′37″N 099°00′24″W / 40.72694°N 99.00667°W / 40.72694; -99.00667
Type Air Force Base
Site information
Site history
Built 1941-1942
In use 1942-1949
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Kearney Regional Airport

Kearney Air Force Base (IATA: EARICAO: KEARFAA LID: EAR), was a military airport located four nautical miles (7 km) northeast of the central business district of Kearney, a city in Buffalo County, Nebraska, United States. After its closure, it was redeveloped into Kearney Regional Airport.

History[edit]

In 1940, Kearney had a population of 9,643 people. In the early 1940s, three Nebraska cities, Kearney, Grand Island and Hastings joined together to form the Central Nebraska Defense Council when it was learned that the United States Army Air Forces was considering the site for a military airfield. The group attempted to convince Washington that central Nebraska was a suitable location for defense related activities. Kearney and Grand Island effectively competed with one another as locations for defense airports which would serve as storage for aircraft being produced at Offutt Field and the Glenn L. Martin Bomber Plant near Omaha.

As early as 1941 the City of Kearney voted on a $60,000 bond to finance a new airport. Kearney Regional Airport began as Keens Municipal Airport. The total cost ended up being more than $360,000, with the balance funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Construction began at the site five miles east of Kearney on Highway 30 on 21 October 1941, and was dedicated as Keens Airport on 23 August 1942, with asphalt runways and a single hangar

World War II[edit]

Shortly after the dedication of Keens Airport at Kearney, rumors spread that an army airfield may be located at Kearney. The City of Kearney not only offered the use of the Keens 532 acre (2.2 km²) airfield, but signed a long-term lease with the Army for $1.00 per year for as long as the field was needed. An additional 2,227.5 acres (9.0 km²) of farmland was condemned by the Army to provide more room.

By September 1942, the rumors appeared true, and the Army Corps of Engineers inspected the new airport, only to decide that it was inadequate for the kind of use it would receive. In October 1942, approximately 1,000 laborers were brought in to build a new airfield adjacent to the Keens Airport. When completed, as many as 139 B-29 Superfortresses could be parked along the taxiways of the new army airfield. Six large hangars were constructed, including the steel hangar at the extreme south end of the airfield which was completed in July 1944 to hold two B-17 Flying Fortresses. Construction proceeded at a frantic pace. For example, construction began on the first of several mess halls on October 7. By October 12, meals were being served to 400 men in this new building. Housing was constructed to accommodate 542 officers, 3,230 enlisted men and 132 WACs (Women's Air Corps). Construction of Kearney Army Airfield was officially complete by 1 February 1943.

Kearney AAF was placed under the command of Second Air Force Headquarters, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 485th Army Air Force Base Unit commanded the support elements at Kearney as part of Air Technical Service Command. The 485th was assigned to the 21st Bombardment Wing (February - August 1943) then transferred to the 17th Bombardment Training Wing in August 1943 for Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress training. The 485th was transferred back to the 21st Bombardment Wing (November 1943 - on).

The base served a dual purpose during 1943: one for training, the other for processing. It became a training field with the arrival of the 100th Bombardment Group. The 100th became the parent group responsible for producing cadres for new Army Air groups being formed and for training of combat crews. The ground crews were stationed at Kearney while the air crews were divided among various bases where they served as instructors. Then, having organized its offspring units, the 100th reunited at Kearney in mid-April and prepared for overseas movement. It departed Kearney in May and joined the Eighth Air Force in England.

The following unit was assigned this base - 3rd Heavy Bombardment Processing Headquarters (Provisional) & 7th Heavy Bombardment Processing Headquarters. After the 100th moved out in May, it was decided to move the processing unit out of Kearney and to make the Kearney Air Base a replacement training center to develop replacement crews, provide them with second and third phase training before sending them off to staging centers for overseas duty. The 393d Bombardment Group replaced the 100th BG in that role.

However, Kearney's days as a replacement training center lasted only from August to November 1943. On 1 November the 393d Bombardment Group was transferred to Sioux City AAF Iowa, and was replaced by the bombardment processing units for B-17, and later Boeing B-29 Stratofortress, crews and planes.

From then until the end of the war Kearney Army Airfield remained a processing station.

With the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945, work at Kearney increased as attention was devoted to the war against Japan and the expanding B-29 program. After Japan's surrender in August, 1945, the number of base personnel gradually diminished, and by 1 March 1946 the base was reduced to mere housekeeping functions and it seemed as if it might be deactivated.

Kearney Air Force Base[edit]

North American F-82E Twin Mustangs, Serial 46-294 and 46-295 of the 27th FW, 1948. These aircraft were sent to reclamation at Robbins AFB, Georgia on 24 April 1951.
27th Fighter-Escort Wing F-82s at Kearney AFB, 1948 F-82E 46-354 identifiable, along with Bell-Atlanta B-29-60-BA Superfortress 44-84064.

By December 1946, it was announced that fifty-two additional housing units were to be constructed at Kearney AAF, which was the first evidence that the base would remain open. With the establishment of Strategic Air Command the Eighth Air Force 27th Fighter Wing was activated at Kearney Army Airfield on 28 July 1947. The operational squadrons of the 27th Fighter Wing were:

  • 522d Fighter Squadron
  • 523d Fighter Squadron
  • 524th Fighter Squadron

The 27th was initially equipped with the North American P-51D Mustang, and in 1948 was upgraded to the new North American F-82E Twin Mustang. In June 1948 the designation "P" for pursuit was changed to "F" for fighter. Subsequently, all P-51s were redesignated F-51s.

The mission of the 27th Fighter Wing was to fly long-range escort missions for SAC B-29 bombers. With the arrival of the F-82s, the older F-51s were sent to Air National Guard units.

From a key personnel numbering only four in July 1946 the base population increased to 795 by 31 August and to a postwar peak of 2,344 by March 1948. With the establishment of the United States Air Force as an independent service in September 1947, the name of the airfield was changed to Kearney Air Force Base in January, 1948.

However, the Air Force considered the facility substandard. The two major deficiencies were inadequate housing facilities (even though twenty-six new fourplex apartment houses had been built) and a need for additional funds of $2,800,000 to bring existing facilities up to desired operating standards. With the tight defense budgets in the late 1940s, the decision was made by Strategic Air Command decided to close the base.

The official announcement to move the 27th Fighter Wing was made on 16 February 1949 and operations officially ceased at Kearney on 15 March.

The 27th Fighter Wing was transferred to Bergstrom AFB, Texas on 16 March 1949. On 19 December 1949, Kearney Air Force Base was turned over to the City of Kearney for use as a municipal airport. After acquisitions, the city removed two of the three runways and some of the associated taxiways from service.

Today only a handful of buildings from the military era remain at Kearney Airport, the predominant one being Hangar 385.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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

External links[edit]