(former Avenger Army Airfield)
|USGS 2006 orthophoto|
|IATA: SWW – ICAO: KSWW – FAA LID: SWW|
|Owner||City of Sweetwater|
|Elevation AMSL||2,380 ft / 725 m|
|Source: Federal Aviation Administration|
Avenger Field (IATA: SWW, ICAO: KSWW, FAA LID: SWW) is a public use Texas airport in Nolan County. It is owned by the City of Sweetwater and located three nautical miles (6 km) west of its central business district. This airport is included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011–2015, which categorized it as a general aviation facility.
As a Texas World War II Army Airfield, "Avenger Field" opened in August 1941 as a United States Army Air Forces training base of the AAF Flying Training Command, Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Center (later Central Flying Training Command).
Avenger Field earned the distinction of being the largest all-female air base in American history. The Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP as it was known, began training women pilots in November 1942 at Howard Hughes field in Houston. In February 1943 Avenger Field became an all-female installation except for a few male instructors and other officers.
Classes entered the WASP program at Avenger Field in monthly intervals. A total of 18 classes completed training: 8 in 1943 and 10 in 1944. Of the 25,000 women who applied for flight training, 1,830 were accepted, and of those, 1,074 received their wings. Training for women pilots paralleled but did not duplicate that given the men. Because the women were expected to go into ferrying, emphasis was placed on cross-country flying. Gunnery and formation flight training were omitted.
The first course was four-months long. Although the hours were flexible and varied according to previous training, 115 flying hours were generally called for in addition to 180 hours of ground instruction. As the experience level of the trainees declined, the course was expanded and revised. By the close of 1943, the length had been extended to 27 weeks and the flying hours to 210. Few curricular changes were made in 1944; the main one increased training from 27 to 30 weeks.
The WASPs were employed under the Civil Service program. It was always assumed they would become part of the Army when a proper place within the military organization could be found for them. In fact, bills were introduced in Congress to give them military rank, but even with General Arnold's support, all efforts failed to absorb the WASPs into the military.
Avenger Field remained a WASP training base until December 1944 when it closed, having fulfilled its mission. During its existence, 1,074 women pilots were trained at the facility including the thirty-seven that gave their lives in the service of their country. On December 20, the Army Air Forces, citing the changing combat situation, disbanded the WASP program. The WASPs returned to civilian life with no veterans' benefits. In 1977 Congress finally granted benefits to the 850 remaining WASPs.
At the end of the war the airfield was determined to be excess by the military and turned over to the local government for civil use.
Cold War radar station
The United States Air Force Air Defense Command exercised a right of return to Avenger Field in 1955 when Sweetwater Air Force Station was established as a USAF Aerospace Defense Command General Surveillance Radar Station. The 683d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned to Sweetwater AFS (M-89) on March 1, 1956, being established in new facilities built on the northwest part of the station. New military family housing was also constructed just to the east of the airport. It initially operated AN/MPS-11 search and AN/TPS-10D height-finder radars, and initially the station functioned as a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and warning station. As a GCI station, the squadron's role was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit's radar scopes. In 1961 an AN/FPS-6A replaced the AN/TPS-10D height-finder radar.
In 1963 the AN/FPS-6A evolved into an AN/FPS-90, and on July 31, the site was redesignated as NORAD ID Z-89.
In addition to the main facility, Sweetwater operated several AN/FPS-14 Gap Filler sites:
- Big Spring, TX (M-89B):
- Sidney, TX (M-89E):
In 1967 the search radar was replaced by an AN/FPS-67B. The Air Force ordered Sweetwater AFS closed in 1969 due to budget reductions and the phasing down of Air Defense Command. The 683d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron inactivated on September 30, 1969.
Today, most of the cold war air force station has been redeveloped and new buildings have taken their place at the airport. A few buildings do remain, and the Air Force housing area also remains, now being single-family homes.
Facilities and aircraft
Avenger Field covers an area of 896 acres (363 ha) at an elevation of 2,380 feet (725 m) above mean sea level. It has two asphalt paved runways: 17/35 is 5,840 by 100 feet (1,780 x 30 m) and 4/22 is 5,658 by 75 feet (1,725 x 23 m).
For the 12-month period ending February 6, 2012, the airport had 4,500 general aviation aircraft operations, an average of 12 per day. At that time there were 19 aircraft based at this airport: 95% single-engine and 5% helicopter.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
- Shaw, Frederick J. (2004), Locating Air Force Base Sites History’s Legacy, Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, Washington DC, 2004.
- Thole, Lou (1999), Forgotten Fields of America : World War II Bases and Training, Then and Now - Vol. 2. Publisher: Pictorial Histories Pub, ISBN 1-57510-051-7
- A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 - 1980, by Lloyd H. Cornett and Mildred W. Johnson, Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Winkler, David F. (1997), Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program. Prepared for United States Air Force Headquarters Air Combat Command.
- Information for Sweetwater AFS, TX
- Avenger Field (SWW) at Texas DOT airport directory
- Wartime photos of Avenger Field
- Aerial image as of January 1996 from USGS The National Map
- FAA Terminal Procedures for SWW, effective November 14, 2013
- Resources for this airport: