Avon Park Air Force Range
|Avon Park Air Force Range
MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field
Avon Park Army Air Field
Avon Park Air Force Base
|Part of Air Combat Command (ACC)|
|Located near Avon Park, Florida|
2006 USGS airphoto
|Type||Air Force Bombing Range|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
The Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR), which includes MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field (ICAO: KAGR, FAA LID: AGR), is a United States Air Force bombing range and air-ground training complex in the U.S. state of Florida located in Polk and Highlands Counties approximately 65 miles east of Tampa and east of the city of Avon Park.
Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) consists of approximately 106,000 acres which are primarily used for military air-to-ground training operations. Overlying this acreage is an area of restricted airspace designated R-2901. It is one of only a few active Air Force bombing ranges that are located on the eastern coast of the United States. About 82,000 acres are open to the public for hunting, fishing and recreation when military missions allow, typically on the weekends. In the wake of heightened security measures following worldwide terrorist attacks, the military usually uses the range Monday through Friday.
APAFR serves as the primary air-to-ground training range for the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, and an alternate range for the 23rd Wing's 23rd Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. APAFR is also an important range for military air-to-ground operations originating from nearby Patrick AFB and MacDill AFB, which routinely host numerous squadron/unit level deployments from Active and Reserve USAF, USN, USMC and U.S. Army units, to include Army National Guard and Air National Guard, from across the country to practice air-to-ground operations. Training and readiness requirements in low level flights, night vision training, and the firing/release of various of ordnance and weaponry across the full spectrum of Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army assets, can all be readily employed on the APAFR.
In addition to its live weapons and ordnance delivery range complex, APAFR includes Avon Park Air Force Auxiliary Field, also known as MacDill Air Force Base Auxiliary Field, which consists of an 8,000 foot main runway, an operational control tower, an aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, and limited ramp and hangar facilities. There are no published instrument approach procedures and the airfield is limited to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operations only. MacDill AFB Auxiliary Field can support a variety of aircraft, from light general aviation aircraft used by APAFR personnel for range monitoring issues, to military jet, turboprop and rotary-wing aircraft for expeditionary airfield operations. It can also serve as an alternative for those military aircraft experiencing in-flight emergencies on or in the vicinity of the APAFR and its adjacent Military Operations Areas (Lake Placid MOA, Avon East MOA, Marian MOA, Basinger MOA) and for which an emergency divert to MacDill AFB or Patrick AFB is not practical.
The host unit for APAFR is the 598th Range Squadron (598 RANS), which is a geographically separated unit (GSU) of the 23d Fighter Group (23 FG) and 23d Wing (23 WG), the latter being an Air Combat Command (ACC) composite fighter and rescue wing located at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The 598 RANS is the successor unit to the previous Detachment 1, 23 FG and previous predecessor units such as Det 1, 23 WG and Det 1, 347th Wing.
In addition to the Avon Park Air Force Range, the 598 RANS also oversees the Deployed Unit Complex (DUC), a flight line facility at nearby MacDill Air Force Base for transient military flight crews, maintenance crews and fighter and attack aircraft utilizing the APAFR. This permits visiting squadrons to have ready access to APAFR while concurrently taking advantage of the more robust billeting, messing and aircraft maintenance support capabilities available at MacDill AFB. This combination of facilities provides extensive, diversified and convenient training airspace and ranges with unique training capabilities for military air, ground and air-to-ground training.
The Florida Army National Guard also maintains a permanent ground support facility at APAFR.
World War II
The facility was a pre-war civil airport taken over by the United States Army Air Forces in September 1942. Assigned to III Bomber Command, Third Air Force, the airport was designated as Avon Park Army Air Field and initially was assigned as a sub-base of MacDill Field, near Tampa. Upon activation, the 41st Aviation Squadron was assigned with a mission to convert the civil airport into a military airfield.
In addition to the former civil airport, the Army Air Forces also acquired a total of 218,883.88 acres nearby for a large bombing and gunnery range. Acquisition of 111,165 acres in February 1943 in Okeechobee County increased the site to approximately 352 square miles of territory. The expanded installation, which at that time included the additional leased acreage in Okeechobee County, became the world's largest bombing range. A spur of the Atlantic Southern Railroad also served the base, crossing Arbuckle Creek at what is now called the "burned out bridge," and brought in about 300 rail cars a month. Arbuckle Lake is still called Submarine Lake by some because of the 32-foot replica of a Japanese submarine that was constructed and used for torpedo run training.
Avon Park AAF was placed under the command of the 380th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron on 1 January 1943. The military population peaked at 10,000, a dramatic contrast with the 3,000 civilian population of the nearby city of Avon Park in 1942. In addition, these figures do not include support civilians, military families, nor staff and students at the Lodwick Military Aviation Academy at the civilian Lodwick Field in Avon Park, a facility which was used by the Army Air Forces Training Command as a basic flying training school. With the resultant housing shortage, military personnel took up residence in resort facilities and towns as far away as Lake Wales and Wauchula. The Pinecrest Lakes Club near Avon Park, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, made sixty double rooms available to officers and their families. Likewise, these great numbers of military personnel led to sometimes contentious relations with the town fathers. Records show that servicemen were sometimes charged higher prices than those paid by locals for retail goods and services in the city of Avon Park and surrounding areas. Accordingly, base commanders were known to restrict military traffic to town in an effort to stimulate economic pressure on the shopkeepers and other retailers.
The initial mission of Avon Park was a training base for B-26 Marauder medium bomber crews, with aircrews training at the base as well as at the main base at MacDill Field and Drane Army Airfield in Lakeland, both of which used the range for air-to-ground bombing training. The trainees would drop bombs ranging in size from 15 lb practice bombs to 2000 lb demolition bombs containing 2 tons of high explosives. Targets at the Avon Park Range included a mock 555 acre town on the shore of Lake Arbuckle, a large floating water target on Lake Kissimmee, and an eight-mile railroad bombardment target. In 1943, the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics from Orlando Army Airfield also constructed a special incendiary target for use.
In addition to the bomber training, USAAF aircrews from the field also flew antisubmarine patrols from Avon Park over both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts as part of their training mission, augmenting U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard air operations performing such patrols from their own bases in Florida as a primary mission.
In November 1943, Avon Park Army Airfield stood up as an independent Third Air Force base. The reason was that II Bomber Command transferred the heavy bomber replacement aircrew training mission to Third Air Force when it assumed the B-29 Superfortress training mission. The overflow at MacDill Field led to Avon Park becoming a fully equipped airfield. The 88th Bombardment Group (Heavy), was moved from Walla Walla Army Air Base, Washington, to provide replacement aircrew and pilot transition training in B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber combat aircraft. Avon Park also provided replacement aircrews training in bombing and gunnery skills. B-17s assigned to the base had an "A" for Avon next to the crew door, and by May 1945 the base code was also added to the tail. Avon Park AAF had twenty-six thousand M1A1 practice bombs stored in an open area on 3 July 1945.
Major Units Assigned
- 336th Bombardment Group (Medium), 13 December 1942 – 11 October 1943 (B-26 Operational Training Unit)
- 397th Bombardment Group (Medium), 12 October 1943 – 1 November 1943
- 88th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9 November 1943 – 1 May 1944 (B-17 OTU)
- Re-designated: Avon Park Replacement Training Unit (Heavy Bombardment), 1 May 1944-30 September 1945
Cold War and Biological Warfare experimentation usage
Avon Park Army Airfield went on inactive status in September 1945 and was again assigned to MacDill Field in a caretaker status. Jurisdiction was transferred to Air Technical Service Command (ATSC), whose mission was the transfer of any useful military equipment to other bases around the country. Unlike most wartime facilities that were closed, Avon Park was retained by the Air Force and not transferred to the War Assets Administration (WAA) for disposal.
The facility was subsequently transferred by the Army to the new United States Air Force in September 1947. In 1949, Avon Park was reactivated by the Strategic Air Command (then the major command assigned to MacDill AFB) and renamed Avon Park Air Force Base. At this time, a major military construction and improvement program was begun to include storm drainage, sanitary sewer, electrical and water systems, roads, bridges, runways, fencing and over 500 buildings. These structures included a chapel, administration buildings, dormitories/barracks, recreation facilities, airfield and main base fire stations, mess halls, residences for married personnel, recreational facilities such as a swimming pool and bowling alley, and other miscellaneous structures. At its height, the base spread across 218,000 acres (880 km2).
In 1951, The Florida Department of Corrections' Avon Park Correctional Institution was subsequently established on the installation utilizing former military base infrastructure that was conveyed to the State of Florida. As part of this transfer, correctional staff also replaced military personnel in manning the main gate of the Avon Park Air Force Range. The Air Force retained control of the range facility and all other military infrastructure.
In 1956, the site was renamed Avon Park Air Force Range. In 1956, the base was merged with the Range and assigned to Strategic Air Command (SAC) at MacDill AFB. In the late 1950s, permanent USAF manning was drastically reduced as the facility transitioned from an operating air base to an air-to-ground weapons range complex.
The U.S. Biological Department at Camp Detrick in Maryland, obtained permission to use the hangar building and 30 acres of land for biological warfare experiments, presumably between 1955 and 1966. Classified biological warfare projects were conducted from at least 1955 to 1958 in an area around the Auxiliary Air Field. In 1982, the U.S. Air Force claimed that they did not know the nature of these projects nor could they determine the types, quantities, or disposal of either chemical or biological agents used in the projects. However, through investigation and the declassification of records it was revealed that the secret projects were conducted for the study of anti-personnel and anti-crops biological warfare techniques. Included in these programs was the study of offensive use of Whooping cough, mosquitoes, screwflies, and Rice Blast disease. The Aerial Spray Squadron also developed the use of anti-crop and defoliant chemical agents and pesticides at Avon Park Range.
A Summary of Major Events and Problems Fiscal Year 1959 - January 1960 states:
In 1956, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps released 600,000 uninfected mosquitoes from a plane at Avon Park Bombing Range, Florida. Within a day, the mosquitoes had spread a distance of between 2–3 kilometers (1–2 mi) and had bitten many people. . . In 1958, further tests at Avon Park AFB, Florida, showed that mosquitoes could easily be disseminated from helicopters, would spread more than 2 kilometers (1 mi) in each direction, and would enter all types of buildings.
Screwworm fly larva were sterilized and released from planes in boxes during an eradication program in 1958.
As nearby MacDill AFB transitioned from a Strategic Air Command (SAC) bomber base to a Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighter base in the early 1960s, responsibility for the APAFR was assigned to a succession of fighter wings that served as the "host wing" for MacDill AFB. In 1962, the Range was reassigned from SAC to the Tactical Air Command (TAC). The 56th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB was responsible for operation and maintenance of the Air Force Range at Avon Park in the 1980s. When MacDill AFB transitioned again from a fighter mission to an air refueling mission and was reassigned to Air Mobility Command (AMC) in the mid-1990s, responsibility for APAFR shifted to a succession of fighter and composite wing units at Moody AFB, Georgia under the Air Combat Command (ACC). With higher headquarters at Moody AFB establishing a dual-location detachment organization at both APAFR and MacDill AFB, this command responsibility arrangement remained in place until late 2015 when the 598th Range Squadron (598 RANS) was established to oversee both the APAFR and the Deployed Unit Complex (DUC) at MacDill AFB.
Over the succeeding years the Air Force has declared much of the original Avon Park Air Force Range land holdings as surplus and disposed of it. With successive divestitures of real property and reductions in permanent party military, civil service and contractor personnel assigned to APAFR, many of the military facilities constructed during the late 1940s and 1950s have been turned over to the State of Florida. The state's Department of Corrections operates the Avon Park Correctional Institution (APCI) on site for adult male offenders utilizing former USAF dormitory/barracks facilities, while the Department of Juvenile Justice operates the Avon Park Youth Academy for low to moderate risk juvenile offenders/delinquents utilizing former base housing. The last major divestment in 1983 brought the range to its current size.
Remaining USAF-controlled Property
APAFR continues to consist of the previously mentioned active range air-to-ground range and target facilities, the MacDill AFB Auxiliary Airfield, and the associated infrastructure for that airfield. Other facilities at APAFR that continue to be maintained by USAF and that are outside the core operational mission include morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) facilities, primarily camping, boating and hunting facilities for active and retired military personnel. Multiple military functions continue to occur at the range and numerous World War II period structures remain, some of which continue in use by range personnel. In April 1993, the Florida Highlands Chapter of the Air Force Association erected a three-blade propeller memorial next to the former base headquarters/current APAFR administrative building in tribute to the many military personnel who have served at this facility.
As stated in the overview, the APAFR remains one of the premier air-to-ground ranges in the Department of Defense for the integrated training of both tactical aviation and ground maneuver units in a realistic live-fly environment where live weapons may also be employed. While operated and maintained by the U.S. Air Force, the APAFR actually serves the entire joint force, consisting of all branches of the U.S. armed forces, as well also periodically providing training opportunities for the armed forces of NATO and other Allied partner nations. In addition to traditional air-to-ground strafing and bombing ranges, the complex also currently includes a full-size mock enemy airfield equipped with both mockup aircraft and the hulks of former U.S. military aircraft, a full-size enemy army garrison complex to include the hulks of former U.S. Army and USMC conventional and armored vehicles, a simulated enemy SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missile (SAM) site, and a simulated village currently modeled on a Middle Eastern motif. This is further augmented by helicopter and tilt-rotor landing zones and airborne drop zones.
When military missions allow, APAFR also allows recreation, both for military and the public, across the range. These lands are thus used for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and exploring the undisturbed Florida wilds. Today, recreational access is managed through the Avon Park Air Force Range Outdoor Recreation Program. All persons whom want to visit the range must have photo ID, view a safety video, and purchase a permit. All vehicles must be registered.
- Maurer, Maurer (ed.). Combat Squadrons of the Air Force: World War II. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1982 ISBN 0-405-12194-6.
- Maurer, Maurer (ed.), Air Force Combat Units of World War II, History and Insignia, USAF Historical Divisio, Washington, DC, 1961 (reprint 1983) ISBN 0-89201-092-4
- 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.
- World War II airfields database: Florida
- Installation Restoration Program records search for McDill Air Force Base (June 1982)
- AFHRA search Avon Park
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-28. Retrieved 2016-01-22.