Craig Air Force Base

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Craig Air Force Base near Selma, Alabama, was a U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) that closed in 1977. Today the facility is a civilian airport known as Craig Field Airport and Industrial Complex (ICAO: KSEM; FAA: SEM).

History[edit]

World War II[edit]

Originally built by the U.S. Army Air Force in 1940 to accommodate the growing number of flight trainees before World War II, Craig Field was one of the first training fields to offer single-engine training. Its first graduating class of 1941, the 39 cadets of Class 41D, completed the training course seven months before the United States' entry into World War II.[1]

The naming of the base was important to the nearby city of Selma, and several names were considered. The name finally chosen was to honor 1st Lt Bruce Kilpatrick Craig, who was killed when his B-24 crashed in June 1941. He was born in Selma and was initially commissioned as an officer in the Infantry Reserve prior to transferring to the Army Air Force and attending flight training. [2]

Army Air Force pilot training in 1941 was still considered as being peacetime and included a seventy-hour flying course. With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 training was accelerated to speed the flow of pilots into combat. In total Craig Field graduated more than 9,000 pilots before the end of the war. Craig Field also saw a number of British Royal Air Force cadets through their training. By 1943, 1,392 RAF cadets had earned their wings at Craig Field. Following the war, the mission of Craig Field changed from time to time, but it remained primarily a training base.[3] When the U.S. Air Force was established as a separate service in 1947, Craig Field was renamed Craig Air Force Base.

Cold War[edit]

With the desperate need for additional pilots created by the Korean War, Craig AFB was once again placed in the pilot training business by initiating the 3615th Pilot Training Wing in September 1950. The program stopped its basic single engine training and focused its efforts on pilot instructor training.[4] In 1972, the by then-3615th Flying Training Wing was redesignated as the 29th Flying Training Wing of the Air Training Command and operated T-41, T-37 and T-38 training aircraft.

Representative of the time, Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 68-H, "The Haranguers," graduated with more than 50 new pilots in June 1968. Most of the pilots entered the "pipeline" for assignments to Vietnam in a variety of aircraft, including the F-4C, F-4E Phantom II, RF-4C Phantom II, C-47, C-7 and C-123. Other pilots went to C-130, C-141, B-52 and KC-135 assignments. In addition to Air Force student pilots, the class included students from the Marine Corps, the Air National Guard and the former Imperial Iranian Air Force.

As an active air force base, Craig had two 8,000 foot parallel runways, a large aircraft parking ramp and several large maintenance hangars.

Closure[edit]

In 1974, Craig AFB was selected as one of two UPT bases to be closed in a post-Vietnam economic move. In 1977, Air Training Command closed Craig Air Force Base along with Webb Air Force Base in Texas. Craig's 29th Flying Training Wing was inactivated on September 30th, 1977 and the field was placed on caretaker status the next day.[5]

Current use[edit]

After the base closed, the airfield was converted into a civil airport for Selma, Alabama and renamed the Craig Field Airport and Industrial Complex. Although the former USAF air traffic control tower at Craig Field remains standing, as of 2007 it was unmanned and non-operational, with UNICOM being used as a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF). Both parallel 8,000 foot runways still exist, but only one runway is currently operational while the other remains closed. The Craig VORTAC and the Instrument Landing System (ILS) for the current Runway 33 remain operational on the field. Current aircraft traffic averages approximately 106 daily operations, of which 83% are transient general aviation, 10% military (primarily Navy and USAF aircraft inbound to the L3 Communications/Vertex Aerospace facility) and 7% local general aviation or air taxi.

The former military family housing was sold to individual owners shortly after base closure and has seen significant decay as compared to its previous military occupants.[citation needed]

Multiple civilian government and corporate tenants have taken up residency, to include L3 Communications/Vertex Aerospace (formerly Raytheon Aerospace), which operates an aircraft repair facility at Craig Field primarily focused on supporting Navy T-34C, T-44A, TC-12F and Navy and USAF T-6A aircraft. The former on base elementary school continues to operate as the civilian-run Craig Elementary and the former base golf course continues to operate commercially as the Craig Golf Course and Driving Range. The Alabama Highway Patrol (AHP) also operates both its training academy and its headquarters for AHP's F Troop at Craig.

Units assigned[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ History of Craig Field at Craig Field Airport and Industrial Complex website
  2. ^ 52d Flying Training Squadron entry at Air Force Historical Research Agency
  3. ^ 43d Flying Training Squadron entry at Air Force Historical Research Agency

External links[edit]