Brooks Air Force Base, Texas
Brooks Air Force Base (AFB) was originally named Kelly Field Number 5. It was renamed in honor of Sidney Johnson Brooks, Jr. a cadet who died in a flying accident on November 13, 1917. The Aviation Section of the United States Signal Corps renamed Kelly Field Number 5 on February 16, 1918. Cadet Brooks may have blacked out from the inoculations he received before his fatal flight. This would be an ironic connection to the future Brooks AFB.
On March 28, 1918 Major Leo A. Walton took off in a Curtis JN-4D “Jenny” from Brooks Field. It was the first aircraft to fly from Brooks Field.[i] During World War I Brooks Field served as a training base for Army fliers. The Army had 16 temporary hangers constructed. Hanger T-9, now known as the Edward H. White II Memorial, survives to this day.
The pilot instructor school closed down in May 1919. The Army used the Field for Balloon and Airship instruction. The 1st Balloon Group was activated at Brooks Field in 1921. One of the airships was the blimp C-2. The airship training school was moved to Scott Field, Illinois on June 26, 1922.[ii]
Brooks Field was the Primary Flying School of the Army Air Corps from September 1922 to July 1931. It trained 1,400 pilots including Generals Claire L. Chennault, Thomas D. White, Nathan F. Twining, and Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh. The world’s first mass parachute drop occurred at Brooks Field, September 28, 1929. Brooks Field was also had the School of Aviation Medicine until the school transferred to Randolph Field in October 1931.[iii]
Brooks Field switched from training pilots to training primarily observers. Observation training lasted until August 1943. Brooks Field’s mission was then to train B-25 Mitchel pilots.[iv] The pilot training program ended with World War II. [v]
Brooks AFB became a training center for United States Air Force Reserve (USAFRES) pilots in 1951. It received its first planes, T-6 Texans, in 1952. Two C-46 Commandoes and 5 T-28s joined the T-6s. In 1954 a C-119 joined the Reserve Wing. [vi]
[i] Order of Battle of the United States Landing Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 2, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949. Zone of the Interior, Territorial Departments, Tactical Divisions organized in 1918. Posts, Camps and Stations.
[ii] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
[iii] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
[iv] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
[v] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
[vi] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
On October 1, 1959 Brooks AFB became the headquarters for the Aerospace Medical Center. On June 20, 1960 a C-131 Samaritan, piloted Colonel L.B. Matthews, departed Brooks AFB. With the departure the Brooks AFB runway ceased active operations. [i]
The Professor of Space Medicine at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine was Dr. Hubertus Strughold. Dr. Strughold was the Father of Aerospace Medicine. In 1977 the Air Force named the Aeromedical Library at Brooks AFB the Hubertus Strughold Aeromedical Library. Dr. Strughold was a revered figure at the base. In the 1980s Dr. Strughold’s involvement in Nazi human experiments came to light. The Air Force renamed the Aeromedical Library in 1995.
In November 1963 President John F. Kennedy visited Brooks AFB. His visit included seeing airmen in a space capsule simulator. The space capsule simulator was to test how men would endure long space flights. President Kennedy made a speech at Brooks AFB before flying to Dallas. This was his last public speech. The podium President Kennedy used for this speech was one of the artifacts at Hangar 9.
Brooks AFB studied the space chimps. The study continued for the life of the chimps. The study went from the immediate, to the long term, effects of space travel. Were their medical issues human astronauts might have in their old age?
Many of the airmen who worked on the base volunteered to be subjects in medical experiments. These experiments ranged from the mundane to the excitement of the centrifuge. A fighter plane’s seat was normally set back 20 degrees for pilot comfort. Experiments at Brooks AFB found a pilot can remain conscious much longer if the seat was set back further. The F-16 Fighting Falcon’s pilot seat was set back 38 degrees.
Brooks AFB also had hyperbaric chamber. Besides tests it was used to accelerate healing of military members and civilians. It was originally believed the hyperbaric chamber could cure dementia. Unfortunately, the brain function improvement only lasted as long as the patient was in the chamber.
When the Air Force opened the pilot career field to women the question was how could women tolerate G forces. Centrifuge tests at Brooks AFB with women stationed at the base showed women could take G forces at least as well as men.
[i] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.
Brooks AFB aka Sleepy Hollow
By the 1970s people assigned to Brooks AFB nicknamed the base “Sleepy Hollow”. Without an active runway or strict military discipline, in the jargon of the day, “it wasn’t the real Air Force”.
The military bases and services had floats for the annual Fiesta parade in San Antonio. In the 1960s the Brooks AFB float, as with the other military bases, had a military theme. In the 1970s the other bases had military themes. The Brooks AFB float had non-military themes.
Many of the support buildings were old. Brooks AFB base had two dining facilities. They were next to each other. One was named “The Rocket Room”. It had space program related pictures on the walls. Military people complaining about the food in the dining facilities seems an unofficial tradition. The military personnel at Brooks AFB did at least their share of complaining about the food. One exception was when Mexican food was on the menu. The Mexican food was a cut above the regular dining facility food.
On December 16, 1978 an airplane landed at Brooks AFB for the first time in almost 20 years. It was the 75th Anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first flight. Brooks AFB celebrated the occasion by having a Tiger Moth land at Brooks AFB.
There were three F-105 Thunderchiefs on Brooks AFB. They were used to practice repairing battle damage.
A local television station closed its nightly news with a segment about some Brooks AFB airmen. They had broken a record for beer can stacking. The segment closed by stating, “Sleep lightly tonight because your Air Force is intoxicated.”[i]
[i] This is a variation on a popular humor posted that showed a geriatric man in a flight suite with the caption, “Sleep well tonight your Air Force is awake.”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Robert Sacchi