VANCE AIR FORCE BASE
Located at Enid in Garfield County, Vance Air Force Base (AFB) is a significant U.S. Air Force asset, where pilots receive basic flying training. An economic mainstay for north central Oklahoma, the base originated as the Air Corps Basic Flying School, Enid, a training facility for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. In March 1941 Enid officials promoted a bond issue for the purpose of building a military flying field, and the Air Corps Basic Flying School was activated on September 20. On February 11, 1942, the base was officially named Enid Army Flying School, and in 1943 the name was changed to Enid Army Air Field (AAF). Prior to its deactivation on January 31, 1947, 9,895 pilots had earned wings there.
In 1946 Alva native Floyd E. Welsh, the War Surplus Property Officer in Washington, D.C., had pigeonholed the Enid AAF folder when it crossed his desk for disposal action. Two years later the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin, Germany, and Pres. Harry S. Truman ordered an airlift to resupply the city. The U.S. Air Force, realizing a need for training facilities, asked Welsh if any World War II airfields remained in inventory. He exhumed the Enid AAF folder, and the base was reactivated on August 1, 1948, as the Enid Air Force Base, home of the Seventy-first Flying Training Wing. On July 9, 1949, the base was renamed for Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance, an Enid native who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.
Vance became a training school for pilot instructors, graduating sixty-eight from activation to March 17, 1950. In June 1950 the Korean War increased demand for pilots, and basic pilot training was added to the base mission. North American T-28 Trojans (jets), began arriving in July to compliment the AT-6 Texan (single engine), and TB-25 (multiengine) reciprocating-engine trainers. In 1952 students from countries having mutual defense agreements with the United States began training at Vance. The T-33A Shooting Star (jet) was added to the wing inventory in 1956. In 1957 Vance became an all-jet training facility. Life at Vance improved in 1958 when construction began on new military family housing units under the 1955 Capehart Housing Act to replace World War II-era quarters.
In 1960 Vance became the first air force GOCO (Government Owned-Contractor Operated) base when Serv-Air, Incorporated, took over operations. The Seventy-first Flying Training Wing continued its role in the national defense scheme, while Serv-Air managed all support functions. The first-year savings in operating costs convinced the Air Force to expand the program to other bases around the country. Also in 1960 the T-37 Tweets, built by Cessna, replaced the T-28s, and in 1963 the Northrop T-38 Talon, began replacing the T-33As. Maj. Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, a Vietnam War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, served as an instructor at Vance in the late 1960s and in 1974 Pres. Richard M. Nixon made an official visit to the base.
From 1960 to the present basic pilot training has been a year-long regimen, with class intervals varied according to demand. In 1972 Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services won the support contract, and in 1978 the first woman pilot trainees commenced training. One of them, Eileen M. Collins, later became the first woman National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space shuttle commander. A two-day Astronaut Candidate Training Program began at Vance in 1982, in which candidates were trained in parasailing. Astronauts Sally Ride and Kalpana Chawla are two candidates who participated in this indoctrination activity.
More than sixteen thousand students have graduated from pilot training or pilot instructor training from 1941 through 2001. According to a 1989 article in the Enid Morning News the economic impact of Vance on the surrounding region in 1988 amounted to $87,090,538 in materials and services purchased and wages paid; the article projected an impact of $119,791,486 for the coming year due to construction projects.
The Beechcraft T-1A Jayhawk, an executive jet, was added to the Vance training inventory in 1994, and DynCorp won the base support contract in July 2000, commencing contract services on February 1, 2001. In 2003 Vance AFB was one of three undergraduate pilot training facilities in the United States where U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and foreign students trained with Air Force trainees to satisfy a reduced demand for military pilots. Early twenty-first century changes slated for Vance were replacement of the Capehart housing units and the addition of the Raytheon T-6A Texan turbojet trainer.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Vernie Rodney Pointon, "The History and Development of Vance Air Force Base, Enid, Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, 1969). "Vance Air Force Base," Vertical File, Enid/Garfield County Public Library, Enid, Oklahoma.
Thomas L. Hedglen
© Oklahoma Historical Society