|Brookley Air Force Base|
|Part of Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC)|
|Located near: Mobile, Alabama|
Brookley Air Force Base - 7 April 1952
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
Brookley Air Force Base had its aeronautical beginnings with Mobile's first municipal airport, the original Bates Field. However, the site itself had been occupied from the time of Mobile's founding, starting with the home of Mobile's founding father, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in the early 18th century.
In 1938 the Army Air Corps took over the then 1,000-acre (405 ha) Bates Field site and established the Brookley Army Air Field. The military was attracted to the site because of the area's generally good flying weather and the bay-front location, but Alabama Congressman Frank Boykin's influence in Washington was important in convincing the Army to locate the new military field in Mobile instead of Tampa, Florida. However, later that year, Tampa was also chosen for a military flying installation of its own, which would be named MacDill Field, home of present-day MacDill Air Force Base.
Many air depot personnel, logisticians, mechanics, and other support personnel were trained at Brookley during the war. Both Air Materiel and Technical Services Command organized mobile Depot Groups at Brookley, then once trained were deployed around the world as Air Depot Groups, Depot Repair Squadrons, Quartermaster Squadrons, Ordnance Maintenance, Military Police, and many other units whose mission was to support the front-line combat units with depot-level maintenance for aircraft and logistical support to maintain their operations. Air Transport Command operated large numbers of cargo and passenger aircraft from the base as part of its Domestic Wing.
During the war, Brookley became Mobile's largest employer, with about 17,000 skilled civilians capable of performing delicate work with fragile instruments and machinery. In 1944, the Army decided to take advantage of Brookley's large, skilled workforce for its top-secret "Ivory Soap" project to hasten victory in the Pacific. The project required 24 large vessels to be re-modeled into Aircraft Repair and Maintenance Units that had to be able to accommodate B-29 bombers, P-51 Mustangs, R-4B Sikorsky helicopters, and amphibious vehicles.
The Air Force delivered all 24 vessels to Mobile, Alabama, in spring 1944 to start remodeling. Some 5,000 men underwent a complex training process that prepared them to rebuild the vessels and operate them once on the water. By the end of the year, the vessels departed Mobile.
One of the keys to Allied victory in Europe was the Norden Bomb Sight, which enabled bomber squadrons to target Germany's war-making industry and infrastructure much more accurately. The military repaired and calibrated the bombsights at Brookley in a secret facility, still standing and in use today.
In 1944 with the closure of the Army contract flying school at nearby Bates Army Airfield, Air Transport Command operations were shifted to Bates to alleviate runway traffic at Brookley. Late in 1945 Bates Field was returned to civil control and ATC operations returned to Brookley.
Following World War II and the creation of an independent United States Air Force, the installation became Brookley Air Force Base. In 1947 with the closure of Morrison Field, Florida, the C-74 Globemaster project was moved to Brookley. The C-74 was, at the time, the largest military transport aircraft in the world. It was developed by Douglas Aircraft after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The long distances across the Atlantic, and especially the Pacific Ocean to the combat areas indicated a need for a transoceanic heavy-lift military transport aircraft.
The "C-74 squadron" (later 521st Air Transport Group, 1701st Air Transport Wing), Air Transport Command operated two squadrons of C-74 Globemasters from Brookley from 1947 until their retirement in 1955. The eleven aircraft were used extensively for worldwide transport of personnel and equipment, supporting United States military missions. They saw extensive service supporting the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War being used on scheduled MATS overseas routes through the late 1940s and mid-1950s. Additionally, logistic support flights for Strategic Air Command (SAC), and Tactical Air Command (TAC) saw the Globemaster in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean, and within the United States. Two C-74s were used to support the first TAC Republic F-84 Thunderjet flight across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. SAC also continued to use the Globemasters to rotate Boeing B-47 Stratojet Medium Bombardment Groups on temporary duty in England and Morocco as part of their REFLEX operation. The C-74s were retired in 1955 due to lack of logistical support. The 1701st ATW flew strategic airlift missions on a worldwide scale with its C-124 Globemaster II fleet after the retirement of the C-74 until 1957 when Military Air Transport Service moved out of Brookley AFB and the base came under the full jurisdiction of Air Material Command.
In 1962, the Air Material Command was renamed as the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) and Brookley AFB became an AFLC installation and the host base of the modification and repair center's successor organization, the Mobile Air Materiel Area (MOAMA).
After an immediate end to many of the wartime jobs of World War II, the base's civilian workforce again expanded to around 16,000 people by 1962, a result of both the Cold War and other USAF base closings in other areas of the country. During this time, AFLC's Mobile Air Materiel Area (MOAMA) provided depot-level maintenance for various USAF aircraft of the period, to include the C-119 Flying Boxcar, C-131 Samaritan, F-84 Thunderstreak, RF-84 Thunderflash, the F-104 Starfighter and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
On 19 November 1964, the Department of Defense announced a progressive reduction in employment and the eventual closure of Brookley Air Force Base. The costs of the escalation of the Vietnam War was cited as the primary reason for the closure. Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, was unpopular both with Congress and with the public. Military bases were sources of employment and federal dollars for states and local communities, which allowed them to handle the cost of them and sales to military people stationed at the base.
Moreover, McNamara worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had a reputation for rewarding friends and punishing opponents. When McNamara began the base closure announcements, suspicion began that Johnson was picking bases to close as retribution for the recent 1964 Presidential Election. The Republican candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater, had carried Alabama in the election and it was believed that Johnson was penalizing Alabama for defecting from its traditional Democratic Party ties. McNamara, however, had another agenda, as he wanted to curb the Air Force's reliance on large aircraft in favor of long-range missiles and closing maintenance facilities such as Brookley was a way to do that. McNamara, however, denied that politics played any part in the decision to close several Air Force bases including Brookley.
The reserve 908th TAG was moved to Maxwell AFB, Alabama in April. The incoming Nixon Administration in 1969 confirmed the closure of Brookley as a way to save money because of the Vietnam War, and when it finally closed in June 1969, Brookley AFB represented the largest base closure in U.S. history up to that time, eliminating 10% of local jobs for the Mobile workforce, which provided an annual payroll of $95 million to the local economy.
After closure, the base was returned to the City of Mobile. Later, the city transferred it to the Mobile Airport Authority and it became known as the Mobile Downtown Airport. The city had created the Mobile Airport Authority in 1982 to oversee the operation of the Mobile Regional Airport and what would become the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. The Mobile Airport Authority is autonomous and is not a part of the city or Mobile County. The Authority's five board members are appointed by Mobile's Mayor, approved by the Mobile City Council, and serve 6 year terms.
Airbus currently has an aircraft final assembly line at Brookley, producing the Airbus A320 series airliners. Airbus had previously attempted to enter the market at Brookley Field when its military division EADS partnered with Northrop Grumman to produce the KC-45, billed as the next generation of air refueling & cargo aircraft for the US Air Force as a replacement to the aging fleet of KC-135s. EADS/Northrop Grumman originally won the contract bid to produce the aircraft, but the plans were put in limbo after rival Boeing filed a protest over the bidding process; and in 2011 Boeing was declared the winner of the rebidding.
In the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the entire landing strip complex behind Devils Tower was actually constructed and filmed in an abandoned aircraft hangar at the former Brookley AFB.