Forbes Field (also known as the Topeka Army
Airfield and later as Forbes Air Force Base during DOD use) consisted
of 4,233 acres. Forbes Field is located approximately 3 miles south of
Topeka, Kansas in Shawnee County. The site is east of and adjacent to
Highway 75. Forbes Field is an active municipal airport operated by the
Topeka Airport Authority. The former administrative area is now used
for commercial offices, state offices, and an industrial park. The
Kansas Air National Guard also uses a portion of the site. Most of the
site is developed, but there are portions of the site (south and east
of the main runway) that are heavily wooded and undeveloped.
Air carrier operations were moved from Philip Billard Municipal Airport
to Forbes Field, and jet service was initiated there June 1, 1976. The
field has an 8,000- by 150-foot and a 12,800- by 200-foot runway, both
maintained to a high standard by Defense Department funds, plus a
100-acre parking apron and relatively moderate traffic level.
During World War II there were ammunition storage bunkers and small
arms ranges. These features were removed during construction of the new
runway. New ammunition storage bunkers and ordnance storage warehouses
were constructed. The bunkers are currently being leased to a company
for storage of explosives and are locked. The ordnance storage
warehouses are being used by the airport authority for storage. There
is an area south of the bunkers that is suspected of being a burial
site for rocket fuel and munitions.
Congress authorized the Topeka Army Air Field (TAAF) building project
within two weeks after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Eight
months later, the completed air base — essential buildings, hangars,
repair shops, steam heating plants, fuel storage and three 7,000 by
150-foot paved runways — was formally accepted by the Army Air Corps.
In August 1942 the first troops arrived and had to be quartered in the
agriculture building on the Topeka Fair Grounds because their green
wood two-story barracks buildings weren’t finished yet. By September
1942, the field was the home of the 333rd Bombardment Group. By 1945
TAAF was one of three B-29 centers where newly transitioned crews
claimed new Superfortresses and took off for the Pacific to aid in the
assault on the Japanese home islands. On 31 October 1947 Topeka Army
Air Field was inactivated.
On 01 July 1948 Topeka Army Air Field reactivated as a Strategic Air
Command base (SAC); home to the 311th Air Division, Reconnaissance, and
to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. That mission continued until
14 October 1949, when the base was again inactivated. During that
activation, TAAF was renamed Forbes Air Force Base in memory of Maj.
Daniel H. Forbes, a Topeka pilot killed June 5, 1948, while testing the
Northrop XB-49 “Flying Wing” jet bomber near Muroc Dry Lake, CA.
During the Korean War, Forbes AFB reopened and was again assigned to
SAC. on 16 February 1951 the 21st Air Division was activated at Forbes,
and the division’s 90th Bombardment Wing moved to the base in February
and March. The wing trained SAC’s newly activated 376th, 308th and
310th Bomb Wings. From June 1951 to August 1953 it also trained B-29
replacement crews for combat. About 10 a month were trained until
August 1952 when the bomb wing training program was concluded and the
number of B-29 crews produced was doubled.
On 16 June 1952 the 90th was redesignated the 90th Strategic
Reconnaissance Wing, Medium, and five months later started training
recon crews as replacements for Far East Air Forces. During October
1952 the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing moved to Forbes from Ramey
AFB, Puerto Rico, continuing its program of photography, photomapping
and electronic reconnaissance.
In June 1960 the 90th SRW was deactivated and replaced by the 40th Bomb
Wing, transferred from Schilling AFB, Salina. The 40th was there until
1964 and it flew the B-47. The Tactical Air Command began operation of
the base in 1965.
In October 1958, Topeka received news that Forbes AFB would support
Atlas E missile sites to be constructed in the surrounding area. The
Corps of Engineers Kansas City District managed construction of the
nine “coffins” where the missiles would be stored horizontally.
Although Forbes was slated to have three sites with three missiles at
each site, in February 1959, the Air Force directed that each missile
be placed at an individual launch site, These sites were situated at or
near Valley Falls, Dover, Waverly, Osage City, Delia, Wamego,
Overbrook, Holton, and Bushong. Construction officially began on June
9,1959, when Kansas Governor George Docking drove a silver nail into a
Site construction was split between two firms, with one firm
responsible for work at three sites and the other for work at the other
six. There were difficulties encountered due to some 519 modifications
made during construction. One modification concerned the propellant
loading system. Prefabricated in Pittsburgh by Blaw-Knox Manufacturing
for Atlas E sites at Vandenberg AFB, California; Warren AFB, Wyoming;
Fairchild AFB, Washington; and Forbes AFB, the system components were
to arrive on skids bolted together. Unfortunately the skids often
arrived late and testing revealed system defects that took time to
Labor-management problems caused occasional setbacks in construction.
During the project there were 22 work stoppages, most of which were
quickly resolved. However, in October and November 1960, a long work
stoppage occurred due to a work assignment dispute between the hoisting
engineers and the electrical workers. The problem was resolved after
the National Labor Relations Board issued a restraining order. There
were 25 lost-time accidents during construction, including two
fatalities that were electricity-related. One minor disturbance
occurred at one of the sites when student pickets from McPherson
College arrived to protest the deployment of ICBMs.
Despite the labor problems and student pickets, the project continued
on schedule. On July 1, 1960, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron
stood up. Nearly 6 months later, on January 24, 1961, the first Atlas
missile arrived at Forbes. By October, all nine sites had their Atlas E
missiles. The Forbes sites were completed 3 weeks ahead of schedule. On
October 16, 1961, Air Force Ballistic Missile Activation Chief, Maj.
Gen. Gerrity turned over operational control of the sites to Second Air
Force Commander Lt. Gen. John D. Ryan. In the ensuing press conference
the two generals urged Kansans to become interested in constructing
fallout shelters as an insurance policy that could enhance deterrence.
As a result of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s May 1964
directive accelerating the decommissioning of Atlas and Titan I missile
bases, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was deactivated on March
Forbes Air Force Base, a Tactical Air Command facility south of Topeka,
Kansas was closed by the Department of Defense in 1973. Improvements
included runways, hangars, barracks, administrative and support
structures and facilities.
In January, 1974, the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority was created
by Topeka City Charter Ordinance to oversee the transition period, the
title for most of the 3100-acre facility was transferred to the City of
Topeka in April of 1976. Title was transferred to the city, less the
Air Guard enclave on the northern third of the 6,000-foot north-south
ramp, a portion of the south ramp and four associated buildings
reserved for the Kansas Army National Guard. Commercial air service was
moved to Forbes in May of 1976 and a month later Frontier Airlines
initiated the first-ever jet service to Topeka.
Courtesy 190th Air Refueling Wing