History of Big Spring AAF Bombardier School and Webb AFB
     Construction of the Army Air Forces Bombardier School on a plateau approximately two miles southwest of Big Spring, Texas began on May 15, 1942. The purpose of the installation was to train aviation cadets in high altitude precision bombing. Training consisted primarily of ground school courses and practice missions over a target area larger than some of the nation's smaller states. The post proper covered an area of 1,280 acres. The first class of cadets (118 men) arrived Sept. 16, 1942, to begin bombardier training in the B-18 and the AT-11 training aircraft. After an intense three month course, the class graduated, exactly one year and ten days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Norden Bombsight      Perhaps the most zealously guarded secret at the Big Spring Bombardier School was the Norden bombsight (shown at left). At the outset of the United States involvement in the war, the Norden sight was rated as far superior to any previously developed instrument for computing a bomb trajectory. The instruments were so highly classified that they were stored in a heavily guarded vault such as banks have. When students prepared for practice flights, they had to get clearance to the vault area, and when issued their bombsights, they exited in pairs accompanied by armed security. Part of the bombardier's oath required that he defend the sight secrets to the death.

     The forty-second class of cadets to finish the school completed the course of training and received the silver wings of bombardiers on Sept 26, 1945. At that time, nearly 6,000 students had graduated and the field's training aircraft had flown approximately 400,000 hours and more than 60 million miles. Over 1,200,000 practice bombs had been released on nearby bombing ranges. While engaged in this huge training program and under wartime conditions, only four fatal accidents occurred. Many of the young men who trained at the school went on to fly combat missions in such planes as the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and B-29 Superfortress, in both theatres of World War II.

Overhead View      Big Spring Air Force Base, was activated on October 1, 1951 on the 1300 acre site of the former Big Spring Army Air Field, a World War II Bombardier Training School. Initially the home of the 346th pilot training Wing (later re-designated the 78th Flying Training Wing), it was first commanded by Colonel Ernest F. Wachwitz as a part of the Flying Training Air Force (later combined with the Technical Training Air Force to become the Air Training Command) The base was renamed on May 18, 1952 to memorialize Lt. James L. Webb, a Big Spring native and World War II combat pilot, killed in the crash of his P-51 off the Japanese coast in 1949. For the six years prior to its reactivation by the Air Force, the facility served as the Big Spring Municipal Airport. Many of its World War II buildings had been removed or dismantled, so a $3,133,000 construction program was begun to provide the necessary facilities to train jet pilots, including a new runway and extensive parking aprons. In the mid-1960's, aviation cadet status was discontinued by the Air Force, and from then on only commissioned officers entered pilot training. Normally, eight undergraduate pilot training classes graduated per year. Each class lasted 53 weeks, entering and leaving at roughly six week intervals. There is a collection of photos, on Historic Images Page 2 of the website, donated by a member of Class 64-D. Webb AFB was a pilot training base for its entire 25 year life. (The overhead view at right is circa 1974)


Alert Hangars      Webb accepted an additional mission when beginning June 15,1956, the 331st Fighter Interceptor Squadron was transferred from Stewart AFB, New York. A unit of the 29th Air Division, Air Defense Command, the 331st flew F-86L "Sabres" on air intercept missions controlled by the 683rd Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. In Spring of 1960, the F-86Ls were replaced by the F-102 "Delta Daggers". In February of 1963, the F-102's were exchanged for the newer and more powerful F-104 "Starfighters", but the 331st mission of defending the southern U.S. border continued unchanged until March 1967, when it was redesignated the 4760th Combat Crew Training Squadron. Charged then with training Jordanian Air Force pilots in the F-104, the 4760th was suddenly inactivated when the Jordanians were recalled because of the war with Israel in the summer of 1967. The alert hangars still exist on the Airpark as can be seen in the image at left.

      There are two collections of photos, on Historic Images Page 1 and Historic Images Page 2 of the website, donated by former members of the 331st FIS. Thanks to all who provide us with expanded information.


     By most standards, Webb was a highly effective base. Annual summer training for ROTC cadets from dozens of universities was conducted successfully throughout the 1950's and 1960's. Not long before its redesignation as the 78th FTW, the 3560th PTW was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its performance from Jan. 1, 1966 through Dec. 31, 1967.


     Base-Community relations were generally excellent, despite a persistent housing shortage and recurring rumors of closure. To demonstrate its cooperation, the City of Big Spring deeded the original base site to the Air Force, and when additional acreage was required for the 331st needs, did not hesitate to obtain more land. Auxiliary landing fields were established at Colorado City and Lamesa, while Howard College which had originally been housed in World War II buildings on former BSAAF land, offered on-base classes for Webb personnel. The community continually pressed to have Webb designated a permanent base. Chief handicap to its continuation was Webb's location athwart major civilian flyways. Largely because of that location, Webb was the only undergraduate pilot training base of eight (at times 9) in all of Air Training Command which had to maintain base operations (a control tower) facilities 24 hours a day. Although there were occasional crashes (some fatal), Webb's safety record compared very favorably with other ATC bases, despite air traffic restrictions.

1976 View from Scenic Mountain

     Above is a view of a thriving Webb AFB in 1976, taken from Scenic Mountain.

     With the end of war in Vietnam and a decreased need for Air Force pilots, as well as with the advent of a Carter administration determined to cut defense expenditures, Webb's days were numbered. Rumors came true in the spring of 1977 with the announcement that the base would be shut down. The last commander of the 78th FTW, Col. Harry A. Spannaus, made his own final flight from Webb AFB in a T-38 Talon on September 2, 1977. Within hours of his flight, the last remaining planes from Webb had been flown to Reese AFB, near Lubbock, TX and other ATC bases. By then, just over 14,000 pilots had received their silver wings at Webb AFB. The base was formally deactivated on September 30, 1977 and the property became the responsibility of the Big Spring Industrial Airpark, whose first manager was the newly retired Col. Spannaus.
View from Scenic Mountain

     Big Spring Municipal Airport is once more operating here as a component of the airpark, as are the Southwest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf, a federal minimum-security prison camp, and several businesses. This is a view of the area as it looks today, again as in the photo from 1976, shot from Scenic Mountain. In the foreground is the Vietnam Memorial. ( Click image for a larger version. )

Thanks to Brian Reagan for this compilation of our history !

Recent Aerial Views
View from inside downwind rwy 17L
View from above
     The above two views of the airport show the former Webb AFB flightline as it looked in 2009. Former rwy 17L / 35R is the primary runway. Former rwy 17R / 35L is closed and now used as the main taxiway on which the Airport Terminal, and Lone Star Aviation are located. There is a crosswind runway, rwy 06 / 24 located near the south end of the primary runway. (Click either image for a larger view) Also, be sure to check out the AirNav information about our airport. Here are some additional recent views of the Airport.

Webb base
     The above view is a recent shot of former Webb AFB as it looks now. Many buildings remain such as the former Officer's Club, NCO Club, Base Hospital, Billeting Office, Wing Headquarters and Finance, Control Tower, Parachute Shop, Base Theater, Base Exchange, Credit Union, Flight Line Snack Bar, T-38 and T-37 Squadron Bldgs and Fire Dept. Most of the aforementioned structures are in use, but for other purposes. This view is looking east from directly above the numbers on rwy 17. Click image for a very large view.



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