When does "Air Force base" have a Capital "B"?

Copyright 2003, Scott D. Murdock   DRAFT AS OF 20 JAN 2003.  This is a work in progress.  I won't be able to finish it without considerable research into older AF publications.   Rather than keep this page under wraps until then, I'm making it available in draft form for those who have an interest in the topic.  Be warned -- this is not a finished product!


Introduction

This paper explores some common questions about the naming of Air Force installations.  I've tried to scratch the surface of this issue, based on references I've worked with.  However, there is plenty of room for more definitive research.   Here are examples of questions on this subject.

These questions revolve around the official naming and designation of bases.  What follows are excerpts from Air Force guidance over the years, along with lists of places people often have in mind when asking the above questions.

Installation kind designators, like military ranks, are capitalized when used in a proper name, but not otherwise.  I've taken liberty with that rule, and use quotes around designations meant to be considered as part of a proper name.

I use the terms runway and airfield interchangeably in this paper, to describe facilities for landing and takeoff of fixed-wing aircraft.  For our purposes here, I don't consider a helipad to be an airfield.


Designation Guidance

Here is the current guidance from Air Force Instruction 32-9005, Real Property Accountability and Reporting, 30 Sep 1994.

1.3. Designating Installation Kind. Identify an installation based on its general use or purpose.

1.3.1. Air Force Base, Air Base, Air Reserve Base or Air Guard Base. Use the applicable term for installations from which aircraft operations can be conducted or from which major activities of importance to Air Force combat, combat support, and training missions can be supported.

1.3.2. Air Station, Air Reserve Station or Air Guard Station. Use the applicable term for installations with or without a flying mission that is operated by an active Reserve or Guard unit of at least a squadron size that does not otherwise meet the criteria of paragraph 1.3.1. Note: Prior to designating an installation as an Air Force base or air station, verify the installation category (Major or Minor) with Headquarters US Air Force Bases and Units (HQ USAF/XOOB).

In actual practice, it seems that "Air Force Station" has returned to favor over "Air Station," but the AFI has not been updated to reflect that change.

Looking back just over twenty years from that source, here is guidance from Air Force Regulation 87-5, Classification of Air Force Installations, 15 Feb 1973.

8.a.(1) Air Force Base.  When preceded by a geographical name best identifying the installation or a memorial name if the base is designated under the Air Force Memorialization Program, this term identifies an installation from which aircraft operations can be conducted and/or which is capable of providing substaining [sic.] support for major activities of importance to the Air Force combat, combat support, and training missions.  The term Air National Guard base (instead of Air Force base) is used for Air Force bases which are used exclusively by the Air National Guard (ANG).

8.a.(2) Air Force Station.  When preceded by the geographical name best identifying the installation or the memorial name (if appropriate), this term describes an installation without an aircraft operating area which, as its primary mission, supports a function of the radar or communications systems, supply, major headquarters, or other nonflying function approved by HQ USAF.  The term Air National Guard station instead of Air Force station is used for Air Force Stations which are used exclusively by the Air National Guard.

Going back in time another decade, here is guidance from Air Force Regulation 87-5, Classification of Air Force Installations, 2 Mar 1962.

7.a.(1) Air Force Base. When preceded by a geographical name best identifying the installation or a memorial name if the base is designated under the Air Force Memorialization Program, this term identifies an installation from which aircraft operations can be conducted and which is capable of providing sustaining support for major activities of importance to the Air Force combat, combat support, and training missions. The term "Air National Guard base," instead of "Air Force base," will be used for Air Force bases which are used exclusively by the ANG.

7.1.(2) Air Force Station. When preceded by the geographical name best identifying the installation, or the memorial name, if appropriate, this term describes an installation without an aircraft operating area, which as its primary mission supports a function of the radar or communications systems, supply, major headquarters, or other non-flying function approved by Headquarters USAF. The term "Air National Guard station," instead of "Air Force station," will be used for Air Force stations which are used exclusively by the ANG.

These next definitions are not from an Air Force regulation, but are from The United States Air Force Dictionary, published in 1956 by Air University Press.   In lieu of the appropriate Air Force regulation of the time, I felt this reference would be useful for our purposes.

Air Force base.  (AFB)  A geographical location that provides space for carrying out an operation, including facilities for offices, warehousing, accommodati8on of personnel, and usually for the takeoff and landing of aircraft, such location being under the jurisdictional control of the United States Air Force.  An Air Force base is so designated by Hq USAF.  'Base is capitalized in specific names, as in 'Craig Air Force Base.'

Air Force station.  An AF depot installation not provided with landing and takeoff facilities, as in 'Gadsden Air Force Station.'

It's interesting to note that from these definitions, an "Air Force Base" could have an airfield -- or not have an airfield, but an "Air Force Station" specifically has no airfield. 

From comparing the guidance over the years, we see that in 1962 a base did need to support aircraft operations to be designated an "Air Force Base," but that requirement had become an option by 1973.


Bases with no runway while they were "Air Force Bases"

This is a list of bases that had no useable airfield during the time period they were officially called "Air Force Base."

Benjamin Harrison AFB IN - Had an airfield in previous Army role, not in use while AFB.

Cheyenne Mountain AFB CO

Ent AFB CO

Ethan Allen AFB VT - An administrative and housing base, supporting flying operations at nearby Burlington Municipal Airport.

Francis E. Warren AFB WY

George Wright AFB WA - Had an airfield in previous Army Air Forces role, not in use while AFB.

Kalkaska AFB MI - Construction not completed.  If completed, it would have had an airfield.

Los Angeles AFB CA

McAndrew AFB Newfoundland

Newark AFB OH

Onizuka AFB CA

Parks AFB CA - Had an airfield in previous Navy role, not in use while AFB.

Pepperrell AFB Newfoundland

Richard Bong AFB WI - Construction not completed.  If completed, it would have had an airfield.

Schriever AFB CO

Slocum AFB NY

Wolters AFB TX - After the Air Force moved out, the Army used this base for helicopter training.


Bases that lost their Airfields, and remained "Air Force Bases"

For various reasons (such as mission requirements or crowded airspace), these bases closed their operating airfields.  The bases continued to hold the "Air Force Base" title with no airfield.

Bolling AFB DC - Airfield closed and modified for other uses.   Helicopter operations continued.

Brooks AFB TX - Airfield closed and modified for other uses.

Chanute AFB IL - Airfield closed by Air Force, reopened as civilian airport after base closure.

Goodfellow AFB TX - Airfield closed and modified for other uses.

Gunter AFB AL - Airfield closed and modified for other uses.

Lowry AFB CO - Airfield closed and modified for other uses.

Malmstrom AFB MT - Runway closed but still maintained.  Helicopter operations continue.


Special Cases

Here are a few interesting situations that merit explanation.

Arnold AFB TN - Had a runway, and closed it.  Recently, the airfield has been reopened.

Hanscom AFB MA - Originally, Hanscom leased the adjacent airfield.  Now, the state owns the airfield and Hanscom uses it under an agreement.

Lackland AFB TX - There is no airfield on the base proper.  With the closing of Kelly AFB, Lackland has acquired that airfield in the form of Kelly Annex.


The Great "Air Force Station" versus "Air Station" Debate

Many years ago, it was generally accepted practice to use "Air Force Station" for a CONUS installation, but "Air Station" for a similar overseas installation.  (The same concept applied with "Air Force Base" in CONUS and "Air Base" overseas.)  In the 1990s this concept was shaken up, as a high-level decision changed several CONUS "Air Force Station" locations to "Air Station."   By the end of the decade, most had been changed back to "Air Force Station" status.

Arnold AFS TN - Designated an AFS in 1979, then AFB in the 1980s.   DoD reports now list it as an Air Station.

Cheyenne Mountain AFS CO - Changed from AFB to AS in 1994, then to AFS in 2000.

Cape Canaveral AFS FL - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

Cape Cod AFS MA - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

Cavalier AFS ND - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

Eareckson AFS AK - This had been Shemya AFS and Shemya AFB previously.

Eldorado AFS TX - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

New Boston AFS NH - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

Onizuka AFS CA - Changed from AFB to AS in 1994, then to AFS in 2000.

Pillar Point AFS CA - Changed from AFS to AS in 1994, then back to AFS in 2000.

Some "Air Force Stations" were spared from the redesignation fracas; St Louis AFS MO is one example, others included radar stations that were already programmed to close.


The use of "Air Base" instead of "Air Force Base" in the CONUS

General practice has been to use "Air Force Base" in CONUS, but use "Air Base" overseas.  A notable exception occurred in the 1950s, when Air Training Command applied the "Air Base" designator to several contractor-operated flying training bases.

Bainbridge AB GA

Bartow AB FL

Graham AB FL

Hondo AB TX

Malden AB MO

Marana AB AZ

Moore AB TX

Spence AB GA

Stallings AB NC


Summary

The rules of engagement for naming and designating Air Force installations have changed over time.  Rather than an exact science, these rules have been guidelines with room for interpretation.  Just when you think you've broken the code, you'll find an exception.


GO TO MAIN PAGE