MacDill Air Force Base   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

Library > Fact Sheets > MacDill AFB History


Posted 6/29/2011 Printable Fact Sheet

During the Spanish-American War (1898), Tampa, because of its strategic location, was chosen as a rendezvous point for troops heading south to help Cuba gain independence from Spain. Approximately 10,000 of the 66,000 troops in Tampa waiting for ships headed to Cuba set up camp around what was then known as Port Tampa City, which bordered what is now MacDill AFB.

There are several dates surrounding the history of MacDill AFB. Official records report an establishment date of 24 May 1939, date construction began 6 September 1939, date of beneficial occupancy 11 March 1940 and formal dedication 16 April 1941. This last date is normally associated with the age of the base. 

Originally known as Southeast Air Base, Tampa, and later named MacDill Field in honor of Colonel Leslie MacDill, the field became MacDill Air Force Base shortly after the establishment of the United States Air Force in 1947.
Flying operations at MacDill began in 1941 with the base's first mission including transitional training in the B-17 Flying Fortress. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, MacDill became a major staging area for Army Air Corps flight crews and aircraft. In just 60 days, 15 LB-30 and 63 B-17 aircraft departed MacDill via the south Atlantic and Africa to Australia. 

The base's mission converted to B-26 " Marauder" training in 1942 and it was the B-26 that earned the slogan "one a day in Tampa Bay." The aircraft proved hard to fly and land by many pilots due to its short wings, high landing speeds, and fighter plane maneuverability. Nine of the 12 combat groups that flew the B-26 in Europe were activated and trained at MacDill and in combat the B-26 enjoyed the lowest loss rate of any Allied bomber.

In 1943 the base discontinued B-26 training and returned to B-17 training which continued through the end of World War II. During the war as many as 15,000 troops were stationed at MacDill at one time. A contingent of Women's Army Corps (WACS) troops arrived in 1943.

Estimates of the number of crew members trained at the base vary from 50,000 to 120,000. Several bases in Florida, including MacDill, served as detention centers for German prisoners-of-war (POWs) in the latter part of 1944 and 1945. At its apex, 488 POWs were interned at MacDill. 

Following the end of hostilities in Europe, MacDill transitioned to a B-29 training base in January 1945, and after the war, continued B-29 training through 1953.

After World War II, MacDill became an operational base for Strategic Air Command with training activities focused around P-51, B-29, and in 1950, B-50 training. This aircraft is of the same type residing in MacDill's memorial park today. 

In 1951, MacDill's operational mission transitioned to new B-47 medium jet bombers and KC-97 tanker aircraft, with a primary mission as a strategic bombardment and air refueling base.

Plans to close MacDill surfaced in 1960, however the Cuban Missile Crisis highlighted the strategic location of the base and led to a reprieve of the planned cutbacks. In 1961 the United States Strike Command was established at MacDill as a unified command with integrated personnel from all branches of the military capable of responding to global crisis. 

The base began training crews in F-84 aircraft in 1962, and MacDill became a Tactical Air Command base in 1963. In 1965, MacDill's two combat-ready F-4 wings (the 12th and 15th Tactical Fighter Wings) deployed to Vietnam. The 12th's deployment became permanent while the 15 TFW returned to MacDill and became a replacement training unit with F-4 and B-57 aircraft.

In 1970, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing moved to MacDill replacing the 15 TFW and continued F-4 training, losing the B-57 mission in 1972. MacDill's U.S. Strike Command was redesignated U.S. Readiness Command in 1972. In 1975, the 56 TFW replaced the 1 TFW and continued F-4 training until 1979 when F-16 aircraft were brought to the base. The Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, forerunner of U.S. Central Command, activated at MacDill in 1983.

In 1987, U.S. Special Operations Command replaced U.S. Readiness Command. Helicopter operations ended at MacDill in 1987 after more than 25 years of service. 

Between 1979 and 1993 approximately half of all F-16 pilots were trained at MacDill. During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, accelerated training programs expanded to allow many pilots to go straight from initial training to combat units in the gulf. 

In 1991, due to military downsizing, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (DBCRC) required MacDill to cease all flying operations by 1993. The action effectively transferred MacDill's 100-plus F-16 mission to Luke AFB, Arizona.
1993 legislation reversed the flightline closure ruling and allowed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to transfer to MacDill to utilize the runway. 

The base became home to the 6th Air Base Wing in 1994 with a primary mission of operating the base in support of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and a large number of tenant and transient units. 

In late 1994 the base quickly became a major staging area for operations in Haiti when the flightline became a temporary home to approximately 75 C-130 aircraft.

The successful operation highlighted MacDill's strategic location and flightline capabilities, which in turn led to the 1995 DBCRC's recommendation to bring a KC-135 refueling mission to MacDill. In 1996 the base's host wing redesignation to an Air Refueling Wing marked the beginning of a new era for MacDill.

The Wing's mission slightly expanded again in 1997, although this particular one didn't last long. The Air Force assigned the wing three additional aircraft: two electronic communications aircraft (Boeing EC-135), that supported U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, and one executive transport jet (Boeing CT-43) used by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami. In 2001, the Wing discontinued these two non-tanker missions and replaced them with a new one - airlift. A new squadron, the 310th Airlift Squadron, began operations with three Gulfstream C-37 executive transport aircraft. They provided airlift services to the combatant commands at MacDill (namely U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command) by flying them to various locations around the world in support of their missions. With this new mission came a new designation, the 6th Air Mobility Wing on January 1, 2001.

The base had just started a new future with the new millennium when America suffered a major strike on the homeland. On September 11, 2001, a stateless group of terrorists operating under the title of al-Qaeda, launched a series of coordinated suicide attacks by aircraft on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. struck back with the Global War on Terrorism. President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom into Afghanistan in October 2001 to depose the Taliban, who had harbored the al-Qaeda terrorists. Less than two years after that, in March 2003, the U.S. led another multinational coalition in another major offensive, named Operation Iraqi Freedom, to rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

As both conflicts continued throughout the decade, the 6th Air Mobility Wing supported U.S. Air Forces Central Command operations in Southwest and Central Asia. The 91st Air Refueling Squadron frequently rotated several of its KC-135s to perform tours of duty at Al Udeid Air Base, near Doha, Qatar. Meanwhile, the 310th Airlift Squadron flew many of the top commanders who oversaw these operations to locations around the world.

Additionally, MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing contributed to the war effort in other ways. Thousands of the wing's airmen, as well as members of all services at MacDill, deployed individually to the Middle East, Southwest Asia, or Central Asia in support of the various operations connected to the Global War on Terrorism. In 2007 alone, more than 800 wing personnel deployed to areas ranging from Southwest Asia to the Western Pacific. Their wide variety of assignments included: security forces, vehicle operators, medics, chaplains' assistants, and convoy escorts. In 2009, the WUSF Public Broadcasting station at the University of South Florida in Tampa covered the story of one such MacDill airman who served on combat patrols in Afghanistan. From May 2009 until his return in April 2010, the station broadcasted and posted on their Internet site the experiences, stories, and photographs of a 6th Air Mobility Wing senior master sergeant in the "Afghanistan My Last Tour" series.

Efforts to streamline the Department of Defense in the late 1990s eventually led to new arrangements at MacDill. By 2002, the Air Force had developed a policy to consolidate bases within the U.S. borders. This new mode of operations, dubbed "Total Force Integration," paired different wings - for example, an active duty with a reserve wing - with similar missions to more efficiently use their resources.

In 2005, plans developed for just such a partnership at MacDill after the Department of Defense recommended a major realignment. For starters, the Air Force Reserve's 927th Air Refueling Wing would relocate to MacDill but leave behind its eight KC-135s for redistribution at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan. Along with this, the 319th Air Refueling Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base would realign and send its four KC-135s to MacDill. Meanwhile, down in Florida, the 6th Air Mobility Wing would integrate the four new aircraft and the 927th at MacDill into what the Air Force defined as an "active-reserve" association. Within this new set up, the two wings at MacDill would retain their separate identities, but work together and pool resources. With a combined total of 16 aircraft, both wings' pilots would fly the same KC-135s, although for their respective wing's missions. In 2007, the four new aircraft arrived and began operations with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron. In 2008, MacDill welcomed the 927th Air Refueling Wing.

The following year, Air Force's restructuring process brought even more changes. However, this time, it wasn't as readily apparent, since there were no physical signs of the new squadron on base. The new unit, the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, was assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing, but stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. In this unique arrangement, the squadron fell under the 6th Air Mobility Wing's chain of command for administrative purposes. However, the squadron remained at Seymour Johnson to perform operations as part of the Air Force Reserve's 916th Air Refueling Wing.

In 2010, the 6th Air Mobility Wing added another such squadron. This time, the 99th Air Refueling Squadron joined the chain of command. However, it too remained at its home base, the Birmingham International Airport, where it flew missions for the Air National Guard's 117th Air Refueling Wing.

MacDill's strategic location to the Caribbean came into play yet again in 2010. On January 12, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck near the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. An estimated three million people were affected by the earthquake: 230,000 killed, 300,000 injured, and one million left homeless.

The U.S. immediately launched a relief effort, named Operation Unified Response, which included personnel from all branches of the military. MacDill became a major hub for relief forces moving into the area. By January 14, Air Force special tactics personnel were controlling operations at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, after clearing runways and setting-up 24-hour air traffic control. Back at MacDill, airmen provided support to the contingency response group that helped re-open the damaged airfield in Haiti, enabling the flow of medical assistance, food, and other relief supplies to earthquake victims.
All of the 6th Air Mobility Wing's groups provided some form of support for the relief efforts. In the early stages, the security forces had helped open the runways. Later, the tanker aircrews flew missions over the Caribbean to refuel the C-17 "Globemaster III" and the C-130 "Hercules" aircraft delivering personnel and relief supplies to Haiti and then recovering evacuees. A 13-person mobile aeromedical team deployed to the earthquake-ravaged area and provided emergency medical care for the large number of wounded. The mechanics on base performed maintenance and other related services for the aircraft using MacDill's runways.

By February 18, the Air Force had transported approximately 6,000 personnel and 19 million pounds of cargo in support of the relief operations. It also evacuated 15,000 American citizens and conducted aeromedical evacuations for 223 critically-injured Haitian patients.

Today at MacDill, the 6th Air Mobility Wing generates and performs air refueling, airlift, and contingency response missions for U.S. and allied forces around the world. The Wing flies 16 Boeing KC-135 "Stratotankers," three Gulfstream C-37A executive transport jets, and has more than 15,000 personnel assigned. Additionally, the 6th Air Mobility Wing is the host unit for MacDill Air Force Base and provides direct support to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, and 39 other tenant units.

For more information on MacDill AFB history, click here.

6th Air Mobility Wing
Public Affairs Office
MacDill AFB, FL
(813) 828-2215

 Inside MacDill AFB

ima cornerSearch

ima cornerOrganizations


Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act