Skip to main content

Brooks Air Force Base, Texas

It's Origin

Brooks Air Force Base (AFB) was originally named Kelly Field Number 5. It was renamed in honor of Sidney Johnson Brooks, Jr. a cadet who died in a flying accident on November 13, 1917. The Aviation Section of the United States Signal Corps renamed Kelly Field Number 5 on February 16, 1918. Cadet Brooks may have blacked out from the inoculations he received before his fatal flight. This would be an ironic connection to the future Brooks AFB.

Brooks Field

On March 28, 1918 Major Leo A. Walton took off in a Curtis JN-4D “Jenny” from Brooks Field. It was the first aircraft to fly from Brooks Field.[i] During World War I Brooks Field served as a training base for Army fliers. The Army had 16 temporary hangers constructed. Hanger T-9, now known as the Edward H. White II Memorial, survives to this day.

The pilot instructor school closed down in May 1919. The Army used the Field for Balloon and Airship instruction. The 1st Balloon Group was activated at Brooks Field in 1921. One of the airships was the blimp C-2. The airship training school was moved to Scott Field, Illinois on June 26, 1922.[ii]

Brooks Field was the Primary Flying School of the Army Air Corps from September 1922 to July 1931. It trained 1,400 pilots including Generals Claire L. Chennault, Thomas D. White, Nathan F. Twining, and Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh. The world’s first mass parachute drop occurred at Brooks Field, September 28, 1929. Brooks Field was also had the School of Aviation Medicine until the school transferred to Randolph Field in October 1931.[iii]

Brooks Field switched from training pilots to training primarily observers. Observation training lasted until August 1943. Brooks Field’s mission was then to train B-25 Mitchel pilots.[iv] The pilot training program ended with World War II. [v]

Brooks AFB became a training center for United States Air Force Reserve (USAFRES) pilots in 1951. It received its first planes, T-6 Texans, in 1952. Two C-46 Commandoes and 5 T-28s joined the T-6s. In 1954 a C-119 joined the Reserve Wing. [vi]


[i] Order of Battle of the United States Landing Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 2, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949. Zone of the Interior, Territorial Departments, Tactical Divisions organized in 1918. Posts, Camps and Stations.

[ii] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

[iii] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

[iv] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

[v] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

[vi] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

Brooks AFB

On October 1, 1959 Brooks AFB became the headquarters for the Aerospace Medical Center. On June 20, 1960 a C-131 Samaritan, piloted Colonel L.B. Matthews, departed Brooks AFB. With the departure the Brooks AFB runway ceased active operations. [i]

The Professor of Space Medicine at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine was Dr. Hubertus Strughold. Dr. Strughold was the Father of Aerospace Medicine. In 1977 the Air Force named the Aeromedical Library at Brooks AFB the Hubertus Strughold Aeromedical Library. Dr. Strughold was a revered figure at the base. In the 1980s Dr. Strughold’s involvement in Nazi human experiments came to light. The Air Force renamed the Aeromedical Library in 1995.

In November 1963 President John F. Kennedy visited Brooks AFB. His visit included seeing airmen in a space capsule simulator. The space capsule simulator was to test how men would endure long space flights. President Kennedy made a speech at Brooks AFB before flying to Dallas. This was his last public speech. The podium President Kennedy used for this speech was one of the artifacts at Hangar 9.

Brooks AFB studied the space chimps. The study continued for the life of the chimps. The study went from the immediate, to the long term, effects of space travel. Were their medical issues human astronauts might have in their old age?

Many of the airmen who worked on the base volunteered to be subjects in medical experiments. These experiments ranged from the mundane to the excitement of the centrifuge. A fighter plane’s seat was normally set back 20 degrees for pilot comfort. Experiments at Brooks AFB found a pilot can remain conscious much longer if the seat was set back further. The F-16 Fighting Falcon’s pilot seat was set back 38 degrees.

Brooks AFB also had hyperbaric chamber. Besides tests it was used to accelerate healing of military members and civilians. It was originally believed the hyperbaric chamber could cure dementia. Unfortunately, the brain function improvement only lasted as long as the patient was in the chamber.

Scroll to Continue

When the Air Force opened the pilot career field to women the question was how could women tolerate G forces. Centrifuge tests at Brooks AFB with women stationed at the base showed women could take G forces at least as well as men.

[i] Brooks City-Base, Texas, https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/brooks.htm, last accessed 1/25/20.

Brooks AFB aka Sleepy Hollow

By the 1970s people assigned to Brooks AFB nicknamed the base “Sleepy Hollow”. Without an active runway or strict military discipline, in the jargon of the day, “it wasn’t the real Air Force”.

The military bases and services had floats for the annual Fiesta parade in San Antonio. In the 1960s the Brooks AFB float, as with the other military bases, had a military theme. In the 1970s the other bases had military themes. The Brooks AFB float had non-military themes.

Many of the support buildings were old. Brooks AFB base had two dining facilities. They were next to each other. One was named “The Rocket Room”. It had space program related pictures on the walls. Military people complaining about the food in the dining facilities seems an unofficial tradition. The military personnel at Brooks AFB did at least their share of complaining about the food. One exception was when Mexican food was on the menu. The Mexican food was a cut above the regular dining facility food.

On December 16, 1978 an airplane landed at Brooks AFB for the first time in almost 20 years. It was the 75th Anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first flight. Brooks AFB celebrated the occasion by having a Tiger Moth land at Brooks AFB.

There were three F-105 Thunderchiefs on Brooks AFB. They were used to practice repairing battle damage.

A local television station closed its nightly news with a segment about some Brooks AFB airmen. They had broken a record for beer can stacking. The segment closed by stating, “Sleep lightly tonight because your Air Force is intoxicated.”[i]


[i] This is a variation on a popular humor posted that showed a geriatric man in a flight suite with the caption, “Sleep well tonight your Air Force is awake.”

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 01, 2020:

Yea, they have a wonderful collection.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on August 01, 2020:

I've never been to Wright-Patt, though the brochure has always looked nice. I hope to visit the museum there one day.

Robert Sacchi (author) on July 28, 2020:

Brooks AFB is a science, business, and technology center. They had the centrifuge open when I was there. When they took people on tours if they were testing animals in the centrifuge they wouldn't take the visitors to see it. Thanks for reading and commenting. Wright-Patt would make for a good article.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on July 28, 2020:

Robert - great article recounting the history of Brooks AFB. They used to have a centrifuge there, and in the early days of my career, I can remember hearing a story about the effectiveness of the centrifuge in combating air sickness. Basically, if you put someone who is susceptible to air sickness in the centrifuge enough times, they will puke over and over and over again until they eventually get over it. I remember hearing that it was 100% effective that way. Also, until they opened up the centrifuge over at Wright-Patt, I think we still sent folks to Brooks for centrifuge training administered by civilian contractors. Great article about a fascinating base. I do wonder what became of it since it closed in 2011.

Robert Sacchi (author) on April 24, 2020:

Thank you. Stay well.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 24, 2020:

That is wonderful that you are feeling better. Hope it stays that way!

Robert Sacchi (author) on April 21, 2020:

Yes, I'm feeling much better. I went back to work yesterday. Thank you very much.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 21, 2020:

San Antonio has had many people travel through there at the various military bases over the years. Just checking in and hoping that you are feeling better.

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 29, 2020:

I'm glad you found the article interesting. Seems you have many more interesting stories to tell.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 29, 2020:

It looks like a fascinating piece of history. I love old airbases as I have landed on so many of them like the one at Kumbhigran in Assam with 27 runaways and used by the USAF during WW II to bomb China ( Now in disuse). Your tale whets the appetite and one craves for more.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 16, 2020:

Since Brooks AFB had its own museum, albeit a small one, Brooks had a claim to it. Thank you for reading and commenting.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 16, 2020:

It may be an out of the way AFB but it has some interest history. I’m surprised the podium wasn’t carted off to another location for historical value.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 09, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting. "Sleepy Hollow" was just a nickname the people on the base gave it. Brooks AFB was overshadowed by Lackland, Kelly, and Randolph, where were also in the San Antonio area. Your husband probably went to basic training at Lackland AFB. Depending on the year it was probably the only Air Force basic training base.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 09, 2020:

I didn't know any air force base was called Sleepy Hallow. My husbad was in the air force when he went to Vietnam. He has never mentioned this base, but as it changed in 1960, I don't think he was ever there. This is an interesting article, Robert.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 09, 2020:

It is true that photos document a time and place, and often have value in later years.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 08, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm sure the histories of the bases you were on would make for a great article.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 08, 2020:

Airbases are very important and over the decades become part of history.l have served on a few and can understand the joy of working om a base and its importance. Your article gave a fascinating account of this base of the US.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 08, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting. I am glad you found the article interesting. The first episode of The Twilight Zone was about an Air Force officer who was in a capsule simulator. Unlike the character in the television show the test subject in real life didn't freak out. I think of Brooks every time I watch that episode. That is one thing about pictures, they may be mundane at the time but after a couple of decades they become interesting. As the line from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" goes, put it in the ground for 1,000 years and it becomes priceless.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 08, 2020:

This is a really interesting article, Robert. I learned much by reading it. I never knew that Lindbergh trained there, nor that it served as an airship training school in the early days. The information about the early days of testing regarding space exploration is also informative. Those old pictures are now a part of history.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 08, 2020:

This is a detailed and interesting history of this air force base in its many uses.

Related Articles