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History of Travis Air Force Base


A Short History of Travis Air Force Base


Travis AFB is named in honor of Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, who was killed in a B-29 crash at the installation on 5 August 1950. At the time of his death, the general was commander of the 9th Heavy Bombardment Wing and was the base's commanding general. Formal dedication ceremonies were held on 20 April 1951.

Although today Travis is the home of the largest airlift organization in the Air Force, it began as an isolated airstrip with

Navy F4F Wildcat landing accident - 1943

a few tar paper shacks set in the middle of a wind-swept prairie during World War II. Activated on 11 May 1943, the field was named Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base, after the two closest--mostly agricultural--towns. Planned shortly after Pearl Harbor, the base was to serve as home for medium bombers and fighters assigned to defend the West Coast. The first runway and temporary buildings were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the summer of 1942.  Fourth Army Air Force medium bombers and US Navy planes used the field's runways for pilot training that autumn although it was not yet open and no personnel assigned. For a few months, the outline of an aircraft carrier's deck was painted on the runway to help newly-commissioned navy pilots practice maneuvers. The The Navy liked the strong local prevailing winds because they nearly duplicated those at sea.

Shortly after construction began, however, the base's potential as a major aerial port and supply transfer point for the Pacific theater led the Army Air Corps to assign it to the newly-designated Air Transport Command (ATC). The base was officially activated on May 17, 1943. Its first resident commander, Lt Col-Selectee Arthur W. Stephanson Jr. arrived with the 23rd Ferrying Group on May 29th. He officially opened the base on June 1, 1943, with the primary mission of processing Army bombers and crews prior to ferrying them to the South Pacific War Zone.

Between November 1943 and August 1944 the base was known as "Station 10" of ATC's Pacific Wing. It quickly became the most active base in the area. Military and civilian personnel poured in to process warfighting aircraft and aircrews for the long, arduous flight across the Pacific.

HQ 427th Sub Depot

427th Flight Control shop

The 427th sub-depot, detached from the Sacramento air Depot, had numerous large maintenance building on the base to process the aircraft. The first planes, three B-24 "Liberator" bombers, arrived on July 4, 1943. Determined to show their readiness, Colonel "Steve" and his troops worked 'round the clock for 72 hours to send them off ahead of schedule with complete Identification Friend or Foe equipment and new life rafts aboard. This spirit led base personnel to process over 2,000 military aircraft of almost every type in the next 14 months About half were B-24's followed by B-25 "Mitchells" and C-47 "Skytrain" transports. 

In mid-December 1943, Consairway, the only private contractor flying transports in the war zone, transferred its headquarters to Fairfield-Suisun. For the next two years some 850 Consairways men and women worked here on their C-87 transports which flew two

round trips between the base and the South Pacific front weekly. Other transport missions, flown by military ATC pilots, also used the base.

​Base population, a handful in May 1943, mushroomed to over 2,000 enlisted troops and 175 officers by autumn 1944. The first Women's Army Corps (WAC) personnel arrived on base in August 1943. Within a year there were nearly 200 WACS stationed here, working in all base sections except Military Police, Chemical Warfare, Pilots Section, and the Weather Bureau. In February 1944, members of the Pacific Wing's first black unit began arriving. Known as Section D, this base support unit totaled 328 enlisted troops by September. The base also had an important medical detachment made up of 22 medical officers, 10 nurses, and 101 enlisted medical

B-24 crew headed to South pacific war

personnel. They staffed a 125-bed temporary hospital, always filled beyond capacity with war wounded.

After November 1944, the base's mission changed from processing warplanes to handling military passengers and cargo on ATC flights. The hospital became a major haven for returning wounded veterans and aeromedical transport a priority In May 1945 the War Department decided to make the base permanent and began allowing permanent, concrete buildings. On 1 June 1948, the Military Air Transport Service assumed jurisdiction. In July, two of the base's air transport squadrons left for Europe to assist in the Berlin Airlift.

"Secret City"

What was called the "West River Depot", and later renamed Fairfield Air Force Station, was located on the southwest corner of the base and soon acquired the nickname "Secret City" because of its high security and its work storing and maintaining nuclear bombs. It was the home of the 3083rd Aviation depot Group, an element of the 3079th Aviation Depot Wing, Wright-Patterson AFB,  Ohio and a member of the Air Material Command. To get to it, one had to pass throught the base main gate, then pass through a second guard gate at the station.


Fairfield Air Force Station was an Atomic Energy Commission facility that stored and maintained nuclear weapons. It was established on a site adjacent to what is now known as Travis AFB in about 1940. It was the first Air Force installation in the Up-County area. Fairfield Air Force Station was dissolved

Gate to Fairfield Air Station

effective 01 July 1962. The old supply station, established before Travis AFB and maintaining its identity while a sprawling Air Force base grew around it, became a part of Travis. The 3083rd Aviation Depot Group, which had been under the Air Force Logistics Command, was inactivated with the loss of 11 civilian employees and the re-assignment of 97 military personnel. The 3096th Aviation Depot Squadron remained, with 136 Air Force personnel and three civilians, but became a part of the Military Air Transport Service [MATS].

The Radioactive Burial Site is a fenced back-filled trench that was part of the former Fairfield AFS at Travis AFB. Cleaning materials from the maintenance of the nuclear components were buried in the trench. This is the only soil site on Travis AFB with elevated radioactive readings. The Air Force will excavate the waste materials and contaminated soil and send it to an off-base low level radioactive waste repository specifically designed to handle these materials.

The Department of Defense established the Installation Restoration Program (IRP) in 1975 to provide guidance and funding for the investigation and remediation of hazardous waste sites caused by historical disposal activities at military installations. The fundamental goal of the Travis Air Force Base (AFB) restoration program is to protect human health and the environment. The Air Force accomplishes this by eliminating or reducing to prescribed, safe levels any potential risks caused by the Air Force's past operations.

The first SAC operations at Travis began on 1 May 1949 when the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was assigned here as the host unit for what was then known as the Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base. The 9th's mission was long range photographic reconnaissance in the Pacific area. From the start it was assigned reconnaissance-modified RB-29 Superfortress bombers. On June 17, 1949, Brig Gen Robert F. Travis assumed command of the 9th wing and this base. Six months later, on November 1st, the 5th Strategic Reconnaissance Group was added to the 9th wing as the communist victory in China led to a greater need for trans-Pacific photo reconnaissance. In preparation for the addition of the newer, larger RB-36 Peacemaker aircraft, the 9th wing was reassigned to the Fifteenth Air Force on April 1, 1950. 


Its name was changed to the 9th Bombardment Wing. General Travis continued as host commander here until his tragic death in a RB-29 crash at the end of the base's runway on the night of August 5, 1950. During this period, new hangers appeared, runways were added and widened, and permanent barracks and family living quarters were built. The base grew to its present size which encompasses 6,258 acres.

In the meantime, on February 1, 1951, the 5th group separated from its parent wing and was established as the

RB-36s and RB-29

5th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. Both wings were assigned to the newly-created 14th Air Division whose headquarters were also at Travis. The base's first RB-36 Peacemakers arrived here in February 1951. By 1952 Travis was home to 40 Peacemakers and the RB-29's were being phased out. On March 1, 1953, with the decline of hostilities in Korea, the 9th Bombardment Wing was transferred to Idaho. The 5th Air Base Group became Travis' host unit. Two years later, the 5th wing changed its name to 5th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) on October 1, 1955. Its primary aircraft was still the B-36 Peacemaker but plans were already underway to switch to the all-jet B-52 Stratofortress bombers. Runways here were lengthened in 1957 to 1958 to accommodate the new SAC B-52G's which finally arrived here in February 1959.


The B-52 Stratofortress' capability for in-flight refueling led SAC.officials to establish and activate the 916th Air Refueling Squadron here at Travis on September 1, 1959. The squadron was assigned to the 5th Bombardment Wing. Originally authorized ten KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft and 19 qualified aircrews, the 916th squadron increased its strength to 15 KC-135's and 27 aircrews in June 1962. Its new alert facilities had already been opened at the far side of the Travis flightline in early 1960.

During the 1950s, reorganizations and changes in operating procedures led to a drawdown of SAC forces at Travis and activation of the 1501st Air Transport Wing of MATS on July 1, 1955. Further SAC reductions resulted in return of the base to MATS on July 1, 1958. The 1501st flew C-97s, C-124s, C-130s, and C-133s. The first C-141 arrived on April 23, 1965.

Shortly before the establishment of the 916th squadron here, Travis had been transferred from SAC to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) the forerunner to MAC. Thus from July 1, 1958, SAC no longer had host-unit responsibilities for the base. Under a new SAC policy known as the satellite dispersal policy, two of the 5th Bombardment Wing's flying squadrons transferred to nearby Beale and Mather AFB's in 1958 and 1960. Headquarters of the 14th Air Division also moved to Beale in May 1960. Travis kept the air refueling squadron and one B-52G unit as well as maintenance squadrons but SAC's mission here was clearly reduced.  Finally, on July 25, 1968, SAC officials transferred the 5th Bombardment Wing to Minot AFB, North Dakota. The last B-52G squadron at Travis went to Mather AFB with all its B-52's. This left the 916th Air Refueling Squadron as the only SAC tenant on the base.


On January 1, 1966, as part of a major reorganization of airlift forces, MATS was redesignated the Military Airlift Command (MAC). One week later on January 8, the 1501 ATW was discontinued and its personnel and equipment used to form the newly activated 60th Military Airlift Wing (60 MAW).   Assigned to MAC's 22nd Air Force, the 60th claimed a proud history of World War II and Berlin Airlift service.

The 916th squadron continued to play an important role here, refueling B-52's and other fighter and reconnaissance aircraft from several California bases. The arrival of MAC's C-5A Galaxy at Travis in October 1970 added a new squadron mission since it was the first MAC strategic airlifter which

KC-135 refueling C-5

was fully air refuelable. The 916th's capability was actually expanded in June 1969 to 20 KC-135 Stratotankers and 31 aircrews in anticipation of the C-5A's arrival here. Its KC-135's helped both MAC and SAC aircraft during the hectic years during the conflict in Southeast Asia.   They assisted during both Operation Linebacker, the heavy B-52 raids over Hanoi in December 1972, and Operation Babylift in April 1975. In recognition of the 916th's increasingly important air refueling mission here at Travis, SAC officials decided to raise the unit's status from that of an air refueling squadron to an air refueling group. Thus on July 1, 1977, Headquarters Fifteenth Air force organized and activated the 307th Air Refueling Group here at Travis. The new 307th group included the 916th Air Refueling Squadron and a companion maintenance unit, the 307th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance squadron (CAMS). The 307th group was assigned to the 14th Air Division at Beale AFB, part of Fifteenth Air Force, whose headquarters were at March AFB, Riverside, California.


Travis' initial involvement in the Southeast Asian conflict occurred in 1954 when C-124s of the 1501 ATW assisted in the repatriation of some 504 French Legionaires, most of them survivors of the battle of Dien Bien Phu. As the war escalated, Travis AFB, the primary aerial port on the US west coast, became the center for air logistics support of American forces in Southeast Asia.    Daily C-141 channel missions from Travis to Saigon began in August 1965. During 1966-1970, the peak years of the Vietnam War, more than one million passengers per year moved through the Travis passenger terminal. Cargo and mail for the same period averaged 200,000 tons per year. The 60 MAW earned three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for ser­vice in the war.When deliveries of Lockheed C-5 Galaxys began in 1970, Travis entered a new era of airlift history.  In-flight refuelable and able to carry up to 100 tons in their 144 foot cargo compartments, the C-5s were the free world's largest transport aircraft. With the addition of the C-17, KC-10  and now the KC-46,the capabilities of the 60th AMW have greatly increased.

Known as the "Gateway to the Pacific," Travis today handles more cargo and passenger traffic through its aerial port than any other military air terminal in the United States. Additionally, the base has had a long and proud history of supporting humanitarian airlift at home and around the world. Today, the Travis Team includes approximately 7,260 active military, 3,770 civilians, and 4,250 reservists.

The following article, "Origin and History of TravisAFB" is available for download as a PDF document.  Click on the image or click here to download.


The History of Travis Air Force Base Exhibit


The History of Travis Air Force Base Exhibit contains a wide variety of photographs, documents and artifacts presented in a professional and easy to follow progression.  The time period covered is from 1940 thru 1999.


Travis Air Force Base History Exhibit

Travis Air Force Base Today

“Team Travis” includes host unit 60th Air Mobility Wing, as well as the 15th Expeditionary Mobility Task Force, 615th Contingency Response Wing, 349th Air Mobility Wing (AFRC), and 52 additional partner organizations, including the Navy’s VQ-3 Detachment.  With at least 13,900 Travis active duty, reservists and civilian employees, and over 110,000 retirees and their families within a 50 mile radius, Team Travis encompasses over 133,000 family members.  Together, Team Travis is the only organization that can organically deliver full spectrum global mobility to include Airlift, Air Refueling, Aero-medical Evacuation and Global Reach Laydown for America.

Travis maintains a work force of approximately 6,976 active-duty military and 3,577 civilians to support its global mission.  In addition, the more than 3,100 reservists assigned to the associate 349th Air Mobility Wing combine with their active duty and civilian counterparts to form a fully integrated Total Force team.  The massive Travis work force makes an economic impact in the local community of more than $1.5 billion annually.

For current news about Travis AFB, click here.

A Short Video About Air Mobility Command (AMC)

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