The beginnings of Columbus Air Force Base

The Commercial Dispatch
Rufus Ward

It was in the early 1930s that community leaders in the Columbus area began pursuing an air base. Captain Sam Kaye, Herman Owen and T C Billups were among the first to promote an air base or airport to be located at Columbus. Billups helped secure the full support of his old college friend, Congressman John Rankin, but that initial effort was unsuccessful.

As the European conflict intensified in 1940, the City of Columbus and Lowndes County approved the issuance of $30,000 in airport bonds. Then in February 1941 citizens from Columbus and surrounding towns including Starkville, West Point, Macon and Aberdeen met to jointly work towards securing defense related industries. Ed Kuykendall was elected the chair of the new association.

Mississippi’s congressional delegation provided their support and Congressman Pat Harrison learned that Columbus was one of eight sites under consideration for an air base. Although unsuccessful the earlier efforts had been remembered by the Air Corps. A local site committee chaired by William Propst suggested three possible locations for the air base.

In March of 1941, Ralph Webb, Birney Imes and Ed Kuykendall contacted General Walter Weaver at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, and arranged for him to come to Columbus and inspect the possible sites. General Weaver liked a site nine miles north of Columbus on Highway 45. Columbus then passed a bond issue to purchase the needed land, most of which sold for $22 an acre.

On June 9, 1941, the War Department gave approval for the location and construction of an Air Corps base at Columbus. Congress authorized funds totaling $4,123,943 for the construction of the base. Actual construction began on July 23, 1941. Highway 45 went through the middle of the base site and it had to be relocated to its’ present location east of the base.

Colonel Louie Mallory was the first base commander, assuming command on October 21, 1941. He served as commander until April 5, 1945. By mid January 1942 the base was basically completed at a cost of more than Z$7 million dollars. On Jan. 22, 1942 the new base was named Kaye Field after highly decorated World War I Columbus aviator Sam Kaye. Within a few days of the base being named, 1,000 troops and 41 aircraft arrived and Kaye Field was designated an advanced training school.

It was not long before a serious problem arose with the base’s name. It was so similar to Key Field at Meridian that airplanes were landing at the wrong base. On April 6, 1942, the name was changed to Columbus Army Flying School and then on April 28, 1943, the name was again changed to Columbus Army Air Field.

During World War II 7,412 pilots earned their wings at Columbus. The story of the base’s contributions during World War II, and later as a California Eastern Airways contract pilot training base during the Korean War, the Strategic Air Command’s 454th Bomb Wing and now the 14th Flying Training Wing makes a fascinating history. In 2008 base historian Connie Lisowski compiled and wrote an excellent 174 page illustrated history of Columbus Air Force Base.

A History of Columbus Air Force Base has now been published and is being sold by the Base Community Council. Copies may be purchased at; Neel-Schaffer Inc., located at 2310 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Columbus.

[A copy of A History of Columbus Air Force Base is also located in the Local History Room at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library]

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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