HISTORY OF THE MARCH FIELD AIR
On December 19, 1979, Lt. General James P. Mullins,
15th Air Force Commander, delivered an address at the dedication ceremony
for the new March Air Force Base Museum.
The new museum was initially housed in the March Air
Force Base's 1930-vintage base theater (shown above) located just north
of the base's parade ground. There, the museum's 2000 square foot main exhibit
area was filled with photographs depicting the history of the base from its
founding in 1918. Model airplanes and paintings were also original display
items. An aircraft park, to feature aircraft that once flew from March, was
also established near the main gate at Cactus and Graham. "It's important
to capture the essence of our past and to portray and illustrate the history
of March Field." said Major Brian Daly, the museum's first director.
In 1980 three important museum events occurred. One
--- the March Field Museum was officially recognized as an Air Force Facility
in March 1980. Two --- the March Field Museum Foundation was established
in May 1980. Three --- in November 1980 the display area for museum aircraft
(featuring three aircraft) was open to the public. The March Field
Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to support the museum with
fund raising and volunteer help. The Foundation operates a Gift Shop,
holds golf tournaments, annual Santa Maria Barbeque's and other events to
raise money. $400,000 was raised to build the current hangar
During the early years the March Field Museum grew
by leaps and bounds, so much so, that within a year the museum quickly doubled
the number of artifacts in its possession and filled the theater building
to capacity. So rapid was the growth that the museum outgrew its original
building and needed to be moved to new quarters.
On February 20, 1981, the March Field Museum opened
its doors to the public in another facility shown above (Building 420--the
former commissary building). The building was 26,000 square feet and allowed
for two or three aircraft to be put indoors plus the relocation of the collection
and office space. Prior to 1993, most of the approximately 50 airplanes
were located on a flightline parking ramp.
The March Field Museum remained in the commissary building
until 1993 when the museum moved to its current location on the west side
of the runway. The 26,880 square foot facility allowed for more and better
displays on aircraft and March Field history. The aircraft are now
parked at the new museum location and can be seen from the freeway. Before
1996, the museum director's office had been staffed by either civil service
or military personel under the Vice Wing Commander's office. In April
1996, upon the realignment and downsizing of March Air Force Base,
the museum (all but the airplanes, which remain on loan to USAF) was
turned over from the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, through the Joint
Powers Commission, to the March Field Museum Foundation, to be run as a private,
non-profit institution. Since that time, the P-38 National Association has
added their museum building to the grounds. On June 15, 2000, a dedication
ceremony for the new Dick Van Rennes Restoration Hangar was held. The restoration
hangar is located near the P-38 building.
The March Field Air Museum opened a new 12,000
square foot "Hangar 2" in June, 2011, for educational programs, the
museum library and events.
In May, 1999, the Board of Managers approved
changing the name of the museum from "The March Field Museum" to "The March
Field Air Museum".
HISTORY OF MARCH AIR FORCE
The story of March Field began at a time when the
United States was rushing to build up its military forces in anticipation
of an entry into World War I. News from the front in Europe had not been
good as it explained for those at home the horror and boundless human misery
associated with stalemated trench warfare. Several European news sources
reported significant German efforts at this time to build a fleet of flying
machines that could well alter the nature of modern warfare and possibly
carry the war to the skies. In response, Congressional appropriations in
early 1917 in the neighborhood of $640,000,000 attempted to back the plans
of General George O. Squier, the Army's chief signal officer, to "put the
Yankee punch into the war by building an army in the air." At the same time
the War Department announced its intentions to build several new military
installations. Efforts by Mr. Frank Miller, then owner of the Mission Inn
in Riverside, Hiram Johnson and other California notables, succeeded in gaining
War Department approval to construct an airfield at Alessandro Field located
near Riverside, an airstrip used by aviators from Rockwell Field on cross-country
flights from San Diego. A parade in Riverside on February 9, 1918, gave notice
than an army flying field would soon be coming to Riverside.
The Army wasted no time in establishing a new airfield.
Sergeant Charles E. Garlick, who had landed at Alessandro Field in a "Jenny"
in November, 1917, was selected to lead the advance contingent of four men
to the new base from Rockwell Field. On February 26, 1918, Garlick and his
crew and a group of mule skinners from nearby Colton, known to be experts
in clearing land as well as for their colorful syntax, began the task of
excavating the building foundations at Alessandro. On March 20, 1918, Alessandro
Flying Training Field became March Field, named in honor of Second Lieutenant
Peyton C. March, Jr., son of the Army Chief of Staff, who had been killed
in a flying accident in Texas the previous month. By late April, 1918, enough
progress had been made in the construction of the new field to allow the
arrival of the first troops. The commander of the 818 Aero Squadron detachment,
Captain William Carruthers, took over as the field's first commander and
for a time operated out of an office in the Mission Inn. Within a record
60 days the grain stubble-covered plain of Moreno Valley had been partially
transformed to include 12 hangers, six barracks equipped for 150 men each,
mess halls, a machine shop, a post exchange, a hospital, a supply depot,
an aero repair building, bachelor officer's quarters and a residence for
the commanding officer. On May 15 when the first JN-4D "Jenny" took off,
March Field seemed to have come into its own as a training installation.
The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, did not halt training
at March Field initially but by 1921, the decision had been made to phase
down all activities at the new base in accordance with sharply reduced military
budgets. In April, 1923, March Field closed its doors with one sergeant left
March Field remained quiet for only a short time.
In July, 1926, Congress created the Army Air Corps and approved the Army's
five-year plan which called for an expansion in pilot training and the activation
of tactical units. Accordingly, funds were appropriated for the reopening
of March Field in March of 1927. Colonel William C. Gardenhire, assigned
to direct the refurbishment of the base, had just directed his crews to replace
underpinnings of many of the previous buildings when he received word the
future construction would be in Spanish Mission architectural design. In
time, March Field would receive permanent structures. The rehabilitation
effort was nearly complete in August, 1927, when Major Millard F. Harmon
reported in to take over the job of base commander and commandant of the
flying school. Classes began shortly after his arrival. In the months ahead
Air Force leaders such as Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining, Thomas Power and
Curtis LeMay completed their initial flight training at March Field. The
base, however, was about to enter a new era.
As March Field began to take on the appearance of a
permanent military installation, the base's basic mission changed. When Randolph
Field began to function as a training site in 1931, March Field became an
operational base. Before the end of the year, the 7th Bomb Group, commanded
by Major Carl A. Spaatz, brought its Condor B-2 and Keystone B-4 bombers
to the picturesque field. The activation of the 17th Pursuit Group and several
subordinate units along with the arrival of the 1st Bombardment Wing initiated
a period where March Field became associated with the Air Corp's heaviest
aircraft as well as an assortment of fighters.
In the decade before World War II, March Field took
on much of its current appearance. It also became more than a place hard
to find on aerial maps of Southern California. Lieutenant Colonel Henry H.
(Hap) Arnold, base commander from 1931 to 1936, changed this. Through
well-publicized maneuvers to Yosemite, Death Valley and other sites in
California, a visit by Governor James Rolph in March 1932, numerous visits
by Hollywood celebrities including Bebe Daniels, Wallace Berry, Rochelle
Hudson and others, and visits by famous aviators including Amelia Earhart,
March Field gained prominence. Articles in Los Angeles newspapers kept March
Field in the news and brought to it considerable public attention. The completion
of the first phase of permanent buildings in 1934 added to the scenic quality
of the base. This was also a period of outstanding achievements in test flights
and other contributions to the new science of aviation. Dusty March Field
had come a long way in one decade.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 quickly
brought March Field back into the business of training air crews. Throughout
the war many soon-to-be-famous bombardment groups performed their final training
at March before embarking for duty in the Pacific. During this period the
base doubled in area and at the zenith of the war effort supported approximately
75,000 troops. At the same time, the government procured a similar-sized
tract west of the San Diego highway that bordered the base and established
Camp Haan as an anti-aircraft artillery training facility. It supported 85,000
troops at the height of its activity. For a time, March Field remained a
bust place indeed. In 1946, Camp Haan became a part of March's real estate
holding when operations at the base returned to a more normal setting.
After the war, March reverted to its operational role
and became a Tactical Air Command base. The main unit, the famed 1st Fighter
Wing, brought the first jet aircraft, the F-80, to the base. This deviation
from the traditional bombardment training and operations functions did not
long endure. In 1949, March became a part of the relatively new Strategic
Air Command. Headquarters Fifteenth Air Force along with the 33d Communications
Squadron moved to March from Colorado Springs in the same year. Also in 1949,
the 22d Bombardment Wing moved from Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Kansas to
March. Thereafter, these three units remained as dominant features of base
From 1949 to 1953, the B-29 Superfortresses dominated
the flightline at March Air Force Base. For four months, July to October,
the 22d saw action over Korea and in this brief period, contributed to the
elimination of all strategic enemy targets. Involvement in the Korean Conflict
had no sooner ended when the wing converted from the huge propeller-driven
B-29s to the sleek B-47 jet bombers and their supporting tankers, the KC-97s.
The KC-97s belonging to the 17th and 22d Air Refueling Squadrons represented
an amazing jump in technology. Planes and crews from March began breaking
altitude and distance records. The new refueling planes introduced a significant
advance in operational range. Overall operational capability could now be
measured in global terms. This had been demonstrated earlier when General
Archie Old, the Fifteenth Air Force commander, had led a flight of three
B-52s in a non-stop around-the-world flight termed "Power Flight" in just
45 hours and 19 minutes. Ceremonies upon their arrival at March on January
18, 1957, emphasized the global reach of the Strategic Air Command. In 1960,
the first Reserve unit was assigned to March, flying C-119s. The end of the
1960s saw March Air Force Base preparing to exchange its B-47s and KC-97s
for updated bombers and tankers. Increasing international tensions in Europe
and elsewhere by September 16, 1963, brought March its first B-52B bomber,
"The City of Riverside." Soon 15 more of the giant bombers appeared on the
flightline along with new KC-135 jet "Stratotankers." March's first KC-135,
"The Mission Bell" arrived on October 4, 1963. For the next twenty years
this venerable team would dominate the skies over what had come to be called
the Inland Empire as the 22d Bombardment Wing played a feature role in the
Strategic Air Command's mission.
During this period both tankers and bombers stood alert
at March as part of America's nuclear deterrent force. The might of March's
bombers and tankers, however, were soon to be used in quite another scenario.
During the conflict in Southeast Asia, the 22d Bombardment Wing deployed
its planes several times and March crews learned well the meaning behind
such names as Young Tiger, Rolling Thunder, Arc Light and Linebacker II.
In these troubled years the base served as a logistical springboard for supplies
and equipment en route to the Pacific. Near the end of the conflict, March
operated as one of the reception centers for returning prisoners of war.
Following the end of hostilities in Southeast Asia,
the 22d returned to its duties as an integral part of the Strategic Air Command.
For the next eighteen years until 1982, March effectively supported America's
defensive posture. The occurred through several post-Vietnam adjustments.
One of these brought the retirement of the wing's last B-52 on November 9,
1982. This event signaled yet another era for March Air Force Base and for
the 22d. The 22d Bombardment Wing , so long a key ingredient in March's long
history, would become an air refueling wing with the new KC-10 tanker. The
new tankers, able to accomplish considerably more than the KC-135s, promised
a new tomorrow for the Strategic Air Command. Within months after the first
KC-10 arrived at March on August 11, 1982, crews quickly realized the ability
of the new aircraft to carry cargo and passengers as well as impressive fuel
loads over long distances. Air refueling for March Air Force Base had entered
a new age. The California Air National Guard also arrived in 1982, bringing
with them the F-4C's.
Beginning in the early 1980s the KC-10 became the vehicle
carrying March Air Force Base into a new technological epoch. The large KC-10s
with their versatility and their dependability again gave the base a featured
part in America's efforts to retain a strong and flexible military air arm.
The utter importance of the KC-10s in conventional operations became a
particularly apparent during Desert Shield and Desert Storm where their
outstanding service contributed measurably to the success of American forces
in the defense of Saudi Arabia and the liberation of Kuwait.
In 1993, March Air Force Base was selected for realignment.
In August 1993, the 445th Airlift Wing transferred to March from Norton AFB,
Calif. On January 3, 1994, the 22d Air Refueling Wing was transferred to
McConnell AFB, Kansas, and the 722d Air Refueling Wing stood up at March.
As part of the Air Force's realignment and transition, March's two Reserve
units, the 445th Airlift Wing and the 452d Air refueling Wing were deactivated
and their personnel and equipment joined under the 452d Air Mobility Wing
on April 1, 1994. On April 1, 1996, March officially became March Air Reserve
From the dusty stubble that once was Alessandro Flying
Strip to today, March, for over 70 years, has been a key element in the advance
of aviation and in the growth of the modern Air Force. As the Air Force
restructures and prepares for new challenges, March seems destined to remain
as an important base for the air operations of tomorrow.