- For the civil use of this facility, see Palm Beach International Airport
Palm Beach Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force base located in Palm Beach County, just west of West Palm Beach, Florida. During its operational use by the military, its major mission was air transport and as a training base. It was closed in 1962.
During World War II, it was known as Morrision Army Airfield, taking its name from the civilian airport, Morrision Field, from which it originated.
In 1940 the United States Army Air Corps indicated a need for the airfield as part of the buildup of its forces after World War II began in Europe. Operating under a lease from Palm Beach County, the airport airport came under formal military control and on 25 November 1940 a construction program began to turn the civil airport into a military airfield. Construction involved runways and airplane hangars, with three concrete runways, several taxiways and a large parking apron and a control tower. Several large hangars were also constructed. Buildings were ultimately utilitarian and quickly assembled. Most base buildings, not meant for long-term use, were constructed of temporary or semi-permanent materials. Although some hangars had steel frames and the occasional brick or tile brick building could be seen, most support buildings sat on concrete foundations but were of frame construction clad in little more than plywood and tarpaper.
During the transition from airport to military airfield, the Air Corps 8th Pursuit Wing, assigned to the Third Air Force, III Interceptor Command was stationed at Palm Beach Air Base (as the facility was originally named) between 16 May-1 November 1941. The wing's 49th Pursuit Group flew Seversky P-35 and Curtiss P-40 fighters from the field before being reassigned to Drew Field, near Tampa
World War II
The airfield was officially opened on 19 January 1942,and the facility was and assigned to Third Air Force. Third Air Force operations from Morrison AAF consisted of reconnaissance antisubmarine flights along the Florida coast In addition, aircraft from the airfield were assigned to "Project X", the ferrying of personnel, aircraft and equipment to the Philippines after the Pearl Harbor Attack.
The airfield was transferred to Army Air Forces Ferrying Command (later Air Transport Command) on 19 January 1942, and for the balance of the war became Headquarters for the Caribbean Wing of ATC. The base operating unit at Morrision Field was the 1103d Army Air Force Base Unit. Under Ferrying (Air Transport) Command, Morrision AAF became a major aerial port of embarkation for ferried aircraft departing over the Atlantic Ocean on what became known as the "Southeastern route". A subheadquarters of Ferrying command, known as the South Atlantic Sector, was established at the field. In order to concentrate all transport activities at the one base, the 3131th Materiel Squadron and certain key officers were transferred to Morrision from Miami Airport, where a small control office had existed since November 1941. At Morrison Field the 313th Ferrying (later Transport) Squadron performed 1st and 2d echelon maintenance, while heavy maintenance work of 3d and 4th echelon became the responsibility of the subdepot established at Morrision by the Air Service Command in late February 1942. Aircraft maintenance was very important, for the success of an overwater flight depended largely on the mechanical condition of the airplane on take-off.
The South Atlantic Transport Route In March 1942, the first numbers of a consignment of seventy-two lend-lease B-25 Mitchell Bombers to the Russians arrived at Morrision Field. Considerable work was required in putting these two-engine bombers in shape for overseas flight. They were then turned over to Pan American Air Ferries crews who flew them first to the Pan American base at Miami Airport for final flight checks before being flown to Africa via Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico; Waller Field, Trinidad; Atkinson Field, British Guiana; Bel m and Natal Fields, Brazil before crossing the South Atlantic, arriving at Roberts Field in Liberia. From Guiana, aircraft and personnel were either flown north to Portugal and then to England to support Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, or across Africa to Egypt, where they supported Twelfth or Fifteenth Air Force. Subsequent Lend-Lease flights were flown from Egypt to Iran, where the Russians received the shipments. Between March and the end of 1942, a total of 102 B-25's were flight-delivered to the Russians over the southeastern route.
In addition to Lend-Lease aid, American air combat in the Middle East began in June 1942 with the arrival in that theater of the so-called Halverson Detachment under Col. Harry A. Halverson. The HALPRO ferrying operation was handled smoothly and efficiently, without a single accident or loss and with very few delays of individual aircraft en route. Sufficient time was taken at the assembly point at Fort Myers, Florida, to train the crews and to put the aircraft in first-class mechanical shape. About two weeks before the detachment was ready to leave Fort Myers, Ferrying Command representatives from Morrison Field met with Colonel Halverson and his staff to work out in advance details for the staging and movement of the project. This consultation proved advantageous, for when the aircraft reached Morrison Field very little time was lost in last-minute processing. The detachment was organized into three flight echelons of 7-8-8 aircraft, with flights spaced about two days apart in order not to overcrowd facilities along the route. A few of the aircraft were delayed briefly but caught up with their flights, and all three echelons arrived in the Middle East on schedule. Altogether, it was a highly successful operation and pointed the way to improved methods of handling mass flights of aircraft in the future
Throughout the war, Air Transport command used the South Atlantic Route to send hundreds of thousands of personnel, supplies and equipment to the European, Mediterranean, Middle East and African theatres. In June 1944, the first B-29 Superfortress aircraft, bound for bases in India and China, arrived at Morrison Field to begin their South Atlantic transit.
During World War II, over 16,000 tactical and cargo aircraft transited Morrision AAF, carrying over 100,000 crew personnel and passengers. With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Morrision Field became an aircraft maintenance center for ATC C-54 Skymaster and C-74 Globemaster transport aircraft under the 1103d Army Air Force Base Unit. Also, the airfield became a point of return for many aircraft being flown from Europe back to the United States, along with their aircrews and some support personnel.
In October 1945 the airfield was designated as a permanent station in the interim United States Air Force. In March 1946, the amalgamation of base support and operational units at Morrision AAF were consolidated into the 1703d Air Transport Group. Beginning in July 1946, the 308th Reconnaissance Group (Long Range Weather) began operating modified B-29 Superfortresses from the airfield to collect hurricane data for the Air Weather Service.
The airfield was placed in reserve status on 1 July 1947 as a result of fiscal reductions and largely returned to civil control. Personnel and equipment were reassigned largely to Brookley Army Airfield, Alabama, and the move was completed by 1 August.
During the immediate postwar years, Research and Development Command used the airfield for various R&D projects, including testing of the Convair XB-46 Experimental jet bomber. It was also used by the Eastern Defense Command as a storage facility for excess Demolition and General purpose Bombs. The Air Force also used the airport for transit flights in conjunction with its activities with its Representative Office, Detachment 4, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Group. This arrangement continues to this day. Also the Air Force Reserve 435th Troop Carrier Group operated C-119 Flying Boxcars from the field until June 1949 until moving to Miami Airport.
In 16 September 1951, as a result of the Cold War and the Korean War, the United States Air Force reactivated the facility, naming it Palm Beach Air Force Base and assigning it to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) Continental Division. The facility was operated jointly as a military air base and as a civilian airport. The Air Force facilities were on the north side of the airfield, and the civil airport operating along the south side along Southern Boulevard, first in a hangar and then in an adjacent building.
MATS used the base as a training facility with the host unit being the 1707th Air Transport Wing (Heavy), and its 1740th Heavy Transport Training Unit. The 1707th ATW was known as the "University of MATS", becoming the primary USAF training unit for all Air Force personnel supporting and flying heavy transport aircraft. These included C-124 Globemaster II, C-118 Liftmaster, C-97 Stratofreighter, and C-54 Skymaster maintenance training along with aircrew and transition pilot training. Nearly 23,000 airmen were trained at Palm Beach Air Force Base.
The MATS Air Weather Service used Palm Beach AFB as a headquarters for hurricane research, flying the first WB-50D Superfortress "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft from the base in 1956.
After several years of Palm Beach County fighting the Air Force presence in West Palm Beach, the Air Force started to close down operations at the base. The 1707th ATW was inactivated on 30 June 1959 and reassigned to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. With its departure, Palm Beach County took over airfield operations. The Air Force retained a small presence at the base with the 9th Weather Group becoming the main operational unit at Palm Beach AFB, performing hurricane and weather research for the Air Weather Service. In addition, the Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS) moved its 1370th Photo-Mapping Wing to the base performing geodetic survey flights. During the early 1960s, it was used by Air Force One, with President John F. Kennedy landing at the base when staying at the Kennedy home in Palm Beach. The Air Force closed the military airfield part of Palm Beach International Airport in 1962.
Time and much development has taken place in the area over the past 45 years, however there are many old military aircraft hardstands and abandoned taxiways on the airport, along with several military buildings remaining, being used by Palm Beach County government and airport support staff. In addition, old military housing units can be found north of Belvedere Road.
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- Mauer, Mauer (1969), Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ISBN 0-89201-097-5
- Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.