Celebrating Scott Field's Centennial

8, September 2017
Black-and-white portrait photo of Albert Bond LambertAlbert Bond Lambert, 1931. Missouri History Museum.

After the US voted to enter World War I in April 1917, the need for military pilots grew, and those pilots had to have places to train. Aviator Albert Bond Lambert worked with local business leaders and government officials to secure 624 acres of land near Belleville, Illinois, to establish a training field for pilots, ground crew, and mechanics. The Unit Construction Company of St. Louis was hired to begin construction in June 1917 and immediately set to leveling the landing field, establishing a rail spur, and erecting dozens of buildings, including hangars and barracks.

In July 1917 the field was officially named after Corporal Frank S. Scott, the first US enlisted man to lose his life in an aviation crash. Work continued on Scott Field until August, when the 11th and 21st Aero Squadrons arrived for training.

The pilots of the 11th Squadron trained on Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” and Standard J-1 aircraft before shipping out to serve as bomber pilots through the end of the war. Their counterparts in the 21st Squadron, one of the oldest squadrons in US military history, ultimately trained pilots at the Issoudun Aerodome in central France through 1918.

Black-and-white photo of Scott Field in 1918Scott Field, 1918. Courtesy of the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, Gerald Balzer Collection.

Flying instruction officially began at Scott Field on September 11, 1917. More than 300 personnel—from pilots, to ground crew, to mechanics—received training there between September 1917 and the end of World War I in November 1918.

After the war, Scott Field was designated a lighter-than-air station and became the new home of the Army Balloon and Airship School. Aerial photography, meteorology, and other altitude-related experiments were conducted there throughout the 1920s.

Black-and-white photo of airship hangar at Scott FieldAirship hangar at Scott Field built for the US Army Air Corps. Missouri History Museum.

In 1938, Scott Field was considered as a potential site for the relocation of the US Air Force’s general headquarters, which directed the army’s combat operations. Significant expansion occurred to accommodate the move, but the outbreak of World War II halted the relocation. Scott Field remained a training ground and was the site of several technical schools during World War II. The largest and most important of these was the Radio School, which trained radio operators and maintenance personnel.

After World War II, Scott Field was renamed Scott Air Force Base and became the headquarters of several Air Force Commands: the Air Training Command (1949–1957), the Military Air Transport Service (1957–1966), the Military Airlift Command (1966–1992), and the Air Mobility Command (1992–present). Major units currently assigned to Scott Air Force Base include the 375th Air Mobility Wing, the 932nd Airlift Wing, the 126th Aerial Refueling Wing, and the 18th Air Force.

Black-and-white photo of radio operators at Scott FieldScott Field Radio School slogan and troops marching to class, ca. 1940. Courtesy of the US Air Force.

To learn more about Scott Field’s World War I years and discover the fascinating stories of some of St. Louis’s earliest aviators, you can visit the exhibit World War I: Missouri and the Great War, open at the Missouri History Museum through June 17, 2018.

—Patrick Allie, Military and Arms Curator

Membership appeal