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For the civil use of this facility after 1973 and airport information, see Forbes Field (airport)
Forbes Field Air National Guard Base

Air national guard shield.svg
Forbes Air Force Base
Topeka Army Airfield

Part of Kansas Air National Guard (ANG)
Williamsport Township / Topeka Township, Shawnee County, near Topeka, Kansas
190th ARW KC-135 over Capitol.jpg
KC-135 of the 190th Air Refueling Wing flying over the Kansas State Capitol, Topeka Kansas
Type Air National Guard Base
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1941
In use 1941–present
Controlled by  United States Air Force
Garrison 190th Air Refueling Wing.png
190th Air Refueling Wing
Airfield information
Elevation AMSL 1,078 ft / 329 m
Coordinates 38°57′04″N 095°39′57″W / 38.95111°N 95.66583°W / 38.95111; -95.66583Coordinates: 38°57′04″N 095°39′57″W / 38.95111°N 95.66583°W / 38.95111; -95.66583

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Direction Length Surface
ft m
13/31 12,802 3,902 Concrete
3/21 7,000 2,134 Concrete

Topeka Army Airfield, oblique airphoto, 10 October 1943

Postcard of front gate, Forbes AFB. Note the Tactical Air Command shield on the gate guard shack

Forbes Field, previously Forbes Air Force Base, is a joint-use civil-military airport operated by the Topeka Airport Authority located approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Topeka, Kansas.

It is both an active municipal airport, and a Kansas Air National Guard installation; being the home of the 190th Air Refueling Wing.


Closed as an active United States Air Force base in 1973, the former administrative area is now used for commercial offices, state offices, and an industrial park. The 190th Air Refueling Wing (190 ARW) of the Kansas Air National Guard (KANG) occupies 215 acres (87 ha) on the north west end of Forbes Field.

The facility was established in 1941 as Topeka Army Air Field (AAF). It was renamed in honor of Major Daniel Forbes, an Air Force test pilot from Carbondale, Kansas who was killed in a crash of a Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing, which took the lives of all five crew members. The co-pilot on the flight was Captain Glen Edwards, the namesake of Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Kansas Air National Guard

The 190th Air Refueling Wing (190 ARW) of the Kansas Air National Guard (KANG) occupies 215 acres (87 ha) on the north side of Forbes Field, located approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) south of downtown Topeka, Kansas. The mission of the 190 ARW is to “Provide a professional trained militia, ready to serve community, state and nation”. The unit currently flies 12 KC-135R Stratotankers. The 190 ARW occupies 7 administrative facilities, 16 industrial facilities, and 2 services facilities totaling approximately 523,100 square feet (48,600 m2) with 323 full time personnel. Monthly Unit Training Assemblies (UTAs) conducted once a month result in a surge of up to a total of 1152 personnel.

The 190th Air Refueling Wing is commanded by Colonel Keith I. Lang. Its vice wing commander is Colonel Ronald W. Krueger. Its Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sergeant Brian D. Saunders.


World War II

During World War II, the facility was known as Topeka Army Air Field and was used as a United States Army Air Forces Second Air Force training field. Congress authorized the Topeka Army Air Field (TAAF) building project within two weeks after the 7 December 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Six months later, the completed air base—essential buildings, hangars, repair shops, steam heating plants, fuel storage and three 7,000 by 150-foot (46 m) paved runways—was formally accepted by the Army Air Forces.

Enough construction was completed that the airfield was opened on 30 May 1942; the 333d Bombardment Group was activated on 15 July 1942 under II Bomber Command with a mission to train heavy bomber crews. In August 1942 the first troops arrived and had to be quartered in the agriculture building on the Topeka Fair Grounds because their green wood two-story barracks buildings weren't finished yet. During the war there were ammunition storage bunkers and small arms ranges. These features were removed during construction of the new runway. New ammunition storage bunkers and ordnance storage warehouses were constructed. The bunkers are currently being leased to a company for storage of explosives and are locked. The ordnance storage warehouses are being used by the airport authority for storage. There is an area south of the bunkers that is suspected of being a burial site for rocket fuel and munitions. Runways at Topeka AAF were concrete surfaced, 6525x150(N/S), 6525x150(NE/SW), and 6525x150(NW/SE). The 333d Bombardment Group was a Replacement Training Unit (RTU) of personnel, rather than the training of entire groups. The RTU system consisted of men trained by Training Command designated as replacements and were sent to Topeka to receive instruction in their specialties as B-24 aircrews. In particular attention being given to instrument and night flying exercises for pilots, cross-country tests for navigators, target runs for bombardiers, and air-to-air firing for gunners. Once assigned personnel completed replacement training, they were assigned to deployed combat units where they joined established crews. On 31 May 1943, the 21st Bombardment Wing was moved to Topeka AAF from Smokey Hill Army Air Field and the base changed from B-24 Liberator replacement training to B-29 Superfortress Very Heavy Bomber transition training. It was one of three II Bomber Command bases for experienced aircrews to receive training on the B-29, and once graduated were sent to second stage bases for assignments to groups for extensive exercises in high-altitude formation flying, long-range navigation, target identification, and simulated combat missions prior to their deployment to XXI Bomber Command in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO). In early 1945, transition training was replaced by Replacement Training (RTU) for B-29 aircrews, which continued at Topeka AAF under the 21st Bomb Wing until the end of August 1945 when Command of the base shifted from the 21st Bombardment Wing to the 1st Staging Command, and beginning in October emphasis was placed on shipping ground personnel overseas rather than flight crews. Some 2,000 men were sent to TAAF to be processed as overseas replacements. That project was completed in February 1946 by ATC. After the Japanese Capitulation in August 1945, B-29 aircrew training ended and Topeka AAF became a separation center and a sub-base of Smoky Hill Army Airfield.

Postwar era

Air Transport Command

In August 1945 jurisdiction of the base shifted from the Second Air Force 21st Bombardment Wing to the 1st Staging Command. No change of personnel was involved, and the base continued to stage and process heavy bombardment crews and aircraft. By October 1945, however, emphasis was placed on shipping ground personnel overseas, and approximately 2,000 men were sent to the base to be staged for duty as overseas replacements. This project was completed in February 1946 by the Air Transport Command (ATC), which assumed jurisdiction of the base on 28 November 1945. The Air Transport Command used Topeka AAF in performing its regular missions of transporting cargo and personnel. Later the base housed an operational training unit for pilots newly assigned to the command. In December 1945 the base became the only mid-continent stop for ATC's "Statesman," a daily transcontinental flight carrying key military and diplomatic travelers between Washington, D. C., and Hamilton Field, California. During December the base also became a stop for the "Globester," which provided daily shuttle service between Washington, D. C., and San Francisco. And in May 1946 the base took over operation of the daily "Alamo" flight between San Antonio, Texas, and Washington, D. C. Thus Topeka AAF became a major air terminal.

At various times the field acquired additional functions and projects. In January 1946, for example, Topeka became a refueling point for jet aircraft. The following June ferrying operations were added to its mission. The base figured largely in a program of ferrying 1,300 aircraft to 40 fields in the United States and in a project for delivering 2,600 planes to reserve units throughout the country. In addition, pilots from Topeka AAF and four other stations ferried surplus training planes and combat fighters from depots in the United States to various countries in South America. To add to the ever-increasing activity at Topeka, the Northwestern Sector, which supervised and coordinated ATC's operations at 14 stations, established its headquarters at the base in August 1946.

Because of a cut in Congressional appropriations, a drastic curtailment of activities at the base went into effect after 1 October 1946. Both military and civilian strength were greatly reduced. The field still served as an air terminal and as an operating base of the Air Transport Command, but the majority of the transport crews were transferred to other stations and several flights were discontinued. Only two flights were scheduled to come into the base daily. The "Statesman" flight was cut to every other day. The base, however, was involved in a number of special projects. During October 1946 the Air Transport Command began transferring excess C-54 Skymasters to Topeka Army Air Field to be placed in storage. One month later the base was designated a separation center for officers and enlisted men. In November 1946 air reserve training was started at the base, but that activity was discontinued in March 1947. During December 1946 the base participated in "Operation Santa Claus," a project in which hundreds of amputees and litter cases were evacuated from Army hospitals to their homes for Christmas. From December 1946 to February 1947 the base trained 26 members of the Portuguese Air Force in air-sea rescue operations in B-17's and C-54's. Removal of the Northwestern Sector Headquarters during March 1947 left the base with no regular mission other than servicing transient aircraft and maintaining the surplus aircraft in storage on the field. Those activities continued until the base was inactivated on 31 October 1947.

Strategic Air Command

55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing

Emblem of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing

Eight months later, Topeka Air Force Base was reactivated as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base on 1 July 1948. The base became the home of the Eighth Air Force 311th Air Division, Reconnaissance and to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. One of the SAC's initial missions was to plan strategic aerial reconnaissance on a global scale. The first efforts were in photo-reconnaissance and mapping. Along with the photo-reconnaissance mission, a small electronic intelligence (ELINT) cadre was operating. Weather reconnaissance was part of the effort, as was Long Range Detection, the search for Soviet atomic explosions.

The 55th SRW was reassigned from MacDill AFB, Florida to Topeka as part of a SAC realignment of assets, with the 306th Bombardment Wing being activated at MacDill under Second Air Force. The 55th SRW operated specially-equipped RB-29 Superfortresses. From Topeka, the aircraft of the 55th SRW were used to probe the borders of the Soviet Union, who had by then begun to emerge as a potential threat to the Western Powers. Little was known about the air defence capability of the Soviet Union at this time and the most effective way of determining their capability was to probe the borders and see whether they would respond. Gradually the RB-29s and ERB-29s which were solely dedicated to electronic reconnaissance mapped the perimeter of the Soviet Air Defences from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan.

On 10 June 1949, Topeka AFB was renamed Forbes Air Force Base in memory of Major Daniel H. Forbes, a Topeka pilot killed 5 June 1948, while testing the Northrop YB-49 "Flying Wing" prototype jet bomber near Muroc Dry Lake (now Edwards AFB), California. Budget reductions in the lean postwar years, led to the Wing's inactivation on 14 October 1949. With the inactivation of the 55th SRW, the 311th Air Division, moved to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana on 28 October. For the second time in two years, Forbes AFB was closed and turned over again to Air Material Command.

90th Bombardment Wing

On 16 February 1951, control of Forbes AFB was transferred from Air Material Command to Strategic Air Command. The base was brought back into active service due to the Korean War and the expanding Air Force due to the Cold War. On the same date, the 21st Air Division was activated at Forbes; its mission was to train aircrews for B-47 Stratojet medium bombardment wings, bomber replacement crews, and replacements. In addition to the 21st AD, the 90th Bombardment Wing was moved to Forbes from Fairchild AFB, Washington on 14 March. Equipped with B-29s, its mission was to train B-29 aircrews and mechanics as part of the Cold War expansion prior to their pending assignment of new B-47s when received.

The training mission began almost immediately, with the 308th Bombardment Wing being activated on 10 October. Once formed and equipped with B-29s refurbished at Boeing-Wichita, it was assigned to Hunter AFB, Georgia for operational duty. The 376th Bombardment Wing was activated on 1 June 1951, organized and received B-29s then was assigned to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana on 10 October 1951. A third wing, the 310th Bombardment Wing was activated on 1 March 1952, received B-29s and then was reassigned to Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas on 4 September.

90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing

Emblem of the 90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing

On 16 June 1952 the B-29 training program ended and the 90th was redesignated the 90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Medium, and five months later started training replacement reconnaissance crews as replacements for Far East Air Force.

On 5 October 1952, a change of mission took place at Forbes with the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing returned to Forbes from Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, and continued its program of photography, photo-mapping equipped with new RB-47E Stratojets, and ERB-47Es for electronic reconnaissance. The 90th SRW was relieved from its B-29 aircrew training mission and also received RB-47Es, engaging in very long range strategic reconnaissance missions along or over communist controlled territory, with 90th SRW aircraft first flying to Thule AB, Greenland then probing deep into the heart of the Soviet Union, taking a photographic and radar recording of the route attacking SAC bombers would follow to reach their targets. The risks involved in mounting these dangerous sorties over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth speaks volumes for the courage and skill of the crews involved.

By 1958 the RB-47 had become vulnerable to Soviet Air defenses and also was being replaced in intelligence gathering operations by the Lockheed U-2. The 90th SRW changed to becoming an RB-47 combat crew training wing, May 1958 – June 1960. In addition, 650 units of family housing were built on 160 acres west of US-75; first phase of the Capehart housing development known as Cullen Village by the USAF and Montara by its current civilian owners. Another 414 units were constructed on an adjoining 118.75-acre tract in 1960. In addition, three "other" family units (relocated farm houses) were placed on six acres northeast of the Capehart area while another farm house and five military construction projects were built on three acres near the base hospital, in the cantonment area east of US-75

In October 1958, Topeka received news that Forbes AFB would support SM-65 Atlas-E missile sites to be constructed in the surrounding area. Initially Forbes was slated to have three sites with three missiles at each site, in February 1959, the Air Force directed that each missile be placed at an individual launch site to further disperse the missiles as a defensive measure against a first-strike enemy attack. Labor-management problems caused occasional setbacks in construction. One minor disturbance occurred at one of the sites when student pickets from McPherson College arrived to protest the deployment of ICBMs. Despite the labor problems and student pickets, the project continued on schedule.

40th Bombardment Wing

Emblem of the 40th Bombardment Wing

1963 Forbes Base Guide

By 1960, the B-47 was considered to be reaching obsolescence, and was being phased out of SAC's strategic arsenal. On 20 June 1960, the 90th SRW was discontinued as part of phaseout of the RB-47 and replaced by the 40th Bombardment Wing, transferred from Schilling AFB, Kansas as part of a SAC realignment. Shilling was placed on non-operational status due to the base undergoing a major renovation to upgrade the facilities for B-52/KC-135 operations. Many personnel from the 90th were absorbed by the 40th. At Shilling, the 40th operated B-47Es and moved its aircraft to Forbes, where it continued to operate the aircraft while the equipment was being phased out of SAC's inventory. At the same time, control of Forbes was reassigned from SAC's Eighth to Second Air Force.

On 1 July the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron stood up. Nearly 6 months later, on 24 January 1961, the first Atlas missile arrived at Forbes. By October, all nine sites had their Atlas E missiles. The 548th Strategic Missile Squadron became the USAF's first to declare the Atlas "E" operationally ready on 16 October. As a result of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s May 1964 directive accelerating the decommissioning of Atlas and Titan I missile bases, and the retirement of the B-47 the 40th Bomb Wing was inactivated 1 September 1964 and the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was inactivated on 25 March 1965.

The 55th SRW, which had continued to operate specialized ERB-47H and RB-47H Stratojets, began retiring its aircraft in late 1965. The 55th went into non-operational status as its aircraft were retired, then was reassigned to Offut AFB, Nebraska on 16 August 1966 as part of the phaseout of SAC at Forbes.

Tactical Air Command

Emblem of the 313th Tactical Airlift Wing

With the phaseout of B-47 operations and the decommissioning of the ICBMs, Strategic Air Command planned to close Forbes. However the base became a Tactical Air Command (TAC) base, becoming the home of the 313th Troop Carrier Wing on 1 October 1964.

Flying C-130 Hercules, the 313th's 29th, 38th, 47th and 48th Troop Carrier (later Tactical Airlift) squadrons frequently deployed on a global basis to support airlift requirements of overseas commands, participate in tactical exercises and disaster relief on a regular basis. In March 1965, the 29th TCS became the first combat-ready unit of Tactical Air Command at Forbes. It immediately assumed a rotational commitment to Panama. The whole wing was declared operationally ready in June, and in July "ownership" of Forbes passed from SAC to TAC. 315th aircraft and personnel were involved in the Vietnam War from the very beginning, and deployed C-130 crews were some of the last airmen to participate in combat operations. The 29th TCS was reassigned to the 463d TCW at Clark AB, in Pacific Air Forces providing logistics support to the forces in Vietnam. On 1 May 1967 the troop carrier designation was replaced and the wing was re designated as the 313th Tactical Airlift Wing. The change, which was an administrative action, was due to a realignment of airlift forces and the new title was selected because it allegedly better described the mission.

TAC also invested in the facilities at Forbes, upgrading the runways, hangars, barracks, administrative and support structures and facilities.

Closure of Forbes AFB and conversion to Forbes Field ANGB

Kansas ANG 190th Tactical Reconnaissance Group B-57G Canberras 1974/1975 at Forbes AFB

Forbes Field Air National Guard Base 2006 USGS Photo

In August 1967, the RB-57Bs of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Tactical Reconnaissance Group moved to Forbes from the former Hutchinson Air National Guard Base (formerly Naval Air Station Hutchinson), Kansas.

Forbes AFB was ordered closed by the Department of Defense as part of a post-Vietnam reduction in force on 17 April 1973. Most of the facility was turned over for civilian use, but an Air Force presence remained in the form of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing (190 ARW), operating the KC-135 Stratotanker. Originally gained by the Strategic Air Command, the 190 ARW's gaining command shifted to the Air Mobility Command (AMC) with the disestablishment of SAC in 1992. Initially operating the KC-135A, then KC-135E, the 190 ARW currently flies the KC-135R. On 1 October, Forbes AFB became an Air National Guard installation and was redesignated as Forbes Field Air National Guard Base, a designation it retains today. Joint military-civilian use was authorized.

In April 1976, title was transferred to the city of Topeka, less the Kansas Air National Guard enclave on the northern third of the 6,000-foot (1,800 m) north-south ramp, a portion of the south ramp and four associated buildings reserved for the Kansas Army National Guard. and the former USAF dental clinic. The last went to Unified School District 501. Shawnee County received the golf course and attendant buildings, while the USAF retained the 1,063-unit Base Housing complex known as Cullen Village for later sale. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service retained one building in the old supply depot west of US 75 and the state received the former USAF hospital complex. The remainder—more than 2,100 acres of runway and taxiway and 283 acres of buildings and facilities mostly east of US 75—was deeded to the city of Topeka. The cantonment area was redesignated the Topeka Air Industrial Park. In June 2007, the 190 ARW gained custody of all KC-135R aircraft previously operated by the Kansas Air National Guard's 184th Air Refueling Wing (184 ARW) at nearby McConnell AFB. This action consolidated all of the Kansas ANG's KC-135R assets into a single wing located at Forbes Field. The 184 ARW was subsequently redesignated as the 184th Intelligence Wing (184 IW), a non-flying unit at McConnell AFB.

Previous names

  • Topeka Army Air Field
  • Topeka Air Force Base
  • Forbes Air Force Base

Major commands to which assigned

Major units assigned


Intercontinental ballistic missile facilities

SM-65 Atlas-E missile sites

The 548th Strategic Missile Squadron operated nine SM-65E Atlas missile sites with one missile at each site (10 October 1961 – 4 January 1965):

In October 1958, Topeka received news that Forbes AFB would support Atlas-E missile sites to be constructed in the surrounding area. The Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District managed construction of the nine sites where the missiles would be stored horizontally. Although Forbes was slated to have three sites with three missiles at each site, in February 1959, the Air Force directed that each missile be placed at an individual dispersed launch site.

On 1 July 1960, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron stood up. Nearly 6 months later, on 24 January 1961, the first Atlas missile arrived at Forbes. By October, all nine sites had their Atlas E missiles. As a result of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's May 1964 directive accelerating the decommissioning of Atlas and Titan I missile bases, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was inactivated on 25 March 1965.

Today the majority of the missile sites are in various states of abandonment. Most have the roofs on the missile 'coffins', but almost all of the support structures on the sites have been raised; only the missile launch facilities and access roads remaining. Some, in fact, may be for sale by their private owners. The exception to this is site "9", which has been redeveloped into Jackson Heights School, Home of the Cobras.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website
 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "190th Air Refueling Wing".

  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Mueller, Robert, Air Force Bases Volume I, Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982, Office of Air Force History, 1989
  • SAC Bases: Forbes Air Force Base

External links

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