Military Wiki
Mather Air Force Base

Air Training Command Emblem.png
Mather Army Airfield

Part of Air Training Command (ATC)
Sacramento County, California
Sacramento Mather Airport 2006 USGS.jpg
2006 USGS airphoto

Lua error in Module:Location_map at line 510: Unable to find the specified location map definition: "Module:Location map/data/California" does not exist.

Type Air Force Base
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1918
In use 1918–1993
Controlled by United States Air Force
Garrison 323d Flying Training Wing
Battles/wars World War I War Service Streamer without inscription.png
World War I
Streamer WWII V.PNG
World War II
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Sacramento Mather Airport

Mather Air Force Base (Mather AFB) is a closed United States Air Force Base located 12 miles (19 km) east of Sacramento, in the present-day city of Rancho Cordova on the south side of U.S. Route 50 in Sacramento County, California. (The base had already been closed before the city was incorporated in 2003.) Mather Field was one of thirty-two Air Service training camps established after the United States entry into World War I in April 1917.[1] The Mather AFB land has various post-military uses including the 1995 Sacramento Mather Airport.


Mather Air Force Base was named after Second Lieutenant Carl Spencer Mather, a 25-year-old army pilot killed in a mid-air collision while training at Ellington Field, Texas on 30 January 1918.[2] Mather learned to fly in 1914 at the Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport, New York, and became an instructor there at the age of 20. He enlisted as an aviation cadet in August 1917 and as a licensed pilot was commissioned with part of his class as a second lieutenant on 20 January 1918. He continued training to earn a Reserve Military Aviator rating and promotion to first lieutenant but was killed ten days later. The remainder of his class was requested that Mills Field be renamed in Mather's honor.[2]

World War I

In January 1918, the Department of War sent a cadre of officers to the Sacramento, California area to survey sites for an aviation school. The group decided on a location about 12 miles southwest of Sacramento called Mills Station. An agreement to lease the land for the Army was concluded, and the construction of some 50 buildings began 15 March 1918. Mills Field, named after the local community was opened on 30 April 1918. It covered ovrer 700 acres and could accommodate up to 1,000 personnel. Dozens of wooden buildings served as headquarters, maintenance, and officers’ quarters. Enlisted men had to bivouac in tents. Mather Field's first commander was 1st Lieutenant Sam P. Burman, March 15, 1918. The first unit stationed there was the 283d Aero Squadron, which was transferred from Rockwell Field, North Island, California.[2]

Flight training

2d L. Carl Spencer Mather

Only a few U.S. Army Air Service aircraft arrived with the 283d Aero Squadron, Most of the Curtiss JN-4 Jennys to be used for flight training were shipped in wooden crates by railcar. Mather Field served as a base for flight training for the United States Army Air Service. In 1917, flight training occurred in two phases: primary and advanced. Primary training took eight weeks and consisted of pilots learning basic flight skills under dual and solo instruction. After completion of their primary training at Mather, flight cadets were then transferred to another base for advanced training.[2] Training units assigned to Mather Field:[3]

  • Post Headquarters, Mather Field April 1918-November 1919
  • 200th Aero Squadron (II), June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "A", July–November 1918
  • 201st Aero Squadron (II), June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "B", July–November 1918
  • 283d Aero Squadron (II), April 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "C", July–November 1918
  • 294th Aero Squadron (II), June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "D", July–November 1918
  • Squadron "E", July 1918
  • Flying School Detachment (Consolidation of Squadrons A-E), November 1918-October 1919

With the sudden end of World War I in November 1918, the future operational status of Mather Field was unknown. Many local officials speculated that the U.S. government would keep the field open because of the outstanding combat record established by Mather-trained pilots in Europe. Locals also pointed to the optimal weather conditions in the Sacramento area for flight training. Cadets in flight training on 11 November 1918 were allowed to complete their training, however no new cadets were assigned to the base. Also the separate training squadrons were consolidated into a single Flying School detachment, as many of the personnel assigned were being demobilized. Finally, flight training activities ceased on November 8, 1919.[2]

Inter-war years

With the end of World War I, in December 1919 Mather Field was deactivated as an active duty airfield, however, and a small caretaker unit was assigned to the facility for administrative reasons. It was used by the aerial forestry patrol. It also was used intermittently to support small military units. However, with the return to a peacetime economy, military training facilities such as Mather Field were deemed unnecessary, and it was closed on 12 May 1923. The War Department had ordered the small caretaker force at Mather Field to dismantle all remaining structures and to sell them as surplus. Throughout the remainder of the 1920s, the War Department leased out the vacant land to local farmers and ranchers.[2]

Mather Field was reactivated on 1 April 1930 but as a sub post of the Presidio U.S. Army Post, San Francisco; Hamilton Field and Stockton Field in that order during the 1930s. Mather Field, however, had to be refitted with new electrical, water, and telephone lines. Soon Mather was again alive with activity, though the renovation process could not compare to the original base construction.[2]

World War II

The Field was reestablished as a separate post and activated on 13 May 1941. The Field area was increased from 872 to 4,418 acres (17.88 km2) in June 1941. Known sub-bases and auxiliaries of Mather AAF were:

In 1941 Mather Army Airfield became the site for advanced navigator training. Navigation school began 2 August 1941. Major new construction was completed 16 March 1942. The USAAF Navigator School consisted of a rigorous 18-week course consisting of instruction in celestial navigation and dead reckoning. To complete the course, cadets were required to have 100 hours in navigating both local and long-range flights. However in 1943, Army Air Forces Training Command transferred the Navigator School from Mather Field to Ellington Field, near Houston, Texas.[2]

In turn, Mather became a twin-engine advanced flying school, training pilots and crews on B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. In 1944–45 it became an aerial port of embarkation to the Pacific in preparation for the expected transfer of large numbers of men and aircraft from Europe to the Pacific.[2] During the summer of 1945, the 509th Composite Group was transferring from its Second Air Force training base at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, the group landed at Mather prior to embarking on its trans-Pacific movement to Tinian (in the Marianas Island chain). Due to the extraordinary security of the unit because of its atomic mission, the commanding general of Mather Field was told at gunpoint [1] that he was not allowed on board the B-29 The Great Artiste, which had landed there.

Cold War

Air Training Command

Main Gate, about 1955

During the Cold War, Mather AFB became the sole aerial navigation school for the U.S. Air Force after its companion navigation schools at Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas and James Connally Air Force Base, Texas were closed and Ellington Air Force Base was converted into a joint Air National Guard Base, Coast Guard Air Station and NASA flight facility in the 1960s.

The 3535th Navigator Training Wing of the Air Training Command (ATC), was responsible for Bombardment Training beginning in 1946 and later transitioned to Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT), Advanced Navigator Bombardier Training (NBT), Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) training and Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) training after the closure of the other Navigator training bases. Renamed the 3535th Flying Training Wing (3535 FTW), the wing initially flew the Convair T-29 for Air Force Navigator training until the early 1970s when it was replaced by the Boeing T-43A (Boeing 737-200) aircraft.

The 3535 FTW was redesignated as the 323d Flying Training Wing (323 FTW) on 1 April 1973. In 1976, following the decommissioning of Training Squadron TWENTY-NINE (VT-29) at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, the 323 FTW also commenced training of student Naval Flight Officers in the Advanced Maritime Navigation training pipeline. Navy students in this pipeline were destined to fly land-based naval aircraft such as the P-3 Orion, EP-3 Aries and the EC-130 and LC-130 Hercules aircraft. This resulted in UNT being redesignated as Interservice Undergraduate Navigator Training (IUNT). The Navy also activated Naval Air Training Unit (NAVAIRTU) Mather as a parent activity for U.S. Navy instructors, USN students and NATO/Allied naval aviation students assigned to the 323 FTW at Mather. The Marine Aerial Navigation School (MANS) also relocated to Mather in order to train enlisted USMC and USCG navigators for Marine Corps KC-130 and Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft. Cessna T-37 aircraft were also added to the IUNT curriculum in the late 1970s for those USAF students destined for high performance aircraft such as the F-4/RF-4, F-111/FB-111 and B-1.

The 323 FTW continued training USAF Navigators, Naval Flight Officers, NATO/Allied students, as well as conducting advanced training for newly-winged USAF Navigators as Radar Navigator/Bombardiers, EWOs and WSOs until it was inactivated on 30 September 1993. Concurrent with the wing's inactivation, all USAF Navigator and Naval Flight Officer Maritime Navigation pipeline training was moved to Randolph AFB, Texas and consolidated under the 12th Flying Training Wing, which up until that time had primary responsibility for training and certifying instructor pilots.

Radar stations

Mather AFB had a late 1940s/early 1950s Radar Bomb Scoring detachment of the 3903rd Radar Bomb Scoring Squadron[4] (cf. 3903rd Det B at Treasure Island CA[5] & 11th RBS Sq Det 3 at McClellan AFB), and the additional Mather AFB general surveillance radar station was established after a 2nd stage of "additional Lashup stations and heavy radar equipment [was] authorized" in the fall of 1949.[6]:124 L-37 began operations with an AN/CPS-6 in June 1950, and the 668th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned on January 1, 1951 to L-37, which later converted to AN/FPS-20A and AN/FPS-6 and AN/FPS-6B radars. By 1960 the station became a joint-use facility with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in 1961, the two height-finder radars were removed. The station became part of the San Francisco Air Defense Sector with the radars providing radar data to the Beale DC-18 SAGE Direction Center via the CDTS at Mill Valley radar station (Z-38). The 668th was inactivated on September 1, 1961, and Det. 2 of the 666th Radar Squadron performed subsequent operations until inactivated on September 1, 1966. The FAA operates the Mather radar site with an AN/FPS-91A of the Joint Surveillance System (JSS).

Strategic Air Command

Mather AFB Control Tower, 1986.

On 1 April 1958, the Strategic Air Command's (SAC) 4134th Strategic Wing composed of the 72d Bombardment Squadron and 904th Aerial Refueling Squadron was assigned to Mather AFB. The Strategic Wings were formed in the late 1950s as part of SAC's plan to disperse its heavy bombers over a larger number of bases, thus making it more difficult for the Soviet Union to knock out the entire fleet with a surprise first strike. All of the "Strat" Wings had one squadron of B-52s containing 15 aircraft. Half of the planes were maintained on fifteen-minute alert, fully fueled, armed, and ready for combat. The remaining planes were used for training in bombardment missions and air refueling operations. Most of the "Strat Wings" also had a squadron of KC-135 tankers. The Strategic Wing designation was phased out in early 1963. In most cases, the aircraft and crews remained at the same base, but the wing (and its bomb squadron) were given new designations. The 4134th Strategic Wing was inactivated on 1 February 1963.

Concurrent with the inactivation of the 4134th SW, the 320th Bombardment Wing (320 BW) redeployed on paper from March AFB to Mather and absorbed its assets. It operated as a tenant unit from 1963 to 1989, initially with the B-52F Stratofortress before converting in 1968 to the B-52G. Operational squadrons in the 320 BW were the 441st Bombardment Squadron (441 BS) and the 904th Air Refueling Squadron (904 ARS), the latter flying the KC-135A Stratotanker. In addition to SAC nuclear alert, the 320 BW also conducted conventional operations, to include maritime missions in support of the U.S. Navy with aerial mines or AGM-84 Harpoon missiles. The 320 BW was inactivated on 30 September 1989.[7]

The 940th Air Refueling Group (940 ARG), an Air Force Reserve unit, moved to Mather AFB in 1977, shortly after it transitioned to the KC-135A. Operationally-gained by SAC, the unit upgraded to the KC-135E in 1986. With SAC's inactivation in 1992, the unit was then operationally-gained by the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and redesignated the 940th Air Refueling Wing (940 ARW) of the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) in 1993. Following the closure of Mather AFB, the 940 ARW temporarily relocated to McClellan AFB from 1993 until that installation's closure in 1998. The wing then relocated to its current station of Beale AFB.[8]


Emblem of the 3535th Navigator Training Wing (ATC)

Emblem of the 4134th Strategic Wing

Emblem of the 320th Bombardment Wing

On 30 September 1993, Mather AFB of 5,845 acres (2,365 ha) was decommissioned under the 1988 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, including 129 acres (522,000 m²) of easements. The base was primarily transferred to the Sacramento County, California, and was partially listed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site on 22 July 1987, then fully listed on 21 November 1989.[9] Current sites of the former AFB include:

  • Sacramento Mather Airport (1995)
  • Mather Regional Park
  • Veterans Administration Medical Center
  • FAA Northern California Terminal Radar Control TRACON
  • Mather Community Campus, a transitional living facility (1995).

Major commands to which assigned

West Coast Training Center
Redesignated: Air Force Combat Command, 20 June 1941
Redesignated: Air Corps Flying Training Command, 23 January 1942
Redesignated: AAF Flying Training Command, 15 March 1942
Redesignated: AAF Training Command, 31 July 1943
Redesignated: Air Training Command, 1 July 1946
Redesignated: Air Education and Training Command, 1 July-1 October 1993
Attached to: Strategic Air Command, 1 May 1958 – 30 September 1979
Fifteenth Air Force
14th Air Division, 1 May 1958 – 1 July 1965; 31 March 1970 – 30 June 1971; 1 October 1972 – 1 October 1982
18th Strategic Aerospace Division, 1 July 1965 – 2 July 1966
47th Air Division, 2 July 1966 – 31 March 1970
Second Air Force
47th Air Division, 30 June 1971 – 1 October 1972
Attached to: Air Combat Command, 1 June 1992 – 30 September 1993

Note: Airfield served only for aerial forest patrol, beginning 8 January 1919. Was placed on inactive status, 22 June 1922; field closed, 12 May 1923. Airfield reactivated 1 April 1930; inactive status, 1 November 1932. Designated a subpost of Presidio U.S. Army post, San Francisco, unk-13 May 1935; designated a subpost of Hamilton Field, 13 May 1935; designated a subpost of Stockton Field, 21 February 1941; established as a separate post and activated, 13 May 1941.

Major units assigned

  • 283d Aero Squadron, 30 April 1918
Redesignated: Squadron "C", Mather Field, 8 January 1919
  • 91st Aero Squadron, 3 November 1919 – 24 January 1920; 3 November 1920 – 1 May 1921
  • 9th Aero Squadron, 27 April 1920 – 29 June 1922
  • 28th Squadron, 20 September 1921 – 28 June 1922
  • 20th Pursuit Group, 15 November 1930 – 14 October 1932
  • 77th Air Base Group, 26 July 1941 – 19 January 1943
  • 86th Air Base Group, 1 August 1941 – 24 November 1941
  • 87th Air Base Group, 1 August 1941 – 24 November 1941
  • Air Corps Advanced Flying School
Redesignated: Army Air Corps Advanced Flying School
Redesignaged: Army Air Force Pilot School, Specialized Technical Education, 15 May 1941 – 2 October 1944.
  • 67th Sub-Depot, 12 August 1941 – 30 April 1944
  • Army Air Force Navigation School, 27 May −5 November 1943
  • 1505th AAF Base Unit, 15 September 1944 – 29 December 1945
  • 1564th AAF Base Unit, 15 September 1944 – 29 December 1945
  • Port of Aerial Embarkation, 4 September 1944 – 29 December 1945
  • 2622d AAF Base Unit
Redesignated 2622d Air Force Base Unit, 20 December 1945 – 28 August 1948

  • 417th AAF Base Unit, 1 October 1946 – 1 March 1947
  • Army Air Force Bombardier School, Mather AAF Base
Redesignated: USAF Bombardier School
Redesignated: USAF Aircraft Observer's School
Redesignated: USAF Navigator School, 12 February 1946 – 1 October 1993
  • 3535th Bombardier Training Wing
Redesignated: 3535th Observer Training Wing
Redesignated: 3535th Aircraft Observer Training Wing
Redesignated: 3535th Navigator Training Wing, 26 August 1948 – 1 May 1963
3535th Air Base Group, 26 August 1948 – 1 April 1973
  • 8604th Bombardment Training Group, 27 June 1949 – 28 May 1951
  • USAF Advanced Flying School (Multi-Engine), 1 September 1953 – 1 August 1958
  • 4134th Strategic Wing, 1 May 1958 – 1 February 1963
Replaced by: 320th Bombardment Wing (SAC), 1 February 1963 – 30 September 1989
  • 904th Air Refueling Squadron, 1 March 1959 – 1 October 1986
  • 3d Aeromedical Evacuation Group, 2 July 1960 – 1 January 1967
  • 323d Flying Training Wing (ATC), 1 April 1973 – 30 September 1993
  • 940th Air Refueling Group (AFRES), 1 January 1977 – 30 September 1993

Source for major commands and major units assigned:[10][11]

Natural history

There are rare wetland vernal pools, which are " ... unique to California",[12] and numerous plant and animal species that have existed on the site that became Mather Air Force Base. The chiefly grassland community continues to hold a considerable number of plants, mammals, birds and arthropods. Within the plant community are large numbers of native grass and forb species. An example native wildflower found here is the Yellow Mariposa Lily, Calochortus luteus.[13] Another example is the Vernal Pool Buttercup, Ranunculus bonariensis var. trisepalus.[14] Specifically the vernal pools at Mather are habitat to Ahart's Dwarf Rush Juncus leiospermus var. ahartii, Boggs Lake hedgehyssop Gratiola heterosepala, and the rare Legenere limosa.[15]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

  1. William R. Evinger: Directory of Military Bases in the U.S., Oryx Press, Phoenix, Ariz., 1991, p. 147.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Special Collections of the Sacramento Public Library, Mather Field, Images of America, Arcadia Publishing (January 9, 2012), ISBN 0738588776
  3. Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 3, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949 (1988 Reprint)
  4. "3903rd Radar Bomb Scoring Group" (Web Bulletin Board). Retrieved 2012-05-20. "Served…from October, 1957 to June, 1962. …Keesler AFB for tech school, then…at Los Angeles RBS site" 
  6. Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). "Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960" (45MB pdf). General Histories (Office of Air Force History). ISBN 0-912799-60-9. Retrieved 2011-09-26. 
  9. "Mather Air Force Base Superfund site progress profile". EPA. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  10. Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  11. Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  12. The Vernal Pools of Mather Field
  13. C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Yellow Mariposa Lily: Calochortus luteus,, ed. N. Stromberg
  14. Plants of Mather Field
  15. Field Guide to the Vernal Pools of Mather Field, Sacramento County
  • 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 (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0-912799-53-6, ISBN 0-16-002261-4

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).