The early Goodfellow heritage

  • Published
  • By Mark Howell
  • 17th Training Wing Historian Office

There are times, I think, when we fail to recognize the significance of our Goodfellow origin stories. Our early history is rooted in the vision of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he started a program of preparedness to counter the aggressive nature of the threats in Europe, Africa and Asia. The program included the construction of military training bases.

When his program became public, San Angelo’s civic leaders contacted the War Department and offered sewage and electrical service along with a 50-year lease on 640 acres at one dollar per year. The War Department accepted the proposition and construction began at once. The base was officially established on August 17, 1940.

By January 1941, the base was ready to be occupied and students began to arrive for training in February of 1941. On May 27, the base was officially named Goodfellow Field, but held no ceremony to recognize the name change until July 1, 1941.

One might wonder why the name Goodfellow. The answer to that question required a look into San Angelo, Texas history. In 1913, John J. Goodfellow graduated San Angelo High School. Goodfellow was an athlete and musician in school and took a job with the Lone Star Gas Company after graduation. In a year’s time, John was accepted at the University of Texas at Austin and began to study engineering, but his education would be cut short.

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. It was then young John, still a junior, left school and joined the Army. He signed up to become an infantry officer, but quickly developed an interest in aviation. He graduated ground school in Austin, Texas and was quickly shipped to San Diego, California for flying school. Upon graduation from flying school, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in February 1918 and received orders to join the 24th Aero Squadron in England.

On July 22, his squadron was transferred to France and received additional training at St. Maixent and Ourches. The squadron was then attached to the First Army Observation Group at Gondreville on August 22, in preparation for a major American offensive.

The offensive executed on September 12, 1918, which would come to be known as the Saint Mihiel Offensive in northern France, which today is represented as one of the Maltese Crosses on the 17 TRW Shield. On September 12-13, the squadron conducted visual reconnaissance in the area of Thiaucourt, and reported the successful progress of the attack.

Additional sorties on September 14, 1918, kept the German front under constant observation, while an additional six missions attempted deep reconnaissance of German movements in the enemy's rear area near Metz.

It was while Goodfellow and his observer, 1st Lt. Elliot M. Durant Jr, executed one of those September deep missions that they were engaged in a furious dogfight by five enemy aircraft. In the midst of the desperate fight, their wing was shot away and the Salmson 2A2 crashed, killing pilot and observer.

Three days later, after the American offensive succeeded, Goodfellow and Durant’s bodies were recovered from the wreckage and later buried at the St. Mihiel American Military Cemetery near Nancy, France. Thus, when this San Angelo war hero’s service to his country came to light in 1941, Goodfellow’s name was proposed and accepted as the official name of the installation.

Flight operations for Goodfellow's first class of cadets began on February 17, 1941. Within a week, training officials had already identified a major deficiency: since much of the basic pilot training program involved take-offs, approaches, and landings, the installation’s landing field was unable to adequately accommodate the current and projected training loads.

The problem was mitigated by the acquisition of additional or ‘auxiliary’ airfields, reasonably proximate to the main field, at which the school's cadets could practice approaches and other related flight procedures. By March 1, 1941, officials at the school had identified two suitable locations; by 1943, seven auxiliary landing fields were in operation.

During the following four years, Goodfellow graduated more than 10,000 pilots from its primary and basic training programs. They utilized the Stearman PT-13/17 Kaydet, the Vultee BT-13 Valiant, and the North American AT-6 Texan.

None of the auxiliary fields were elaborate establishments, although each was at least reasonably level and far from hills and buttes. Man-made obstacles, such as electrical or telephone lines, were easily removed.

At the time, most Army Air Corps facilities were modest, featuring an outhouse, a crash station. Some facilities even featured a cadet shelter, and operations building. Others possessed portable electrical and water service, but all, during the war, were simple dirt and grass installations, which turned muddy and unusable during the occasional wet conditions or dusty and unpleasant when the weather became too dry or windy.

That said, the simple clearings performed a vital training service, and accepted as much as 80% of the training traffic between sunrise and sunset. As the base scaled back operations after the war, the auxiliaries fell into disuse.

However, the resumption of pilot training at Goodfellow in 1948, restored three auxiliaries to service. To reduce dust and support B-25 training operations, one auxiliary even received three asphalt-surface runways. This was the Vancourt auxiliary field (#6), located south of Wall, Texas.

Returning to private ownership after 1958, its permanently surfaced 150 by 5000-feet runways entertained racing enthusiasts for decades as an auto drag strip. The other auxiliaries, however, were either returned to raising crops or reverted to their natural state.

After the war, Goodfellow continued to produce pilots, first on the Texan and the North American T-28 Trojan, and beginning in 1954, on the twin-engine North American B-25 Mitchell. On September 3, 1958, with nearly 20,000 aviators to its credit, Goodfellow graduated its last class of pilots. Fortunately, the base continued to serve the needs of the United States Air Force after the flying mission ended.

The end of flying training at Goodfellow marked the transfer of the base from Air Training Command to the USAF Security Service and the base began a new mission to train Air Force personnel in the advanced cryptologic skills that USAFSS required at installations worldwide.

In 1966, the mission expanded further to include training in those same skillsets for joint-service personnel; but the base returned to Air Training Command in 1978. In 1985, the base was faced with possible closure only to emerge as a technical training center and become an important site for the consolidation of all Air Force managed intelligence training.

On July 1, 1993, the Air Force activated the 17th Training Wing at Goodfellow. With the change in host units came a marked diversification and increase in mission, which the base realignment and closure process brought in terms of fire protection and technical applications training to the base.

To support the increased training load, the base underwent extensive modernization and growth, so that Goodfellow, numbering among the oldest installations in the Air Force, became one of its most modern.