Ellington Field was established as an air service camp
NO ACTIVE DUTY
The base was inactivated as an active duty airfield
NATURE TAKES OVER
Ellington Field dealt with tall prairie grass and a fire that consumed most of it’s structures. The field was leased out to ranchers as pasture the following 12 years
Ellington Field undergoes construction and expands
TRAINING AT THE FIELD
The USAAF Navigator School moved to Ellington Field from Mather, California and brought action back to the field
REOPENED AND RENAMED
The airfield was reopened for active duty and cadets were trained at the base. The base was also given the new name Ellington Air Force Base
BASE IN USE
NASA began utilizing Ellington’s base for astronaut flight proficiency and aircraft training along with the active Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, and Naval Air Reserve, Marine Air Reserve
NASA’S TRAINING VEHICLES
NASA’s Lunar Landing Training Vehicle was housed at Ellington
The City of Houston purchased Ellington to use as the city’s third civil airport and the first Wings Over Houston air show took place at Ellington
A NEW NAME
In January, Ellington was named Ellington Airport, while the cantonment area is referred to as Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base and Coast Guard Air Station Houston
Where and What is Ellington Field?
Ellington Field Early History: Open, Closes, Opens Again
Ellington Field, open in 1917, was one of 32 Air Service training camps for pilots of World War I. During WWI, Ellington was home to many firsts: most pilot fatalities, “canteen girls,” camp newspaper, aerial gunnery and bombing range, and an aerial ambulance. By the end of the war, when the field was closed, it had been home to 20,000 men and 250 aircraft. The field was named for 1st Lt. Eric Ellington, a US Army aviator who had been killed in 1913.
Unlike many decommissioned WWI bases, Ellington reopened for training WWII pilots in 1940. The updated facilities included five control towers, to 46,000 square foot hangers, and the most modern medical complex in south Texas.* Ellington ended up training about 10 percent of the total number of pilots in the US; every five week, classes of 274 cadets showed up to enter the 10-week course. Eventually the Advanced Flying School was moved to Waco and replaced by the USAAF Bombardier School. Here, students learned and practiced bombing small islands in Matagorda Bay (near Galveston TX). In addition, the AAFTC moved the Navigator School from California; students spent 100 hours navigating local and long-range flights. Before WWII was over, more than 65 women (Women’s Army Corps) served at Ellington. Once again, when the war ended the base was for the most part emptied.
During the Cold War, Ellington was reactivated and renamed Ellington Air Force Base. The facility primarily supported basic training in navigation, but there was also a multi-engine flying program. The base continued to expand throughout the decades until in 1998 when military presence dwindled; Ellington was home only to the Air National Guard.
In 2011, the airfield received an $100 million investment from the US Government to providing training for reserves for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan; the military population increased to ~6,000. The training ensures that the soldiers deployed “hit the ground running” and don’t have to train while deployed. In addition, a $20 million Coast Guard facility has been completed bringing to Ellington the distinction of having all five military branches in one location.
In the 1960s, because of its proximity to the Johnson Space Center, Ellington became home to astronaut flight proficiency and specialized aircraft training. Beginning in 1967, the Apollo Lunar Landing Training Vehicle was housed at Ellington and even today, most of NASA’s aircraft are based out of Ellington.
Wings Over Houston
Since 1984, Ellington Field has been home to Wings over Houston,*** an air show and static display of military planes. For 33 years, fighter planes from all eras take off, spin, break the sound barrier, and land. The event is not just an airshow aficionado destination, but supports the Aviation Career Academy summer camp and provides scholarships to high schoolers interested in aviation careers.
Did You Know?
- Ellington Field hosted a benefit fly-by in 1917 with 10 Curtiss JN-4 byplanes** where the roar of the planes drowned out the celebratory sirens and whistle factories. This was not the world’s first “airshow”, but the first in Texas!
- During the Cold War, a Houston resident paid for the construction of a planetarium at Ellington where up to 40 students could learn celestial navigation
* The Houston area has always been at the forefront of medicine.
** The Blue Angels, this was not.
*** This writer has attended many of the airshows and static displays during the course of her Houston habitation.
Visit the Lone Star Flight Museum, scheduled to move to Ellington Field from Galveston
Have a centennial suggestion? Let us know!