HomeAbout UsFact SheetsDisplay

Joint Base Andrews History

Sept. 21, 2012 PRINT | E-MAIL
Joint Base Andrews History

The history of Andrews Air Force Base dates back to the Civil War when the Union occupied a small country church as its headquarters for soldiers camped nearby. Today, that church is known as Chapel Two, and the base community still uses it for worship services. 

In the early part of the 20th century, the present site of Andrews was often discussed for a potential civilian airfield. In August 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Secretary of War to acquire the land and to build a military airfield. Construction began later that year. On April 19, 1943, the first permanent unit, the 463rd Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, arrived from Westover Field, Mass., with 105 enlisted men and five officers. 

Camp Springs Army Air Field became operational on May 2, 1943, when the first Republic P-47 Thunderbolt arrived; 75 other P-47s arrived during the first month. The field's early mission was to train fighter pilots for overseas combat duty. 

Camp Springs became Andrews Field in 1945 to honor of one of the Air Force's founding fathers, Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews. He died in an airplane crash on May 3, 1943, ironically the day after the base that now bears his name opened. Shortly after the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, the base's name changed to Andrews Air Force Base. 

In the years following World War II, Andrews served as headquarters for Continental Air Command, Strategic Air Command and the Military Air Transport Service. It was also headquarters to the Air Research and Development Command and its successor, the Air Force Systems Command, from 1950 to 1992. 

The year 1947 marked the arrival of the first permanently assigned jet-powered aircraft, an F-80 Shooting Star, at Andrews. With the onset of the Korean War in June 1950, Andrews became involved in combat readiness training for B-25 medium bomber crews. 

However, Andrews has been best known for its special air mission--the transportation of senior government and military leaders. President Harry S. Truman was the first to fly a presidential flight out of Andrews on Nov. 24, 1946. The port of entry and departure for dignitaries transferred to Andrews Air Force Base in 1959 after the completion of a 14 million dollar upgrade to the existing runway and the addition of a new parallel runway.  Also in 1959, Detachment 1, 1254th Air Transport Group received its first jet aircraft, a VC-137. While the president's official aircraft, a C-121 (Columbine III), remained at Washington National Airport, the president often used the new VC-137 for longer trips. President John F. Kennedy's official aircraft, a C-118, permanently transferred from Washington National in March 1962, and Andrews officially became the "Home of Air Force One. " 

Andrews has since been the scene of many joyful returns and reunions. Among the many occasions, Andrews welcomed the first prisoners of war back from Vietnam in 1973, saw the return of the U.S. hostages from Iran in 1981, and welcomed former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch home from Iraq in 2003. 

Known as "The President's Wing," the 89th Airlift Wing continues to contribute to Andrews' rich history as the elite Air Mobility Command wing for transporting VIPs around the world. Not only does Andrews provide service for America's senior officials, but also kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, popes, and local and foreign military leaders make Andrews AFB their first stop in the United States. 

On Jan. 5, 2005 the Air Force reactivated the Air Force District of Washington (AFDW) as the single Air Force voice for planning and implementing Air Force and joint solutions within the National Capital Region (NCR). This event brought with it significant changes at Andrews.  On May 12, 2006, the 89th Medical Group at Andrews and the 11th Medical Group, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. combined into the 79th Medical Wing where it established its headquarters here at Andrews. In June 2006, the 316th Wing stood up under the command of AFDW as the new host unit for Andrews Air Force Base and its nearly 50 tenant units to include organizations from the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, and the United States Navy. The activation of the 316th prompted the transfer of the 1st Helicopter Squadron from the 89th Airlift Wing to the 316th Operations Group. Finally, in May of 2007 the AFDW, as well as the 844th Communications Group, transferred from Bolling AFB to Andrews. 

On Oct. 1, 2009, Andrews Air Force Base, along with Naval Air Facility Washington, became a joint base known as Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington, or Joint Base Andrews. In October, 2010, the 316th Wing was inactivated and the 11th Wing,
formerly the host wing at Bolling Air Force Base, was re-designated the host wing here at Andrews. The "Chief's Own" 11th Wing, while adopting the missions of Andrews, continues to oversee all operations of the Air Force Band, Honor Guard, and Chaplaincy which are still located at now Joint Base Anacostia/Bolling. The 11th Wing is proud to be host of the base bearing the name of one of the true founding fathers of today's most powerful air and space force.

Receiving much more publicity are the significant events recently occurring here including the annual Joint Service Open House aerial and ground demonstrations, and the reception of Pope Benedict XVI by President Bush. This event on April 15, 2008, marked the first time a U.S. President has traveled to Andrews to meet a head of state since September 1959 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower greeted Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev. Premier Khrushchev was also the first foreign head of state to fly into Andrews. These major developments and events add to Andrews AFB's already dynamic and critical part it plays in the defense of our nation as it constantly evolves from the muddy fields and wooden buildings of the 1940s, to become one of the most modern air bases in the world, and solidifying itself as "The Gateway to the Capital."