Mather Air Force Base

Mather Air Force Base
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Sacramento Mather Airport
Mather Air Force Base

Air Training Command Emblem.png

Part of Air Training Command (ATC)
Rancho Cordova, California
Mather AFB CA - 17 Aug 1998.jpg
17 August 1998
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 38°33′14″N 121°17′51″W / 38.55389°N 121.2975°W / 38.55389; -121.2975
Built 1918
In use 1918-1993
Controlled by United States Air Force
Garrison 323d Flying Training Wing
Mather Air Force Base is located in California
Mather Air Force Base
Location of Mather Air Force Base

Mather Air Force Base (Mather AFB) is a closed United States Air Force Base located 12 miles (19 km) east of Sacramento at Rancho Cordova, California on the south side of U.S. Route 50.

Mather AFB was closed on October 1, 1993 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) and reopened in 1995 as Sacramento Mather Airport.



The United States Army Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, activated Mills Field on February 21, 1918 as a pilot training base that was surrounded by ranch land and vineyards. Mills Field was renamed Mather Field for Second Lieutenant Carl Spencer Mather, an Army Signal Corps pilot, who was killed in an air collision at Ellington Field, Texas in January 1918. He earned his pilot's license at the age of 16 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps on January 20, 1918. Five days later, he was killed during one of the first training classes for World War I pilots. The remainder of his class was restationed at Mills Field and requested that the facility be renamed in Mather's honor. On May 2, 1918, the name was changed to Mather Field, the precursor to Mather Air Force Base and today's Sacramento Mather Airport.

Major commands to which assigned

  • Army Air Service, March 1918-22 June 1922
  • Army Air Corps, 2 July 1926-November 1932
  • General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force, 1 March 1935
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
  • Air Transport Command, 1 October 1944
  • Army AIr Force Training Command, 20 December 1945
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:[1][2]

Operational history


Construction of some 50 buildings began March 15, 1918. The Field was occupied April 30, 1918. Its first commander was 1st Lieutenant Sam P. Burman, March 15, 1918. The first unit stationed there was the 283rd Aero Squadron. There were no concrete runways or aprons. These were added in the late 1930s. In the meantime aircraft flew from grass-covered fields. Training activities ceased on January 8, 1919. The Field was used by the aerial forestry patrol.

Following World War I, the field was used intermittently to support small military units. The Field was closed on May 12. 1923. Again on active status on April 1, 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.

World War II

The Field was reestablished as a separate post and activated on May 13, 1941. The Field area was increased from 872 to 4,418 acres (17.88 km2) in June 1941.

Advanced training began June 7, 1941. Navigation school began August 2, 1941. Major new construction was completed March 16, 1942. B-25s were assigned to the Field. Mather Field became a Port of Embarkation for the Pacific from 1944 to 1945.

During World War II, Mather Field was used for pilot and navigator training as well as observer and bombardier training. When the 509th Operations Group was transferring to Tinian (in the Marianas Island chain) for the atomic mission, the commanding general of Mather Field was told at gunpoint [1] that he was not allowed on board The Great Artiste which had landed there.

Cold War

Air Training Command
Mather AFB Control Tower, 1986.
Emblem of the 3535th Navigator Training Wing (ATC)

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 April 1, 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/Bombadiers, EWOs and WSOs until it was inactivated on September 30, 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.

Strategic Air Command
Emblem of the 4134th Strategic Wing
Emblem of the 320th Bombardment Wing

On April 1, 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 deactivated on February 1, 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 September 30, 1989.[3]

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.[4]

Air Defense Air Command

A general surveillance radar station at Mather AFB was one of twenty-eight stations established as part of the second segment of the Air Defense Command permanent radar network in 1949. Prompted by the start of the Korean War, on July 11, 1950, the Secretary of the Air Force asked the Secretary of Defense for approval to expedite construction of the permanent network. Receiving the Defense Secretary’s approval on July 21, the Air Force directed the Corps of Engineers to proceed with construction.

The 668th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned to Mather AFB on 1 January 1951, taking over a temporary "Lashup" Site, L-37, which started operating an AN/CPS-6 radar in June 1950. The squadron operated the AN/CPS-6 radar throughout the 1950s until a conversion to AN/FPS-20A and AN/FPS-6 and AN/FPS-6B radars was initiated. By 1960 this site became a joint-use facility with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), also in 1961 the two height-finder radars were removed.

Although assigned to the San Francisco Air Defense Sector, the radars were not linked directly into the DC-18 SAGE data center at Beale AFB, due to the planned closure of the facility. Rather, the site was linked into DC-18 by becoming an operating location for Mill Valley AFS (Z-38), as Detachment 2, 666th Radar Squadron (SAGE) after the 668th AC&W was inactivated.

On 1 September 1961 the 668th was deactivated and the radar came under FAA control. The Air Force terminated use of the site 1 Sep 1966. Today the FAA still operates a radar site at Mather. Search radar is type FPS-91A. This now-FAA long-range radar site is now data-tied into the Joint Surveillance System (JSS).


On October 1, 1993, Mather AFB was decommissioned as an active Air Force Base under the Base Realignment and Closure Act. At the time of closure, the base encompassed 5,845 acres (24 km²), including 129 acres (522,000 m²) of easements. Most of the base was ruled surplus to the needs of the federal government and has been transferred or leased to various entities, primarily the County of Sacramento.

Mather Air Force Base was listed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site on July 22, 1987.[5]

In 1995, the airport was officially reopened as a Sacramento Mather Airport, a 2,675 acre (11 km²) cargo airport. Another 1,432 (5.8 km²) acres became the Mather Regional Park. Other areas of the former Air Force Base have been developed for housing and a business park. The former USAF Hospital was converted into the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Northern California Terminal Radar Control TRACON facility is also located at Mather. Mather Community Campus, a transitional living facility, was opened in 1995. It has graduated close to 1,000 students who have made the journey from homelessness, for various reasons, back to employment and a new lease on life.

The U.S. military has identified frozen remains found atop a California glacier as those of a World War II era airman named Ernest G. Munn, who vanished on November 18, 1942 on a training flight from Mather Field, the Department of Defense said March 10, 2008. He was 23 at the time.[2]

Natural history

There are rare wetland vernal pools, " ... unique to California",[6], 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.[7] Another example is the Vernal Pool Buttercup, Ranunculus bonariensis var. trisepalus.[8] 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.[9]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Mather Air Force Base Superfund site progress profile". EPA. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  6. ^ The Vernal Pools of Mather Field
  7. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Yellow Mariposa Lily: Calochortus luteus,, ed. N. Stromberg
  8. ^ Plants of Mather Field
  9. ^ 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; 0160022614

External links

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