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Charleston Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base located in the center of North Charlestonmarker, South Carolinamarker and is assigned to Air Mobility Command (AMC). A joint civil-military airport, Charleston AFB shares runways with Charleston International Airportmarker for commercial airline aircraft operations on the south side of the airfield and general aviation aircraft operations on the east side.


Charleston Air Force Base is home to the 437th Airlift Wing (437 AW), the "host" wing for the installation, operating the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlift aircraft. The wing has four operational groups consisting of 21 squadrons and one wing staff directorate. It is augmented by a parallel, collocated Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) "associate" wing, the 315th Airlift Wing (315 AW), which shares the same C-17 aircraft with the 437 AW.

Charleston's mission is to fly C-17s and provide airlift of troops and passengers, military equipment, cargo, and aeromedical equipment and supplies worldwide in support of tasking by Air Mobility Command and unified combatant commanders.


Charleston Air Force Base originated when the city of Charlestonmarker purchased land in 1931 to build Charleston Municipal Airport. On 11 December 1941, the Army Air Corps took control of the field and anti-submarine missions were being flown out of Charleston Army Air Field by August 1942. Returned to civilian control after World War II, the United States Air Force began joint use of the facility on 11 July 1952 and the military part of the airfield was renamed Charleston Air Force Base on 1 June 1953.

Major Commands to which assigned

  • Air Service Command, 1 Apr 1942
  • First Air Force, 9 Jun 1942
  • Air Service Command
Designated for concurrent use by Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command, 19 Dec 1942
Eighteenth Air Force, 23 Apr 1952 - 1 Mar 1955
Eastern Air Defense Force, 16 Feb 1954 - 1 Jan 1960
Eastern Transport Air Force, 1 Mar 1955
Redesignated: Military Airlift Command
Twenty-First Air Force, 1 Jan 1966 - 1 Jun 1992
Twenty-First Air Force, 1 Jun 1992 - 1 Oct 2003
Eighteenth Air Force, 1 Oct 2003 - Present

Note: Inactivated and declared surplus April 25, 1946; custody assumed by Army division Engineers, June 29, 1946; transferred to War Assets Administration, May 24, 1947; assigned AF in inactive status, July 11, 1952; reactivated August 1, 1953.

Major Units assigned

  • 67th Observation Group, 23 Dec 1941 - 26 Jan 1942
  • 421st Base HQ and Air Base Squadron, 1 Nov 1942 - 10 Apr 1944
  • 521st Bombardment Squadron
Redesignated 16th Antisubmarine Squadron, 18 Oct 1942 - 18 Sep 1943

Redesignated 1608th Air Transport Wing, 1 Mar 1955
Redesignated: 437th Military Airlift Wing, 8 Jan 1966 - Present

References for history introduction, major commands and major units

Operational History


The history of Charleston Air Force Base began in 1919 when U.S. Army Col Herbert A. Dargue, then Chief of the Air Service (forerunner to the Federal Aviation Administration), visited the area looking for a suitable landing field for "aeroplanes." But it was Charles Lindbergh's nonstop solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 that heightened city officials' interest to establish air operations in Charleston.

In 1928, the City of Charleston rented land and began operating a simple airfield about ten miles north of city limits. Foreseeing a commercial future in air travel, the city formed the Charleston Aircraft Corporation to acquire the land for a municipal airport. In May 1931, the corporation purchased 432 acres for $25,000 from the South Carolina Mining and Manufacturing Company. Later in the year, the city acquired the airport facility for $60,000 and immediately began improvements.

During the 1930s, airport operations expanded to keep pace with advances in general and commercial aviation being experienced throughout the country. Despite the Great Depression, the Federal Government stepped in to assist the city with modernizing the airport. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration literally poured $313,000 into the airport. Workers paved one 3,500-foot-long runway and constructed a second 3,000-foot one. The project also improved upon the existing lighting system with up-to-date field lighting.

Given the continuing growth in passenger aviation, Pan American Airways selected Charleston Airport as its western terminus for trans-Atlantic flights. Although this plan never came to fruition, it contributed to a burgeoning increase in traffic for the airport. As a result, the city purchased 300 more acres of land surrounding the airport for $300,000 in 1937 to accommodate additional service buildings and hangars.

World War II

Top to Bottom: P-40 F/L, P-40K Warhawk
North American O-47B
Consolidated B-24J-55-CO Liberator, AAF Serial No.
USAF C-54 Skymaster
C-121 on display at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Ks.
C-119 in flight
C-124C Globemaster II
A lengthened C-141B in front of an original C-141A
A USAF C-17 during takeoff

In 1939, with world tensions heightening, the United States Army Air Corps began a massive build up of troops, bases, and equipment in preparation for war. As a result, Charleston acquired more land in 1940 for additional airport improvements that included construction of a hangar and administration building and lengthening of the runways to 5,000 feet. Prior to the U.S. entering World War II, in 1941 the War Department allotted another $199,000 to the Charleston Airport for runway extension and other improvements needed for aircraft dispersal against attack

After the Pearl Harbor attack on 10 December 1941, the 56th Pursuit Group based at Charlotte Airport, North Carolinamarker, and its 61st Pursuit Squadron arrived at the Charleston airport. The squadron's P-39 Airacobra and P-40 Warhawk aircraft provided coastal defense operations for the Southern Defense Command, Third Air Force, Carolina Sector. Arriving later that month, the 67th Observation Group, 107th Observation Squadron and the Federalized 105 Observation Squadron (Tennesseemarker National Guard) provided antisubmarine patrols along the east coast with North American O-47 and O-49 Vigilant observation aircraft.

On 11 December the War Department assumed de facto control of Charleston Municipal Airport yet allowed Delta and Eastern commercial airlines to continue their civilian operations. Although Air Corps personnel had operated from the airport since the war began, true occupancy did not take place until 23 March 1942 when the City of Charleston and the War Department signed a lease and formally activated the installation.

Effective 1 April 1942, the base was assigned to Air Service Command and 29th Air Base Group, Distribution Point #2 became the first host unit responsible for building, maintaining and operating the installation infrastructure. On 9 June that same year, the base transferred to First Air Force and was officially named Charleston Army Air Base on 22 October 1942. The installation transferred back to Air Service Command in December 1942, then moved back to First Air Force in September 1943 where it remained until the end of the war. At the same time as the base struggled to find its niche, the 16th Antisubmarine Squadron operated B-34 Lexington bombers helping defend the eastern seaboard from possible attack.

On 31 March 1944, Johns Island Army Airfieldmarker became an auxiliary of Charleston AAB, providing an emergency landing field for the base.

Renamed Charleston Army Air Field on 15 June 1943, initially the base served mainly as an air depot training station, providing the final phase of training to service groups and air depot groups departing home for the war overseas. Concurrent with its reassignment to First Air Force, in September 1943 the base changed missions. Now it would give the final phase of training to B-24 Liberator crews. The 454th Bombardment Group arrived in September and left Charleston for the European Theater of Operations in December 1943. This same month the 400th Bombardment Group arrived, but this organization was to function as a replacement training unit rather than an operational training unit.

On 10 April 1944, the 113th Army Air Field Base Unit (CCTS-H) activated and took over as Charleston's host unit. But the need for B-24 crews ended with Germanymarker's defeat and end of the war in Europe. In their place, however, the Army Air Force required a large number of transport crews. Consequently, the base was transferred to Air Transport Command on 1 June 1945 and began C-54 Skymaster crew training that lasted until late August 1945.

Only a few months after the Japanese surrender, on 25 April 1946 the government placed the base in surplus status as part of the massive postwar drawdown. The City of Charleston requested that the field, which originally had been leased to the U.S. Army for $1 per year, be returned to the municipality. By this time, the field consisted of 2,050 acres with more than $12 million worth of facilities and improvements. Despite not being official returned to the city until 19 October 1948, the city council voted to construct a new air terminal in 1947, and commercial air operations resumed on a full-time basis at the now fully civilian airport.

Cold War

As a result of the Cold War, the now independent United States Air Force requesting funds from Congress to begin troop carrier operations at the Charleston airport. By August 1951, Congress approved a $28 million public works improvement package, and during the remainder of the year, preliminary work was underway to construct facilities for a troop carrier wing. In March 1952, the City of Charleston signed a lease agreement with the Air Force for joint use of the airport. For $1 per year the lease allowed the U.S. Air Force to occupy all properties south and west of the Southern Railways tracks while the city retained terminal buildings, hangars, and other buildings along the north and east boundaries of the airport. Construction of base facilities, meanwhile, began in May 1952.

By early 1953, elements of the 456th Troop Carrier Wing, assigned to Tactical Air Command, arrived at Charleston to prepare the base for operational status. On 1 June 1953, the base received its current name of Charleston Air Force Base and activated on 1 August. Two weeks later, on 15 August 1953, the arrival of 50 C-119 Flying Boxcars effectively made the base operational. Although numerous construction projects were still underway, the wing held a dedication ceremony on 13 November 1953 to open the base officially.

With the 456th already in place, advance elements of the newly activated 1608th Air Transport Group, assigned to Military Air Transport Command (later, Military Airlift Command), first arrived in February 1954 to establish operations. One month later on 4 March 1954, the group received its first C-54 Skymaster transport. As the 1608th increased in size, MATS and TAC negotiated ownership of the base. Eventually, on 1 March 1955, Charleston AFB came under the jurisdiction and control of MATS and the 1608th Air Transport Wing (Medium) became the base's host unit. Also upon assignment to MATS, the base became the terminus for all C-54 airlift to Europe and the Near East.

On 16 February 1954, Air Defense Command established the 444th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron as a tenant unit on Charleston flying F-86D Sabre fighter aircraft as the east coast's air defense against airborne invaders. Soon after, the base achieved permanent status and with that declaration MATS began various facility construction projects to further improve upon the base's status. Meanwhile, the 1608th received its first C-121C Constellation appropriately named "City of Charleston" on 16 September 1955 (tail number 54-153). Shortly thereafter the base was designated as an aerial port of embarkation, giving Charleston AFB more prominent role in MATS. Tactical Air Command and the 456th left Charleston on 16 October 1955, which also ended the base's association with the C-119 Flying Boxcars.

Charleston AFB underwent a significant change on 18 June 1958 when the 1608th received its first C-124C Globemaster aircraft, then again a month later when it lost its last C-54 transports. The 444th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron's aircraft changed as well. In February 1960, it began operating F-101 Voodoo aircraft and lost its F-86Ds.

The next big change came in 1962. The Air Force decided to retire the C-121 fleet and sent the 1608th its first replacement C-130 Hercules on 16 August 1962. The last C-121 Connie left Charleston AFB on 9 February 1963. Only two years later, on 14 August 1965, the wing received its first C-141 Starlifter, the newest airlifter in the Air Force inventory. But, unlike the previous aircraft changes, the arrival of this new aircraft meant a change in host units.

437th Wing

On 8 January 1966, the 437th Military Airlift Wing took over as Charleston AFB's host unit. Although the 1608th inactivated and the 437th activated its place, it appeared that every unit with a "1608" in its name simply changed it to "437." All of the 1608th's people, aircraft, buildings, etc. became the 437th's. The operational history of Charleston AFB is now inextricably tied to the 437th Airlift Wing's history.

Soon after the wing's arrival, on 30 September 1968 the 444th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron inactivated, ending Charleston AFB's long-standing association with air defense and fighter aircraft. In September 1969, the Air Force Reserve Command's 943d Military Airlift Group activated at Charleston making it the first associate unit in the southeastern U.S. On 1 July 1973, the 315th Military Airlift Wing (Associate) activated and replaced the 943d as the 437th's associate Reserve wing, similar to how the 437th replaced the 1608th a few years earlier.

In 1992, following the disestablishment of MAC as part of an Air Force-wide reorganization, the 437th Military Airlift Wing (437 MAW) and 315th Military Airlift Wing (315 MAW) were placed under the newly-established Air Mobility Command (AMC) and redesignated as the 437th Airlift Wing (437 AW) and 315th Airlift Wing (315 AW), respectively.

Today, the 437 AW and 315 AW (Associate) operate the C-17 Globemaster III. The base has also maintained an alert site for fighter-interceptor aircraft (primarily Air National Guard aircraft) of the Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), Tactical Air Command (TAC) and Air Combat Command (ACC), conducting the continental air defense mission. The last unit to occupy the alert site was a detachment of F-16 aircraft from the 158th Fighter Wing (158 FW) of the Vermont Air National Guard. Detachment operations officially ended at the end of FY99, with the facility placed in caretaker status. However, since 11 Sep 2001, the facility has seen intermittent operations by various USAF fighter aircraft of the Active and Reserve Components resuming the continental air defense mission under the cognizance of USNORTHCOM and NORADmarker.

See also


  1. 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 0912799536; 0160022614

  1. 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 0912799536; 0160022614

Emblem Gallery

Image:Team Charleston.jpg|Team CharlestonImage:437th Airlift Wing.png|437th Airlift WingImage:315th Airlift Wing.png|315th Airlift WingImage:1st Combat Camera Squadron.png|1st Combat Camera Squadron

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