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FOSTER ARMY AIR FIELD

FOSTER ARMY AIR FIELD. Foster Army Air Field, an advanced single-engine flying school for fighter pilots six miles northeast of Victoria, was established in the summer of 1941. A local funding campaign led by E. J. Dysart the previous spring had raised some $17,000 to locate the base at Victoria as an economic asset. Subsequent government construction cost more than $4 million. The initial class of cadets arrived in September 1941 and served under Lt. Col. Warren R. Carter, the first commander. WACs began to arrive the following May. The base was known until January 15, 1942, as Victoria Field and then renamed in memory of Lt. Arthur L. Foster, a United States Army Air Corps instructor killed in a crash at Brooks Field in 1925. Foster's son received his training and commission at the base in the spring of 1942. Cadets used the North American AT-6 "Texas" and Curtis P-40 trainers to drill in aerial gunnery, though actual practice took place on ranges located on Matagorda Island and Matagorda Peninsula. Many pilots returning from overseas service were taught to become aerial gunnery instructors at Foster Field. The local influence of the base was social as well as economic. In 1941 the Victoria County Courthouse recorded a 25 percent increase in marriage licenses issued. After World War II the Foster Field site returned to its owners, the Buhler and Braman estates.

In the fall of 1951 the government purchased 1,376 acres at the site, and Foster Field was reactivated for single-engine jet training during the Korean War. The first cadets graduated in March 1953 after three months of duty using T-28 propeller and T-33 jet trainers. Foster Air Force Base was designated a permanent military installation in 1954 and began housing F-86F Sabrejet fighter planes. Col. Frank L. Dunn became the new commander, replacing Col. C. C. Sonnkalb. The following year Foster AFB was designated headquarters for the Nineteenth Air Force, a new branch of the Tactical Air Command, under Gen. Henry Viccellio. Base personnel increased to about 6,000, with new F-100C Super-Sabre jets replacing the F-86s. Foster Field's Nineteenth Air Force carried out the first overseas deployment of a complete tactical force as a unit in a training flight to Europe in 1956. The next year three Foster-based F-100s flew the first TAC single-engine, nonstop, round-trip mission over a great distance when they "attacked" Panama in a training maneuver.

Washington surprised both Victorians and base commanders with the announcement in August 1957 that it was closing Foster AFB, especially since President Eisenhower had just appropriated finances for new construction. Despite a rigorous "Save Foster" campaign led in Washington by senators Lyndon B. Johnson and Ralph Yarborough and Congressman Clark W. Thompson, the base was deactivated and closed in December 1958. The local economy suffered greatly. In the summer of 1960, however, the General Services Administration approved the exchange of Aloe Fieldqv for Foster Field, and Victoria County Airport was moved to the latter site. The growth of the county airport slowly replaced the loss of Foster AFB as numerous businesses located there. Two of the largest in 1968 were the Devereux Foundation, a therapeutic-education center, and Gary Aircraft, which repaired C-54 planes for the military. In 1976 Foster became the site of Victoria Regional Airport, which provides passenger service and connections with major carriers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). Robert W. Shook and Charles D. Spurlin, Victoria: A Pictorial History (Norfolk, Virginia: Donning, 1985). Victoria Advocate, Historical Edition, May 12, 1968. Life, June 19, 1942.

Craig H. Roell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Craig H. Roell, "FOSTER ARMY AIR FIELD," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qcf13), accessed July 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.