Brooks Air Force Base

By: Edward B. Alcott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: July 28, 2020

Brooks Air Force Base is on State Loop 13 seven miles southeast of San Antonio, just west of Interstate Highway 37 in Bexar County. The site occupies about 1,300 acres. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the army established the facility to train flying instructors in the Gosport System. According to that method, developed by the Royal Air Force, an instructor spoke to a student pilot through a tube and corrected the trainee in flight. The army initially called the training site Gosport Field; the name was changed to Signal Corps Aviation School, Kelly Field No. 5, on December 5, 1917. After the death of Cadet Sidney Johnson Brooks, Jr., in a training accident, the army renamed the facility Brooks Field, on February 4, 1918. By the end of that year the field had sixteen hangars. Hangar 9, now the Edward H. White II Memorial Museum, is a national historic landmark and is reputedly the oldest existing hangar in the United States Air Force.

In 1919 the army replaced the pilot school with a balloon and airship school. Following a series of accidents, however, the army closed this school, on June 26, 1922. From 1922 until 1931 Brooks served as the primary flying school for the army air corps; more than 1,400 pilots were trained there. Notable instructors and students included such aviation figures as Charles Lindbergh, Claire L. Chennault, Lester Maitland, and Jimmy Doolittle. The School of Aviation Medicine was transferred from Hazlehurst Field in New York to Brooks on August 1, 1926. In 1928 Brooks began training paratroopers; on Thanksgiving Day, 1929, the first mass paratroop drop in United States Armed Forces history took place at Brooks. The experiments at Brooks confirmed the practicality of tactical paratrooper warfare, which was used on many occasions during World War II. The United States Air Force Security Service (USAFSS) provided communications intellegence training for radio intercept operators, crypto analysts, and Russian language analysts. Both the flying school and the aviation medicine school were moved to nearby Randolph Field (now Randolph Air Force Base) in 1931.

Brooks served as a center for aerial-observation training in the 1930s. A special school for combat observers started there on July 1, 1940. The army established an Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Brooks on January 1, 1941, to teach pilots of single-engine aircraft aerial observation skills. Observation training was discontinued in 1943, when Brooks began training pilots of the new B-25 bomber for use in World War II. Brooks's training function ceased in 1945 when a tactical unit under the Third Air Force joined the facility. In 1948, after the air force was separated from the army, the Department of Defense changed the name of the base to Brooks Air Force Base. From 1949 until 1958 operating units at the base included the 259th Air Base, 2577th Air Force Reserve Flying Training Center, the 2577th Air Base Group, and the 3790th Air Base Group.

Starting in the summer of 1959, Brooks began a transition from a flight-training base to a center for medical research, development, and education. The School of Aviation Medicine returned to Brooks from Randolph, and the base became headquarters for the Aerospace Medical Center on October 1, 1959. On June 23, 1960, all flying at the facility ceased. With the growth of the United States space program, the aviation medicine school received the new title United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, in May 1961; in November 1961 the center and school became part of the Aerospace Medical Division, which received the title Human Systems Division on February 6, 1987. The medical center has played a major role in the national space program; its accomplishments include the development of the capsule that carried the monkey Sam into outer space on December 4, 1959. President John F. Kennedy's final official act was the dedication of four buildings in the complex that housed the Aerospace Medical Division headquarters and the School of Aerospace Medicine.

Researchers at Brooks continue to study space medicine and have contributed to the advancement of manned flight. Brooks also houses the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory, and the Air Force System's Command Systems Acquisition School. In November 1987 Sidney J. Brooks, Jr., Memorial Park was dedicated on the base. In 1995 the Department of Defense decided to close the base. In 2002 the facility was renamed the Brooks City-Base, but again recommended for closure by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005. The Brooks City-Base officially closed on September 15, 2011, and is one of forty former installations managed by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) in San Antonio. The Brooks Development Authority has since transformed the former base into a master planned community that includes a state-of-the-art hospital.

Charles A. Dempsey, Air Force Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory: 50 Years of Research on Man in Flight (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio: U.S. Air Force, 1985). Robert Mueller, Air Force Bases, Vol. 1 (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Simpson Historical Research Center, 1982). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Green Peyton Wertenbaker, Fifty Years of Aerospace Medicine (Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, 1968)., accessed July 1, 2015.

  • San Antonio
  • Central Texas

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

Edward B. Alcott, “Brooks Air Force Base,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

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July 28, 2020