Once far, far out in the country and well to the north-east of San Antonio, Randolph Air Force Base was originally and purposefully designed to be the Army Air Corps "West Point of the Air. Now the base as the Air Force's headquarters for the Air Education and Training Command, the Air Force Personnel Center and the Air Force Recruiting Service. It is also home for 12th Flying Training Wing, conducting instructor pilot, combat systems officer and navigation officer training. Today, Randolph appears as if it is on the edge of spreading suburbia, along the length of IH-35 connecting San Antonio with Austin, and the 1604 Loop, that outer ring-road which encircles San Antonio's outer limits.
This was the fate which had overtaken military flight training at Kelly and Brooks fields in the mid 1920s; engulfment by urban and suburban sprawl. This sent the Army Air Corps - newly formed by act of Congress in 1926 - looking for a better place to conduct flight training than crumbling WW I-era temporary facilities. In the current military lexicon, ‘temporary' means at least half a century of hard use; during WWI it really meant temporary, and such structures were truly expected to last no more than a three or four years.
The act which created the Army Air Corps also created a matching pair of general officer positions; one of them being a forward-thinking officer, General Frank P. Lahm, who was in charge of organizing all flying training for the corps. Between crumbling buildings and no room, flight operations had blasted well past ‘difficult' and were heading into ‘impossible.' General Lahm began looking around for a good replacement site - somewhere far enough from San Antonio that the Army Air Corps wouldn't have to repeat the whole process again any time soon - yet not so far that the new base would be inconvenient.
The new base would be planned all at once and all together, unlike other military posts and forts, which usually featured an untidy hodge-podge of bits and pieces, added onto and expanded as necessity, military mission and finances permitted. It would be a city of the air, a city of the future, specifically designed as an air base; it would be utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing; it would be a showplace. The original plans were drawn up by a young officer who was serving as a dispatch officer in the motor pool at Kelly Field, one 1Lt. Harold Clark, who had been trained as an architect. He drew up plans for his futuristic "Air City" on the backs of old forms - and showed them to General Lahm.
The general was so pleased with the lieutenant's designs that he promoted him to architect-in-charge of the whole project. Construction work was done by the US Army Corps of Engineers; the largest project they had taken on since finishing the Panama Canal. Pushing hard on it, the work was work was finished in three years. The permanent buildings were in a picturesque and then-fashionable Spanish Colonial and Art Deco styles, of hollow-core tile and conblock covered in white stucco and adorned with wooden beams, glazed tile accents, and rust-red roof tiles.
Quite a few utilized standard plans with just enough rustic trim to keep the distinctive look of the base, but many - notably the central and distinctive tower, Building #100, called the "Taj Mahal" were one-off and unique. What was also unique was the layout: a pair of parallel runways on either side of the base, with the main facilities, offices, barracks and housing arranged in concentric circles around the ‘Taj" - which on occasion does make finding certain buildings and finding your way out again somewhat of a challenge. The whole if it was designed specifically for military aviation. Today, as with the oldest parts of Fort Sam Houston, the central part of Randolph AFB is a historic district. Oddly enough, the flier for whom the air city was named, one Captain William Millican Randolph, was a member of the name-selection committee for General Lahm's proud creation, when he was killed in an airplane crash in 1928.
Randolph Field was dedicated on June 30th, 1930 and had begun service as the Air Corps's major flying school within 18 months. That act of Congress which created the Air Corps also mandated that 90% of the officers serving in it must be qualified pilots - so there was quite a rush to train pilots. Known unofficially as "The West Point of the Air" it was hoped that eventually it would become a military academy for a separate air service. In 1934, it served as the location for a film by that very name.
The Air Force became a separate service in 1947, but alas for Air Force Academy ambitions; it had to settle for being renamed Randolph Air Force Base - but the mission of flying training remained . . . although as with it's predecessors, suburbia creeps closer and closer. Currently, Randolph AFB also hosts the Air Force Manpower Agency, the Air Force Occupational Measurement Squadron, the Air Force Services Agency, the Joint Personal Property Shipping Office and the 340th Flying Training Group. The base also hosts regular air shows. In alternate years, it also holds an open house and a spectacular firework display on the 4th of July.
Nearby communities include the separate municipalities of Schertz, Universal City, Live Oak, Selma, Converse, Garden Ridge and Windcrest, as well north-east suburbs of San Antonio itself. Randolph Air Force Base is part of Joint Base San Antonio's 502d Air Base Wing, headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The 502d is one of 12 joint bases within the Department of Defense. The 902d Mission Support Group provides host-base support to more than 30 Department of Defense units including Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Personnel Center, Air Force Recruiting Service, and the 12th Flying Training Wing.
Current Randolph Air Force Base Major Command and Units include:
Randolph's Major Command Units
• 902d Mission Support Group
• 12th Flying Training Wing
• 359th Medical Group
Randolph's Tenant Units
• Air Education and Training Command
• 19th Air Force
• Air Force Manpower Agency
• Air Force Occupational Measurement Squadron
• Air Force Personnel Center
• Air Force Services Agency
• Air Force Recruiting Command
• Central Circuit Trial Judiciary
• Joint Personal Property Shipping Office
• 340th Flying Training Group
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