The installation's history began 26 June 1941 , when the War Department approved establishment of an Army Air Field for the Columbus area. Behind this approval were months of concerted efforts by the local citizens. On the afternoon of 14 February 1941 , 100 of the area's leading citizens banded together to organize an association to secure defense industries.
The citizens' efforts bore fruit. Six months before Pearl Harbor the War Department announced that a pilot training base would be established in Columbus . On 12 August 1941 , Columbus officials leased the tract of land to the United States for $1 per year.
The base began as a training facility for fighters and bombers. Planned as a twin-engine advanced flying school, the new air base came under the control of the Southeastern Air Corps Training Center at Maxwell Field, Alabama. The Mion Company began construction on 12 September 1941 . On 13 January 1942 , 100 enlisted men arrived to form the first skeleton organizations on the base.
No one designated or suggested a name for the new base until 22 January 1942 . On that date, the War Department announced the installation would be named Kaye Field, in honor of Capt Sam Kaye, a World War I flying ace from Columbus . That designation went into effect on 24 February. However, the name issue soon became one of confusion because another nearby base--Key Field, Meridian , Mississippi ,--had a similar sounding name. To correct the problem, in March 1942, the War Department changed the name of the base from Kaye Field to Columbus Army Flying School .
The Columbus flying school received its first aircraft--nine Lockheed AT‑10s and twenty-one AT-8s--in early 1942. Barksdale Field , Louisiana , provided the first students. Twenty-five cadets arrived at Columbus in February 1942. They had already completed a considerable part of their training when the Air Corps moved them. The cadets entered training at Columbus on 9 February and graduated on 6 March.
During World War II, the training load gradually increased until Columbus was graduating 195 pilots per month. A total of 7,766 students came to Columbus for pilot training during the war. Of these, 7,412 graduated and received their wings and commissions.
The school used a number of trainers, including the AT-8, AT-9, AT‑10, and B-25. For administrative travel, Columbus used the AT-6 and BC-1A.
Due to the efforts of Lt Col Joseph B. Duckworth, the Columbus Army Flying School developed and perfected two systems of training, which was adopted by the command. The first was the Flying Evaluation Board. This board instituted tough new criteria to evaluate an instructor's proficiency. The second was the "full panel" attitude system of instrument flying, which is credited with revolutionizing training in blind flying. In addition to the three instruments already used, students were taught to use two gyro instruments, the magnetic compass, the rate-of-climb indicator, and the clock.
When the war ended in 1945, the base strength had reached a peak of 2,300 enlisted men, 300 officers, and an average of 250 pilot cadets per class. The end of hostilities significantly slowed training activities, so in 1946 the War Department directed the inactivation of the base.
Columbus was void of activity for four years until communist troops violated South Korea 's borders and fighting broke out in 1950. To handle increased pilot requirements for the Korean War, Air Training Command activated Columbus AFB on 20 December to be used as a station for a contract flying school. To manage the base, ATC established the 3301st Training Squadron (Contract Flying) on 1 March 1951 . The contractor who provided pilot training was California Eastern Airways. That training continued until 1954, when ATC directed that the mission be moved by early 1955 to Moore Air Base, Texas .
On 1 April 1955 , HQ USAF transferred Columbus AFB from ATC control to Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Second Air Force. The base began an active building program to support its new mission, to be part of SAC's base dispersal system. City fathers deeded an additional 3,600 acres to the base so that a northwest-southeast runway could be built, along with a 480‑unit family housing project. It was not until December 1957, however, that officials at HQ SAC announced the base would become the home of a B‑52 squadron and a KC-135 jet refueling tanker squadron. To manage these units, on 1 July 1958 , Strategic Air Command activated the 4228th Strategic Wing.
The first Stratotanker, piloted by the wing commander, landed on the new runway on 7 January 1959 . Then on 28 May, the first B-52 arrived. In February 1963, SAC inactivated the 4228th Strategic Wing and activated the 454th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, in its place. The 454th conducted air refueling operations and trained in bombardment operations. Beginning in the summer of 1965, the wing's headquarters staff, tactical aircraft and crews, and maintenance personnel became a part of SAC combat forces in the Pacific and Southeast Asia . During their involvement in the Vietnam War, the 454th Combat Support Group operated Columbus AFB.
After 14 years as a SAC base, on 1 July 1969 , HQ USAF transferred Columbus back to Air Training Command and to its original mission of training pilots. In preparation for this transfer, Air Training Command had activated the 3650th Pilot Training Wing at Columbus on 15 February. The first undergraduate pilot training (UPT) class--71-01--entered school on 17 July.
Three years later, on 1 June 1972 , Air Training Command discontinued the 3650th and activated the 14th Flying Training Wing in its place. The 14th continues today as the host organization at Columbus and as the trainer of the best pilots in the world.