Chanute AIr Force Base, Illinois
Origin of current name: Named in honor of Octave Chanute (1832-1910), a pioneer aeronautical engineer and experimenter, and friend and adviser to the Wright brothers. Chanute's biplane glider (1896), with "two arched wings held rigidly together by vertical struts and diagonal wire bracing" (the principle of the Pratt truss used in the railroad bridges which Chanute constructed), served as a prototype design for airplanes.
Date current name was assigned to base: January 13, 1948
Previous Names: Rantoul Aviation Field, May 1917; Chanute Field, June 6th 1917.
Date Established: May 21, 1917
Date Occupied: July 5, 1917
Construction Began: May 31, 1917
Changes in Capability: Base originally developed for pilot training July 18th 1917-November 19th 1918; converted to temporary storage depot January 1919-February 1921; various types of technical training introduced upon transfer of Air Service Mechanics School from Kelly Field February 1921; nine steel hangars to serve as classrooms completed mid-1923; withholding of construction funds caused temporary decline of base 1924-1936; AC Technical Training Command established headquarters at the field 1941; offered technical training during World War II, especially in communications; Chanute Field Separation Base established September 17th 1945; 300-bed hospital completed 1956; new missile training facility commissioned August 1st 1958; maintenance training facilities completed for Thor IRBMs November 26th 1958; Hound Dog missile maintenance traing facilities built 1959-1960; Bomarc Erection Center accepted November 1960; Chanute became ATC's primary technical training site for weapon systems, especially training turbo jet and SRAM mechanics during mid-sixties; four 1,000-man dormitories completed 1966-1977; base designated primary maintenance training center for B-1 engines 1967-1971; Minuteman II training facilities installed June 1965-updated to Minuteman III 1970-1972; USN and AF weather training consolidated, and radar tower completed, November 1977; a fifth 1,000 man dormitory completed May 20th 1978
Base was Decommissioned on September 30, 1993
Although the United States had been the birthplace of powered flight, the Army Signal Corps paid little attention to it. Even as the Great War progressed in Europe, America did little to build its air strength. In April 1917, the United States was woefully weak in the air. The United States possessed only one fully manned and equipped aero squadron, and about 250 aircraft outfitted the Aviation Section of the Army's Signal Corps. In comparison, France began the war with over 1,500 aircraft.
To meet the demand, Congress appropriated $640 million to build up the Air Service. The War Department immediately opened ground schools at eight colleges and established twenty-seven flying fields to train pilots. The War Department selected Rantoul because it was one of the few level sites in Illinois in close proximity to the Illinois Central railroad and the ground school at the University of Illinois. The village of Rantoul would also be a source for electricity and water. Chanute Field was completed by July 1917 at the cost of $1 million. On July 4, the first airplanes arrived at the new facility.
When World War I ended in November 1918, the first talk of base closure occurred. However, in 1920 Congress approved funding to buy Chanute Field. In 1922, funds were appropriated to construct nine steel hangars on the south edge of the original 1917 airfield. The completion of Hangar 10 in 1923 represented the last major construction at Chanute until 1938. From 1922 to 1938 Chanute Field provided the only technical training for the small peacetime air arm of the U.S. Army.
Chanute Field's "Great Renaissance," as the period came to be known, brought the construction of many new buildings. Since most of the base was of wooden construction, the threat of fire became Chanute's greatest enemy during the early thirties. After several fires the Army Air Corps named Chanute as one of four bases to be rebuilt.
In late summer 1938 work began on two massive hangars. By the following year the headquarters building, hospital, warehouses, barracks, officers' quarters, test cells, a fire station, and a 300,000 gallon water tower were all finished. The total expenditure amounted to $13.8 million with most of it being funded by President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA). Two additional hangars, theaters, numerous barracks and family housing units, a gymnasium, and a network of concrete runways were also added. These projects were completed in 1941, just months before Pearl Harbor.
With Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, citizens flocked to Chanute Field in large numbers to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Chanute's transition from peace to war became apparent immediately following Japan's surprise attack. The new 15,000-man quarters built during Chanute's "Great Renaissance" proved insufficient to accommodate the large influx of new personnel. Many soldiers were housed temporarily in large tents. Chanute's student load continued to grow until it reached a peak of 25,000 in January 1943.
By 1949 Chanute had become the worst installation in Air Training Command according to the base commander. Buildings were in poor conditions and community relations were poor. The feeling around the military establishment was that an assignment to Chanute was a dire punishment. The phrase "Don't Shoot 'em, Chanute 'em" summed up the general perception of the installation.
The North Korean invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950 soon affected the training workload at Chanute Field. In October 1949, the student load had been 5,235 but by 1953 almost 12,000 students were at Chanute for critical training.
In the 1960s Chanute became the prime training center for one of the most important missile programs in history, the LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. The Minuteman ICBM became a key missile deterrent against the Soviet Union for America and her western allies. Beginning in the late 1960s Chanute also trained thousands of allied airmen from Asia and the Middle East.
During the 1970s Chanute provided training for thousands of USAF airmen for service in Vietnam. The base invested heavily in quality-of-life programs, building new student dormitories and other support facilities. Due to the cessation of aircraft support requirements for Chanute's training mission, the Air Force closed the base's remaining active runway in 1971. In 1977, Chanute became the prime training center for the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). The base was also involved in the Ground-Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) and MX missile programs.
In September 1978, Air Training Command announced project Able Avionic which restructured and consolidated avionics specialists for F-111, F-15, and F-16 aircraft. With the introduction of modular F-100 engines used in the F-15 and F-16 aircraft, new Chanute training courses emerged to keep abreast of the changing equipment students would encounter in the field. The Jet Engine Branch received four J-85 engines during 1983 to familiarize students with engines used in the T-38 pilot trainer aircraft and the F-5 aggressor aircraft.
In 1982 the 928th Tactical Airlift Group proposed the establishment of drop and landing zones at Chanute. The zones would be used to conduct short-field landings and air drops to help C-130 pilots and navigators maintain proficiency. Additional benefits of the landing zone included opportunities for training experiences for students during drop operations, and increased interface between the active force and the Air Reserve Forces. Chanute's drop zone also improved contingency planning and operations.
In the three years from 1983-1985 Chanute training personnel worked closely with HQ USAF and ATC to restructure the Basic Jet Engine Courses to accommodate both conventional and modular engine technology. The center received four F-100 PW 200 engines and six F-110 GE 100 engines for updated training programs in 1985. Chanute's continuing drive to enhance technical training resulted in the consolidation of the Aircraft Environmental/Pneudraulics and Electrical Systems Division on July 1, 1985.
On 29 December 1988 the Department of Defense recommended Chanute's closure as an economic measure to reduce defense spending. The subject of base closure had been considered numerous times during Chanute's proud 75-year history. The end of the Cold War and the reduced threat of future conflicts prompted the government to downsize the military. Chanute was closed on 30 September 1993, ending its reign as USAF's third oldest active base and oldest Technical Training Center. What has happened to Chanute AFB and Rantoul since the base closed in 1993? Even before the base closed, Rantoul was hard at work on plans to convert CAFB "from swords to plowshares." At the time of base closure, Rantoul was fortunate to have strong leadership in the persons of Mayor Katy B. Podagrosi and the late Major General Frank W. Elliott, Jr., former Chanute Center Commander, and Rantoul's Economic Development Consultant. These leaders, working closely with Ray Boudreaux, the Director of Redevelopment on the base property, were responsible for attracting many large businesses to the base.
Today, two of the largest hangars are leased by Rantoul Products, a division of Textron that makes parts for the Jeep Wrangler and Dodge trucks. The former Officers' Club is a restaurant. The Visiting Officers' Quarters is a motel. Roberts Hall, one of the largest dormitories at Chanute, is now a retirement home run by Amerinvest. In all, over 80% of the base is occupied and over 2,500 people now work on base. Over 75% of base housing is now privately owned homes or rental properties.