Air Force Bases

Howard Air Base, Panama

Location: Located 6 miles southwest of Balboa, at the southern (Pacific) end of the Panama Canal.

Origin of current name: Named in honor of Maj Charles Harold Howard, 1892-1936, who was appointed a 2d It in the U.S. Air Service in 1918. A pioneer in the Air Service/Air Corps operations in the Canal Zone during the 1920s, Howard was killed in an airplane crash near Bryans Mill, Texas, on 25 Oct 1936.

Date current name was assigned to base: October 1, 1979

Previous Names: Bruja Point Mil Reservation, 11 Aug 1928; Ft Bruja, 1929; Ft Kobbe (named after Maj Gen William A. Kobbe, USA, who died 1 Nov 1931) 1932; airfield section of Ft Kobbe named Howard FId, 1 Dec 1939; Howard AB, 10 Jul 1941; Howard AFB, 1948.

Date Established: August 1, 1938

Date Occupied: July 26, 1940

Construction Began: September 4, 1939

Base Units: 16th AB Gp (16th Svc Gp), 15 May 1941; 15th AB Sq, 10 Dec 1942; 2114th Svc Unit, Avn (Prov), 1 Oct 1945; HQ & Base Svc Sq, 582d Air Svc Gp, 20 Sep 1946; 5605th AB Gp, 26 Jul 1948; 23d AB Gp, 25 Apr 1949; 5601st AB Sq, 24 Sep-15 Dec 1949. 5700th AB Gp (5700th AB Wg), 24 Oct 1954; 24th AB Gp, 8 Nov 1967; 24th Sp Ops Gp (24th Comps Gp), 30 Jun 1972; 24th Cmbt Spt Gp, 1 Jan 1976.

Changes in Capability: The base served as integral part of overall defense of Western Hemisphere and Panama Canal during and after World War II and hosted primarily fighter units; runways put into use c. April 1941; two battalions of airborne infantry formed a part of the Canal Zone defenses based at Howard 1942-1945; operations at Howard drew down during the summer of 1949 and all training ceased on 11 Oct 1949; base transferred in inactive status to USA, Caribbean, in February 1950; in the 1950s, Albrook AFB used Howard to reduce aircraft activity at Albrook; a joint USA, Caribbean, and Caribbean Air Comd, USAF, agreement (18 Aug 1955) permitted the resumption of regular flying operations at Howard in Oct 1955; Albrook's flying operations ceased, its flying units transferred to Howard in Dec 1961; USAF assumed full control and responsibility for Howard AFB on 1 Oct 1963; radar and communication equipment, airdrome facilities and newly acquired facilities from Ft Kobbe Army Post modernized 1964; project to widen aprons from operations building to NE-SE taxiway completed 31 Aug 1965; airmen's dormitories and education center rehabilitated 1965; air conditioning installed in 462 family housing units at Howard 1966; 32 acres of land acquired from USN and 250 family housing units constructed 1967-68; air passenger terminal, chapel annex, gymnasium, NCO Open Mess, repair shops, and recreation workshops refurbished late 1967; base streets and roads renovated and 50 units of enlisted men's housing completed 1968; taxiways, part of the main runway, and ramps repaired and reinforced in 1970s; central air conditioning provided for family housing units 1979; AN/GPN-24 Landing Control Radar installed to replace AN/MPN-13 GCA Radar 1981; since mid-1960s base hosted Navy air units operating from carriers in the area, supported military and tactical airlift operations, humanitarian and civic-action missions for the relief of victims of floods and earthquakes in Central and South America, and search and rescue operations; base also hosted C-130 rotational detachments from TAC and MAC, Nov 1967óSep 1977, rotational A-7D detachment from TAC, Nov 1972-1982, and rotational UC-123 detachments from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard field training units, 1964-1982.

Changes in Status: Became nonoperational 11 Oct 1949; inactivated 15 Dec 1949; transferred to USA, Caribbean, Feb 1950; USA, Caribbean, and Caribbean Air Comd, USAF, signed joint agreement for resumption of flying operations at Howard AFB 18 Aug 1955; HQ, USAF, assumed responsibility for the base, 1 Oct 1963; base became Panama property on 1 Oct 1979.

Base was Decommissioned on November 1, 1999


For over 50 years, Howard Air Force Base was the bastion of United States air power in Central and South America. In its heyday, it was the center for counterdrug operations, military and humanitarian airlift, contingencies, joint-nation exercises, and search and rescue. It was the busy hub of Air Force operations in Latin America, with Howard boasting fighters, cargo planes, tankers, airborne warning and control system planes, “executive” jets, and search and rescue helicopters. It was also home for a host of Army and Navy aircraft. Its people tracked drug traffickers out of South America, and its cargo planes provided airlift for US Southern Command contingencies, exercises, disaster relief and conducted search and rescue in the vast region. Yet, only the C-27 Spartan transports, several special-mission C-130s, and executive jets belonged to the host unit, the 24th Composite Wing, later redesignated the 24th Wing (24 WG). Although Regular Air Force C-130 aircraft rotated to Howard for 90-day detachments in the 1970s and early 1980s the support mission called CORONET OAK, this mission was later transferred to the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, which then provided C-130s for CORONET OAK, as well as A-7 Corsair and later F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters that also rotated into the base.

It was closed on 1 November 1999 as a result of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties which specified that United States military facilities in the former Panama Canal Zone be closed and the facilities be turned over to the Panamanian government.