Tyndall celebrates 80 years of air power

  • Published
  • By Peter Coffman
  • 325th Fighter Wing Historian Office

The 80th Anniversary of Tyndall Air Force Base prompts us to remember our past so we may better plot the course of our future.  What has been clear from the beginning is Tyndall has fulfilled a key portion of the defense needs of a nation. 

Born on the agriculturally poor East Peninsula, a land that hosted Muskogean-speaking Indians centuries ago was also home to small communities, such as Cromanton, San Blas and Redfish Point.  By the 1940’s, the growth of the lumber and turpentine industry in Millville across the East Bay depopulated the peninsula, which made the sparsely populated land prime for the United States government’s purchase. 

The threat of war in Europe and Asia prompted President Roosevelt to expand and strengthen the War Department, especially the Army Air Corps which the President deemed “inadequate.” The land of the East Peninsula was perfect for flying operations and was investigated in September 1940 as a new installation for the instruction of flexible gunners. By Dec. 21, 1940, a site board agreed to the purchase of the East Peninsula as Flexible Gunnery School No. 9.

Lt. Col. John B. Patrick was assigned the project officer who made the final negotiations and by Feb. 10, 1941, a board of appraisal presented Lt. Col. Warren Maxwell with the purchase plan and he assumed the head of the project on April 26, 1941.  The U.S. Army acquired approximately 30,980 acres of land for a total cost of $547,863.56.  The official ground breaking ceremony took place May 6, 1941, the date now recognized as the beginning of Tyndall.

While under construction, Flexible Gunnery School No. 9 required a name.  Congressman Bob Sikes suggested naming the school in honor of Lt. Francis Benjamin McCausland Tyndall, a native of Sewall Point, Florida and a decorated World War I pilot.  After entering service in the Florida Guard, Tyndall flew in World War I where he shot down four German planes and received the Silver Star.  After World War I ended, Tyndall remained in the Army Air Corps as a test and instructor pilot. He died July 15, 1930, in an aircraft crash near Mooresville, North Carolina.  The War Department approved the name on June 13, 1941. Initial construction of Tyndall Army Air Field was completed in the fall of 1943 for a total of $10.1 million.

Tyndall has and continues to provide numerous training opportunities and innovations. The gunnery school employed aerial targets and film-based interactive simulators to train gunners. Concurrently, a co-pilot school operated on Tyndall, while mechanics and support personnel were also trained for combat. Tyndall hosted the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, beginning on June 3, 1943. These valuable members of the fight worked in administration and healthcare, ferried aircraft, provided co-pilot duties, and served as tow-target flight crews to keep the training of gunners progressing without delay. 

During the past 80 years Tyndall has changed departments from the Army Air Force to the Air Force, changed major commands six times, realigned under Fifteenth Air Force, and oversaw under several units, falling to the reactivated 325th Fighter Weapons Wing on July 1, 1981. In addition, the installation has hosted numerous tenant units, including First Air Force and Air Force Engineering and Services Center. The aircraft assigned to Tyndall represent a proud lineage with the F-86 Sabre, P-51 Mustang, F-15 Eagle, culminating with the current F-22 Raptor and the future F-35 Lightning II.

Tyndall has also weathered many natural disasters, most recently on Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael, the third most powerful storm on record to make landfall in the contiguous United States.  The storm is the greatest challenge the base has experienced to date, but in true Tyndall fashion, was met with courage and honor and resulted in a new era of construction as the “Installation of the Future.” 

Tyndall’s rich history is one filled with firsts, innovations, challenges, resilience, and rebirth, but always present is a proud heritage of training and preserving our nation’s defense.  Collaborating with local leaders and commerce has created an airbase that is both home to many and a valuable training and combat platform.  While the names, headings, and challenges have changed, the mission remains the same today as it was in the beginning; Tyndall develops resourceful and resilient Airmen trained to project unrivaled combat airpower on behalf of the United States of America.