If you’re new to the 4-0-5 (and even if you’re not,) you may not realize how significant a part of our history and culture the military has in OKC. Sure, you see those big ole airplanes with the flying saucer-looking thingees on top of them and you hear a local car dealer claiming to be located across from “where the big birds fly”, but what in the name of Wiley Post are they talking about??
What better time to clear the air (see what I did there?) about OKC and the history we share with the military than right before Veterans Day – Sunday, Nov. 11.
That reference to “where the big birds fly” is Tinker Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Air Force Sustainment Center, the world’s largest military maintenance, repair and overhaul facility. The genesis of the installation came in late 1940 as World War II enveloped Europe and after key Oklahoma City entrepreneurs formed the Oklahoma Industries Foundation. The civic leaders, led by Edward K. Gaylord, Wilbur E. Hightower, Tom Braniff, Frank Buttram, and Stanley Draper, learned that the War Department was looking for an appropriate site to build an aircraft maintenance depot in the American Midwest. They acquired 960 acres and offered the land to the government at no cost. While holding the option on another 480 acres, they promised to provide necessary utilities, roads, and a rail spur to the airfield.
Named in honor of Oklahoma native, Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, the first Native American major general, the base – originally called the Midwest Air Depot – was formally activated in 1941 as the site that produced approximately half of all C-47 transport aircraft used in WWII.
The base today performs maintenance on such U.S. Air Force aircraft as the KC-135, B-1B, B-52 and E-3 (also known as the AWACS, the airplane with the “flying saucer” on its top), and the Navy’s E-6.