Henry Post Army Airfield - oldest airfield in the Army
In Aug. 1917, Capt. H.R. Eyrich surveyed a new airfield at Fort Sill and established Henry Post Army Airfield (named after 2nd Lt. Henry B. Post who was killed in a plane crash in California in 1914). The field occupies a small plateau about a mile south of the main post cantonment area. Construction immediately began on wooden hangars, offices and officer housing.
On Aug. 29, the 3rd Aero Squadron left Fort Sam Houston for Fort Sill with 12 Curtiss R4 airplanes under the command of Capt. Weir. It was redesignated as Squadron A, Post Field, Okla. on July 22, 1918. It was demobilized, due to the end of World War I, on Jan. 2, 1919. Today, the 3rd Flying Training Squadron, which traces its lineage to the 3rd Aero Squadron, trains pilots at Vance Air Force Base, Enid, Okla.
The 4th Aero Squadron was also sent to Post Airfield that summer. The 4th operated as an observation school for the field artillery until it was deactivated on Jan. 2, 1919. Today, the 394th Combat Training Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Mo., traces its lineage to the 4th Aero Squadron.
Aviation at Fort Sill added lighter-than-air ships to its inventory when Company A, 1st Balloon Squadron, arrived on Sept. 5, 1917 from the Balloon School in Omaha, Neb. The company split to form the 25th and 26th Balloon Companies on Feb. 16 and Apr. 2, 1918. In order to meet the demand for trained aerial observers for field artillery, a Balloon Corps Training School was set up at Post Field in 1918. During World War I, the school trained 751 officers and created 89 companies, of which 33 were deployed to Europe.1
The school used balloons and fixed wing aircraft for aerial observation. Both sausage-shaped "captured" balloons and spherical-shaped "free" balloons were used in the 1920s and 30s. The balloonists were trained on free flight on the "free" balloons, but they had to stay within 50 miles of post and 8,000 feet.
The tethered or "captured" balloons were for observation only - connected to winch trucks on the ground by cable and transported at speeds as high as 60 miles an hour. They were inflated with hydrogen and operated at a maximum height of 4,300 feet. They observed and relayed fire-corrective information to special operation trucks.
Balloons and fix-wing airplanes combined made the airfield one of the busiest airfield in the world - in 1922. Despite the glamor of being aviatino pioneers, they had to face an undo share of tragedy. Not only have there been several incidents involving Fort Sill aircraft, but in 1922 the airfield commander was killed for allegedly "attacking" the wife of a former judge of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Read the story of the death of Lt. Col. Paul W. Beck, airfield commander since 1920.
At this time, balloon companies were a corps-level asset. The Army of World War I included an aero squadron in every corps. Other auxiliary units for a corps were an anti-aircraft machine-gun and anti-aircraft artillery battalion, a remount depot, a bakery company, a troop transport train, a telegraph battalion, a field signal battalion, a photo section and a sales commissary unit.2
The first self-propelled balloons came to Post Field in 1937. These balloons were designed to be powered to an observation point, their motors removed and observation baskets were attached. The famous balloon hangar, moved from Moffitt Field to Fort Sill in 1934, was intended to house dirigibles.
The unique "cross" on the side of the building has no religious significance - it is part of an air circulation system designed to dry balloon fabric and parachutes.
Balloons were assigned to the field until 1941. The 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., traces its lineage through the 1st Balloon Company.
1"Post Field's Baloons Played Big Role in History of Army Aviation", Lawton Constitution, Feb. 11, 1962
2 1 Skillman, Willis R., The A.E.F. Who They Were What They Did How They Did It, 1920, George W. Jacobs & Co.