Mather Air Force Base
Air Training Command Emblem.png

Mather Field
Part of Air Training Command (ATC)
Sacramento County, California
Sacramento Mather Airport 2006 USGS.jpg
2006 USGS airphoto
Mather AFB is located in California
Mather AFB
Mather AFB
Coordinates38°33′14″N 121°17′51″W / 38.55389°N 121.29750°W / 38.55389; -121.29750
TypeAir Force Base
Site information
Controlled byUnited States Air Force
Site history
In use1918–1993
World War I War Service Streamer without inscription.png

World War I
Streamer WWII V.PNG

World War II
Garrison information
Garrison323d Flying Training Wing
Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  Download coordinates as: KML

Mather Air Force Base (Mather AFB) was a United States Air Force Base, which was closed in 1993 pursuant to a post-Cold War BRAC decision. It was located 12 miles (19 km) east of Sacramento, on the south side of U.S. Route 50 in Sacramento County, California. Mather Field was one of 32 Air Service training camps established after the United States entry into World War I in April 1917.[1]

The Mather AFB land has various post-military uses including Sacramento Mather Airport, established in 1995. Some of the land was included in the City of Rancho Cordova, when it was incorporated in 2003.[2]


Mather Air Force Base was named after Second Lieutenant Carl Spencer Mather, a 25-year-old army pilot killed in a mid-air collision while training at Ellington Field, Texas on 30 January 1918.[3] Mather learned to fly in 1914 at the Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport, New York, and became an instructor there at the age of 20. He enlisted as an aviation cadet in August 1917 and as a licensed pilot was commissioned with part of his class as a second lieutenant on 20 January 1918. He continued training to earn a Reserve Military Aviator rating and promotion to first lieutenant but was killed ten days later. The remainder of his class requested that Mills Field be renamed in Mather's honor.[3]

World War I

In January 1918, the Department of War sent a cadre of officers to the Sacramento, California area to survey sites for an aviation school. The group decided on a location about 12 miles southeast of Sacramento called Mills Station. An agreement to lease the land to the Army was concluded, and the construction of some 50 buildings began on 15 March 1918. Mills Field, named after the local community was opened on 30 April 1918. It covered over 700 acres and could accommodate up to 1,000 personnel. Dozens of wooden buildings served as headquarters, maintenance, and officers' quarters. Enlisted men had to bivouac in tents. Mather Field's first commander was 1st Lieutenant Sam P. Burman, who assumed command on 15 March 1918. The first unit stationed there was the 283d Aero Squadron, which was transferred from Rockwell Field, North Island, California.[3]

Flight training

2d L. Carl Spencer Mather
2d L. Carl Spencer Mather

Only a few U.S. Army Air Service aircraft arrived with the 283d Aero Squadron, Most of the Curtiss JN-4 Jennys to be used for flight training were shipped in wooden crates by rail. Mather Field served as a base for primary flight training with an eight-week course. The maximum student capacity was 300.

In 1917, flight training occurred in two phases: primary and advanced. Primary training consisted of pilots learning basic flight skills under dual and solo instruction. After completion of their primary training at Mather, flight cadets were then transferred to another base for advanced training.[3] Training units assigned to Mather Field:[4]

With the sudden end of World War I in November 1918, the future operational status of Mather Field was unknown. Many local officials speculated that the U.S. government would keep the field open because of the outstanding combat record established by Mather-trained pilots in Europe. Locals also pointed to the optimal weather conditions in the Sacramento area for flight training. Cadets in flight training on 11 November 1918 were allowed to complete their training, however no new cadets were assigned to the base. The separate training squadrons were consolidated into a single Flying School detachment, because many of the personnel at Mather were being demobilized. Flight training activities finally ceased on 8 November 1919.[3]

Inter-war years

With the end of World War I, in December 1919 Mather Field was closed as an active airfield. However, a small caretaker unit was assigned to the facility for administration. Nonetheless, on 13 December 1919, the United States House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill for $9.6 million for the purchase of additional land at military camps "which are to be made part of the permanent military establishment". Mather Field was allocated $78,000 of this amount.[5]

Mather was used by the aerial forestry patrol. It also was used intermittently to support small military units. However, with the return to a peacetime economy, Mather Field were deemed unnecessary as a military training facility, and it was closed on 12 May 1923. The War Department ordered the small caretaker force at Mather Field to dismantle all remaining structures and to sell them as surplus. Throughout the remainder of the 1920s, the War Department leased the vacant land to local farmers and ranchers.[3]

Mather Field was reactivated on 1 April 1930 as a sub post of the Presidio of San Francisco and Hamilton Field during the 1930s, and of Stockton Field briefly in 1941. Mather, however, had to be refitted with new electrical, water, and telephone lines. Soon, Mather was again alive with activity, though the renovation process could not compare to the original base construction.[3]

Note: The airfield served only for aerial forest patrol, beginning 8 January 1919. It was placed on inactive status, 22 June 1922; and closed on 12 May 1923. The airfield was reactivated 1 April 1930; and placed in inactive status, 1 November 1932. It was designated a subpost of the Presidio of San Francisco, unk-13 May 1935; designated a subpost of Hamilton Field, 13 May 1935; designated a subpost of Stockton Field, 21 February 1941.

World War II

A Cessna AT-17 Bobcat at the base, 9 May 1942
A Cessna AT-17 Bobcat at the base, 9 May 1942

The Field was reestablished as a separate post and activated on 13 May 1941. The field area was increased from 872 to 4,418 acres (17.88 km2) in June 1941. Sub-bases and auxiliary fields of Mather included:

In 1941 Mather Field became the site for advanced navigator training. The Army Air Forces Navigator School began operating on 2 August 1941. Major new construction was completed 16 March 1942. The school consisted of a rigorous 18-week course consisting of instruction in celestial navigation and dead reckoning. To complete the course, cadets were required to spend 100 hours navigating during both local and long-range flights. However, in 1943, Army Air Forces Training Command transferred the Navigator School from Mather Field to Ellington Field, near Houston, Texas.[3]

Mather became a twin-engine Advanced Flying School, training pilots on North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. In 1944–45 it became an aerial port of embarkation to the Pacific in preparation for the expected transfer of large numbers of men and aircraft from Europe to the Pacific.[3]

During the summer of 1945, the 509th Composite Group was transferring from its Second Air Force training base at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, the group landed at Mather prior to embarking on its trans-Pacific movement to Tinian (in the Marianas Island chain).

Cold War

Air Training Command

Main Gate, about 1955
Main Gate, about 1955

During the Cold War, Mather AFB became the sole aerial navigation school for the United States Air Force (USAF) after its companion navigation schools at Harlingen AFB, Texas, and James Connally AFB, Texas, were closed and Ellington AFB was converted into a joint Air National Guard base, Coast Guard air station and NASA flight facility in the 1960s.

The 3535th Navigator Training Wing of Air Training Command (ATC), was responsible for bombardier training beginning in 1946 and later transitioned to undergraduate navigator training (UNT), advanced navigator bombardier training, electronic warfare officer training and weapon systems officer training after the closure of the other navigator training bases. Renamed the 3535th Flying Training Wing, the wing initially flew the Convair T-29 for USAF navigator training until 1974, when it was replaced by the Boeing T-43A (Boeing 737-200) aircraft.

The 3535th was replaced by the 323d Flying Training Wing on 1 April 1973. In 1976, following the decommissioning of Training Squadron Twenty-Nine (VT-29) at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, the 323d began training student Naval Flight Officers (NFO) in the Advanced Maritime Navigation training pipeline. U.S. Navy students in this pipeline were destined to fly land-based naval aircraft such as the Lockheed P-3 Orion, Lockheed EP-3 Aries and Lockheed EC-130 and Lockheed LC-130 Hercules aircraft. This resulted in the UNT course being redesignated as Interservice Undergraduate Navigator Training (IUNT). The Navy also activated Naval Air Training Unit (NAVAIRTU) Mather as the parent activity for Navy instructors, Navy students and NATO/Allied naval aviation students assigned to the 323d at Mather. The Marine Aerial Navigation School also relocated to Mather in order to train enlisted United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard navigators for Marine Corps KC-130 and Coast Guard HC-130 aircraft. Cessna T-37 aircraft were added to the IUNT curriculum in the late 1970s for USAF students destined for high performance aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom II/RF-4, F-111/FB-111 and B-1 Lancer.

The 323d continued training USAF navigators, NFOs, NATO/Allied students, and conducting advanced training for radar navigator/bombardiers, electronic warfare officers and weapons systems operators until it was inactivated on 30 September 1993. Concurrent with the wing's inactivation, all USAF navigator and NFO maritime navigation pipeline training was moved to Randolph AFB, Texas and consolidated under the 12th Flying Training Wing, which up until that time trained and certified instructor pilots.

Radar stations

Mather AFB had a late 1940s/early 1950s Radar Bomb Scoring detachment of the 3903rd Radar Bomb Scoring Squadron.[6]

The Mather AFB general surveillance radar station was established after a second stage of "additional Lashup stations and heavy radar equipment [was] authorized" in the fall of 1949.[7]: 124  Site L-37 began operation with an AN/CPS-6 in June 1950, and the 668th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned on 1 January 1951 . The station later converted to AN/FPS-20A and AN/FPS-6 and AN/FPS-6B radars. By 1960 the station became a joint-use facility with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in 1961, the two height-finder radars were removed. The station became part of the San Francisco Air Defense Sector with the radars providing radar data to the Beale AFB DC-18 SAGE Direction Center via the Burroughs AN/FST-2 Coordinate Data Transmitting Set at Mill Valley Air Force Station (Z-28). The 668th was inactivated on 1 September 1961, and Detachment 2 of the 666th Radar Squadron performed subsequent operations until inactivated on 1 September 1966. The FAA operates the Mather radar site with an AN/FPS-91A of the Joint Surveillance System.

Strategic Air Command

Mather AFB Control Tower, 1986
Mather AFB Control Tower, 1986

On 1 April 1958, Strategic Air Command (SAC)'s 4134th Strategic Wing composed of the 72d Bombardment Squadron and 904th Air Refueling Squadron was assigned to Mather AFB, the latter flying the KC-135A Stratotanker. The Strategic Wings were formed in the late 1950s as part of SAC's plan to disperse its heavy bombers over a larger number of bases, thus making it more difficult for the Soviet Union to knock out the entire fleet with a surprise first strike. The wing had one squadron of B-52 Stratofortresses with 15 aircraft. Four[8] of the planes were maintained on 15-minute alert, fully fueled, armed, and ready for combat. The remaining planes were used for training in bombardment missions and air refueling operations. The wing also had a squadron of KC-135 tankers. The 4134th Strategic Wing was discontinued on 1 February 1963.

Det. 1 320 BW operated at the old bomber alert area at Mountain Home AFB, from 1969 until the spring of 1975 when it disbanded and the two bombers and two tankers returned to Mather.

Concurrent with the inactivation of the 4134th, the 320th Bombardment Wing was activated and absorbed its assets. It operated as a tenant unit from 1963 to 1989, initially with the B-52F Stratofortress before converting in 1968 to the B-52G. The 441st Bombardment Squadron replaced the 72d and the 904th Air Refueling Squadron was transferred from the 4134th to the 320th.. In addition to SAC nuclear alert, the 320th also conducted conventional operations, including maritime missions in support of the U.S. Navy with aerial mines and AGM-84 Harpoon missiles. The 320th was inactivated on 30 September 1989.[9]

The 940th Air Refueling Group, an Air Force Reserve unit, moved to Mather AFB from McClellan AFB in 1977, shortly after it transitioned to the KC-135A. Operationally-gained by SAC, the unit upgraded to the KC-135E in 1986. With SAC's inactivation in 1992, the unit was then gained by the Air Mobility Command and redesignated the 940th Air Refueling Wing in 1993. Following the closure of Mather AFB, the 940th relocated back to McClellan AFB in 1993. When McClellan closed in 1998 the wing then moved to its current station at Beale AFB.[10]


Emblem of the 3535th Navigator Training Wing (ATC)
Emblem of the 3535th Navigator Training Wing (ATC)
Emblem of the 4134th Strategic Wing
Emblem of the 4134th Strategic Wing
Emblem of the 320th Bombardment Wing
Emblem of the 320th Bombardment Wing

Parts of the airfield were listed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site on 22 July 1987. The entire site was listed on 21 November 1989.[11] On 30 September 1993, the 5,845 acres (2,365 ha), including 129 acres (522,000 m2) of easements, of Mather AFB was decommissioned under the 1988 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Most of the base was transferred to Sacramento County, California. Current sites of the former air force base include:

Major commands to which assigned

Redesignated: Air Force Combat Command, 20 June 1941
Redesignated: AAF Flying Training Command, 15 March 1942
Redesignated: AAF Training Command, 31 July 1943
Redesignated: Air Training Command, 1 July 1946
Redesignated: Air Education and Training Command, 1 July-1 October 1993

Major units assigned

Source for major commands and major units assigned:[12][13]

Natural history

There are rare wetland vernal pools, which are unique to California,[14] and numerous plant and animal species exist on the site that became Mather Air Force Base. The chiefly grassland ecological community continues to hold a considerable number of plants, mammals, birds and arthropods. Within the plant community are large numbers of native grass and forb species. One example of a native wildflower found here is the Yellow Mariposa Lily.[15] Another example is the Vernal Pool Buttercup var. trisepalus.[16] The vernal pools at Mather are also habitat to Ahart's Dwarf Rush var. ahartii, Boggs Lake hedgehyssop, and the rare Legenere limosa.[17]

See also


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ William R. Evinger: Directory of Military Bases in the U.S., Oryx Press, Phoenix, Ariz., 1991, p. 147.
  2. ^ "Cordova Community Plan" (PDF). Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Resolution No. 2003-0551. 23 April 2003. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Special Collections of the Sacramento Public Library, Mather Field, Images of America, Arcadia Publishing (9 January 2012), ISBN 0738588776
  4. ^ Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 3, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949 (1988 Reprint)
  5. ^ United Press, "House Passes Bill To Buy March Field", Riverside Daily Press, Riverside, California, Saturday evening, 13 December 1919, Volume XXXIV, Number 269, page 8.
  6. ^ "3903rd Radar Bomb Scoring Group" (Web Bulletin Board). Retrieved 20 May 2012. Served…from October, 1957 to June, 1962. …Keesler AFB for tech school, then…at Los Angeles RBS site
  7. ^ Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945–1960 (45MB pdf). General Histories (Report). Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-60-9. Retrieved 26 September 2011.
  8. ^ Professional-was assigned alert duty there in the 1980s.
  9. ^ 320th Air Expeditionary Wing#320th Bombardment Wing (Cold War)
  10. ^ 940th Air Refueling Wing
  11. ^ "Mather Air Force Base Superfund site progress profile". EPA. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  12. ^ Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  13. ^ Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  14. ^ "The Vernal Pools of Mather Field – Sacramento Splash". Archived from the original on 24 March 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  15. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Yellow Mariposa Lily: Calochortus luteus,, ed. N. Stromberg Archived 4 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Plants of Mather Field". Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Field Guide to the Vernal Pools of Mather Field, Sacramento County". Archived from the original on 27 February 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2018.