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A Look Back...Fairfield Air Depot

historical photo of Fairfield Air Depot

Aerial view of the Air Corps Carnival at Fairfield Air Depot, 1930. Thousands of spectators attended the airshow and carnival on the Fairfield Air Depot Reservation flightline. In the foreground a “modern” steel hangar (now Building 145 in Area A, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) carries the inscription “Fairfield Air Depot U.S. Army.” FAD Headquarters (Building 1) can be seen at the top center.

historical air depot

The Barling bomber hangar at Fairfield Air Depot was completed in March 1924 to house the bomber and other aircraft needing work. The hangar was on the north end of the flying field. Despite the bombers' early performance, the six Liberty engines could not lift the bomber high enough to safely cross the Appalachian Mountains to make an appearance at a Washington, D.C. airshow. In 1927, after well over $1 million authorized into the one prototype, Congress cut further funding. It was dismantled and put into storage until 1929 when Maj. “Hap” Arnold ordered it burned. The hangar would remain in use until 1942 when it was dismantled.

historical photo of Fairfield Air Depot employees

Women employees were recruited by Air Service Command to fill many critical jobs at the Fairfield Air Depot with women working side-by-side with men overhauling engines in Buildings 13 and 89.

The Fairfield Air Depot began as the Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot in 1917 as a wartime supply center for the Signal Corps Aviation Schools at Wilbur Wright Field, Ohio; Scott and Chanute fields, Illinois; and Selfridge Field, Michigan. The depot supplied everything from airplane parts and engines to shoelaces.

Over the next three decades, the depot underwent various name changes until its inactivation in 1946 as part of the postwar demobilization. At that time, it was a part of Patterson Field, Ohio, created on July 1, 1931, named in honor of Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson, a native of Dayton and test pilot who was killed in the crash of his DH-4 while testing a machine gun synchronizer over Wilbur Wright Field in 1918. The new Patterson Field incorporated Huffman Prairie, Wilbur Wright Field, and the Fairfield Air Depot Reservation. Although located on Patterson Field, the Fairfield Air Depot retained its title and continued as a major function of the new installation.

The Fairfield Depot’s normal supply function included furnishing parts and equipment to repair shops and other Air Service installations. By 1927, the Fairfield Depot served all Air Service installations east of the Mississippi River, and those in a few states west of the river, as well as depots in the Panama Canal Zone, Hawaiian Islands, and the Philippines.

At various times throughout its history, it accepted additional roles. Following World War I, it took on the huge task of inventorying, discarding, and storing war surplus materiel. It also assumed responsibility for overhauling airplane engines when the Engineering Repair Section from the Aviation Repair Depot in Indianapolis moved to Fairfield in 1920. The depot established the supply system and maintenance schedule for the 1924 Round-the-World Flight, controlled the experimental Model Airway System from 1925-1926 (the first airline to provide regularly scheduled flights between fixed points), modified the airplanes used for flying the United States air mail in 1934, and installed and maintained special equipment used during exercises to perfect new bombing techniques and tactics.

The depot’s most significant contribution, however, was its role in logistics during World War II when the need for emergency maintenance, repair, and supply work skyrocketed. From the employment of 500 people in 1939, the depot expanded to more than 19,000 workers at its height in 1943. It operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, supplying, maintaining, and repairing all types of war materiel for stateside depots and remote field depots around the world. As one of the oldest depots in the nation, Fairfield was a proving ground for new ideas to streamline the supply system and was selected to train military and civilian employees in repair and supply procedures. Through the Air Service Command, it provided expertise to the establishment, layout, and manning of new depots and sub-depots around the nation. Until the day it closed in January 1946, the depot provided the backbone of the logistics function that Air Force Materiel Command manages to this day.

This Look Back utilizes nearly 200 black-and-white photographs dating back to beginnings of the depot activities up to World War II.

*Excerpted from Aeronautical Systems Center History Office, Splendid Vision, Unswerving Purpose: Developing Air Power for the United States Air Force During the First Century of Powered Flight, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, 2020, p. 45.