McCoy Air Force Base (1940-1947, 1951-1975) is a former United States Air Force base located 10 miles (16 km) south of Orlando, Florida. It was a training base during World War II. After the war it became a Front-Line Strategic Air Command (SAC) base during the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
With McCoy's closure as an active air force installation in 1975, the site was redeveloped and is known today as Orlando International Airport.
The base was re-named for Colonel Michael Norman Wright McCoy (1905-1957) on 7 May 1958. Col McCoy was killed in the crash of a B-47 Stratojet while serving as commander of the 321st Bombardment Wing, the host unit of the base at the time of his death. A hugely popular figure in Central Florida, Colonel McCoy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a funeral that included a flyover of multiple B-47s.
In 1942, the facility was renamed Pinecastle Army Airfield and was used as a training base for B-17 Flying Fortress bomber crews. As part of the Army Air Forces Tactical Center (AAFTC) at nearby Orlando Army Air Base, groups assigned to Pinecastle were:
Training groups assigned to Pinecasatle were:
Records indicate that aircraft from Pinecastle AAF performed test bombing of chemical munitions at one of Pinecastle's numerous bombing and gunnery ranges. It is uncertain whether the chemical warfare materials used in these tests were stored at Pinecastle Army Airfield or transported from the Orlando Toxic Gas and Decontamination Yard a few hours before a practice bombing run.
Ship No. 1 flew the first unpowered glide tests from a B-29 Superfortress mother ship at Pinecastle AAF in early 1946. In March 1946, the X-1 program was relocated to Muroc AAF, California. The move was a logistics issue as much as anything, as Pinecastle was deemed not suitable for the X-1 project. A move to the remote California desert ensured the X-1 project team could maintain secrecy, an important issue considering the project was classified at the time. In addition, Muroc had an expansive landing area, thanks to the surrounding dry lakebeds, and better visibility. The X-1's high sink rate and the problems of keeping the plane in sight amid Florida's frequent clouds added two more votes in favor of the Army Air Force's decision to go to Muroc.
With the X-1 project transferred, Pinecastle AAF was deactivated and the entire site was transferred to the City of Orlando in 1947.
On December 15, 1953, the 321st Bombardment Wing (Medium) was activated at Pinecastle and absorbed the B-47s and KC-97 tankers of the deactivated 4042nd FTW. Two weeks later, on 1 January 1954, the base was assigned to Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the B-47 combat crew training mission was transferred to SAC. Colonel Michael N.W. McCoy, was appointed commander of the 321st Bombardment Wing on 24 May 1954. He earned the distinction of being the dean of Strategic Air Command’s B-47 "Stratojet" commanders.
In July 1954 the 19th Bombardment Wing joined the 321st at Pinecastle and the two units came under the control of the 813th Strategic Aerospace Division. The 813th was subsequently deactivated in the summer of 1956 when the 19th Bomb Wing moved to Homestead Air Force Base near Homestead, Florida.
In November 1957 the base was host to the medium bombers participating in the annual Strategic Air Command Bombing Navigation and Reconnaissance Competition. During the competition, a B-47 aircraft mishap north of downtown Orlando took the lives of Colonel McCoy, Group Captain John Woodroffe of the Royal Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Joyce and Major Vernon Stuff during preparations for the event. Despite this tragedy, the 321st Bomb Wing, under the direction of its new commander, Colonel Robert W. Strong, Jr., won the top honors of the meet, including the coveted Fairchild and McCoy trophies, distinguishing the 321st as the top B-47 Wing in SAC.
Another unit with distinction was assigned to Pinecastle AFB in November 1957 was the Air Defense Command's 76th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (76 FIS). A descendant of the famous World War II "Flying Tigers," the 76 FIS was commanded by Major Morris F. Wilson and flew the Northrup F-89H "Scorpion" all-weather fighter interceptor. One of the last squadrons to fly the Scorpion, the 76 FIS was transferred from McCoy to Westover AFB, Massachusetts on 1 February 1961.
On 7 May 1958 Pinecastle AFB was renamed McCoy Air Force Base in memory of the late Colonel Michael N. W. McCoy. Formal dedication ceremonies were held on 21 May 1958 in conjunction with a mammoth open house, during which an estimated 30,000 Floridians attended.
In the summer of 1961, a complete reogranization of the base began. A program got under way to convert the base from the B-47 Stratojet to heavy B-52 "Stratofortress" bombers. The 321st Bomb Wing began phasing out its operations in June 1961 and was deactivated in October 1961.
On 1 July 1961 the 321st was replaced by the 4047th Strategic Wing (Heavy), which was designated and organized under its first commander, Col Francis S. Holmes, Jr. The 4047th was part of SAC's "Strategic Wing" concept, which was to disburse its medium and heavy bombers and tanker aircraft 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. All of the Strategic Wings had one squadron of B-52s, containing 15 aircraft, and most also had a squadron of KC-135 tanker aircraft. Half of the bombers and tankers were maintained on fifteen minute alert, fully fueled, armed, and ready for comba, while the remainder were used for training in bombardment missions and air refueling operations.
In August 1961 the first Boeing B-52Ds were assigned to the new wing, and on 1 September 1961 the 347th Bombardment Squadron was reassigned from Westover AFB, Massachusetts to McCoy to fly the heavy bombers. On 15 September, the 321st Combat Support Group was organized and on that same date Colonel William G. Walker, Jr. assumed command of the 4047th Strategic Wing.
In 1962, an agreement was made with the City of Orlando for the joint-use of Runway 18L/36R at McCoy. This action was taken since the runway facilities at Herndon Airport, now the Orlando Executive Airport, were too short to accommodate the first generation jet aircraft such as the Douglas DC-8 and Convair 880 that initially served Orlando. The Orlando Jetport at McCoy was established in the notheast corner of the base to support commercial operations in a converted missile maintenance hangar that was to be operated by the City of Orlando Aviation Department. Civilian airline flights by Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines and National Airlines began shortly thereafter as flights migrated from Herndon Airport to McCoy.
The 966th Airborne Early Warning & Control Squadron was activated on 18 December 1961 and was organized two months later at McCoy AFB as a geographically separated unit of the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing at Otis AFB, Massachusetts. While at McCoy, the squadron flew the propeller driven EC-121 Warning Star radar surveillance aircraft in its EC-121D and EC-121Q variants. The squadron changed its parent wing 1 May 1963, coming under the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing headquartered at McClellan AFB, California. The mission of the 966th Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron covered a broad spectrum of responsibilities. As an Air Defense Command / Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) unit, the 966th supported Strategic Air Command and Military Airlift Command operations, assisted U.S. Navy P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion aircraft in anti-submarine patrols and developed weather information. It also furnished airborne radar surveillance and technical control in support of global air defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff contingencies. 966th aircrews also frequently deployed to distant operational locations including Southeast Asia. The squadron was inactivated on 31 December 1969.
Heyser concluded this flight at McCoy AFB and the 4080th subsequently established a U-2 operating location at McCoy AFB, launching and recovering numerous flights over Cuba for the duration of the crisis. The 4080th flew at least 82 missions from 22 October - 6 December.
On 21 October, Attorney General of the United States Robert Kennedy, United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor and General Walter Sweeney met with President John F. Kennedy concerning a military contingency plan.
General Sweeney, Commander of Tactical Air Command (TAC), proposed an operational plan which called first for an air attack on the SAM sites in the vicinity of known SSM launchers by eight aircraft per SAM site. Each of the Cuban MiG airfields thought to be protecting SSM sites were to he struck by at least twelve fighters. Following the airstrikes on SAM sites and MiG airfields each SSM launch site was to be attacked by at least twelve aircraft. General Sweeney's plan was accepted and, additionally, Cuban Ilyushin Il-28 "Beagle" Bombers were added to the target list.
To support this plan, the USAF deployed the following units to McCoy AFB:
On the morning of 27 October, a U-2 piloted by Major Rudolph Anderson departed McCoy AFB on yet another Cuban overflight mission. Several hours into his mission, Anderson's aircraft was engaged by a Soviet-manned SA-2 surface to air missile site in the vicinity of Banes, Cuba. Hit by two of three missiles fired, the aircraft was shot down over Cuba, killing Major Anderson.
A week following the shootdown, Major Anderson's remains were turned over to a United Nations representative and returned to the United States. Major Anderson became the first recipient of the Air Force Cross, which was awarded to him posthumously. The 4080th at Laughlin and its successor unit, the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona would continue to maintain U-2 detachment operations at McCoy AFB through 1973.
The Cuban missile confrontation was ultimately resolved and the airstrikes, which would have been followed by an invasion of Cuba, were never launched. However, all of the aforementioned squadrons and detachments remained at McCoy until the end of November 1962.
The Strategic Wing concept was phased out in early 1963. In most cases, the aircraft and crews remained at the same base, but the wing (and its bomb squadron) were given new designations. On April 1,1963, the 306th Bombardment Wing moved to McCoy AFB from MacDill AFB, and converted to B-52D and KC-135A aircraft. The assets of the 4047th Strategic Wing were then absorbed by the 306 BW.
The 306th's primary mission at McCoy AFB was deterring nuclear attack on the US by maintaining constant ground alert, and flying frequent cycles of airborne alert.
When not forward deployed for operations over Vietnam, the 306th continued to operate out of McCoy AFB for both training evolutions and in its stateside strategic nuclear alert role. In January 1968, the 306 BW received another Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for this "double-duty" for combat operations in Southeast Asia while maintaining an alert status for SAC.
In 1972, the 306 BW would be part of the heavy bombing raids Linebacker I and Linebacker II over North Vietnam. The 306 BW returned to McCoy AFB from its final Southeast Asia deployment in early 1973 after the Paris Peace Accords ended American involvement in the conflict.
From 1971 through 1973 other training activities at McCoy AFB included KC-135Q instruction by the 306th Air Refueling Squadron (306 ARS) and KC-135A instruction by the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron (32 ARS). KC-135Q aircraft were specifically modified and equipped to offload JP-7 fuel and supported worldwide in-flight refueling requirements for USAF U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft.
On 31 March 1972, a 306th Bombardment Wing B-52D, AF Serial Number 56-0625, sustained multiple engine failures and an engine pod fire shortly after takeoff from McCoy AFB on a routine training mission. The aircraft was not carrying any weapons. The aircraft immediately attempted to return to the base, but crashed just short of Runway 18R in a civilian residential area immediately north of the airfield, destroying or damaging eight homes. The crew of 7 airmen and 1 civilian on the ground were killed.
Final closure of McCoy AFB was concluded in early 1975.
Up until 1980, SAC considered retaining the former SAC Alert Facility as either an Operating Location or as a smaller installation to be called McCoy Air Force Station under control of an air base squadron for occasional dispersal basing of two B-52 and two KC-135 aircraft from other SAC installations. This concept never came to fruition, but the Alert Facility and a nose dock hangar and several buildings on the north end of the McCoy ramp were turned over to the US Army Reserve for use as an Army Aviation Support Facility for USAR units operating C-12, RC-12 and UH-1 aircraft. This arrangement permitted USAF access if and when it became necessary. The USAR aviation units were deactivated in 1999, but most of the Alert Facility remains under USAR control.
Although a portion of McCoy AFB was transferred to the United States Navy, becoming an annex of Naval Training Center Orlando, a majority of the facility was returned to the City of Orlando. The bulk of property that was initially transferred to the U.S. Navy by the U.S. Air Force would later be returned to the City of Orlando in 1999 after NTC Orlando's closure.
In 1984, a B-52D, on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, was flown to Orlando International Airport from the 7th Bomb Wing at the then-Carswell AFB, Texas for permanent static display at the airport's McCoy AFB/B-52 Memorial Park. It is located adjacent to the old McCoy Jetport terminal, now a facility for UPS.
With the base's closue, a majority of the McCoy AFB site was transferred the City of Orlando by the General Services Administration (GSA). Today this land is operated and maintained by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) as Orlando International Airport. As a governmental entity and an enterprise fund for the City of Orlando, GOAA is tasked with the operation, administration, maintenance and oversight of expansions and enhancements to both Orlando International Airport and the Orlando Executive Airport. GOAA also leases buildings and property to private individuals and companies, primarily for aviation-related activities in support of the respective airports. Redeveloped areas on the former McCoy AFB / current Orlando International Airport are:
Many of the former USAF hangars and maintenance facilities have been taken over by civilian airlines and other aeronautic firms.
Tributes to Col McCoy still abound on and near the airport. The airport's ICAO, FAA and IATA airfield identifiers, as well as all airline tickets and baggage tags, continue to read "MCO" which stands for McCoy. A portrait of Col McCoy hangs in the airport's main landside terminal near the airport chapel, while one of the restaurants in the airport's Hyatt Hotel is named "McCoy's." The Orange County Public School System operates the Col Michael McCoy Elementary School, which is located just north of the airport, while a nearby thoroughfare is called McCoy Road. Finally, the base's original military credit union continues to operate throughout Orange County as the McCoy Federal Credit Union.
The U.S. Navy controlled part of the former McCoy AFB site for an administrative support and housing area for nearby Naval Training Center Orlando until NTC Orlando's closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) in 1999. The former military family housing area originally constructed by the Air Force and later utilized by the Navy was fully turned over to the City of Orlando in late 1999 and was redeveloped into The Villages At Southport. Housing sales began in 1996 and were awarded a HUD award for outstanding development.
Over the past 30 years, the majority of the former McCoy AFB has been subjected to extensive modification due to the addition of new structures, taxiways, or runways. In addition, the remaining lands have been subjected to extensive excavation, landfill and improvement activities. Although several former military structures remain and a new joint military reserve facility added, much of the former air force base is unrecognizable.
A continuing impact of McCoy Air Force Base, however, is the continued excavation of unspent ammunition, including bombs, in the areas northeast of Orlando International Airport, which used to be a bombing range for the base. In recent years, new discoveries of unspent munitions have caused repeated closures of Odyssey Middle School.