Vance AFB celebrates 80 years of training the world’s best Airmen, honors AETC heritage

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  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Air Education and Training Command activated in January 1942 and will celebrate 80 years of force development and enhancing lethality and readiness for every Airman who walked across an AETC stage.

For Vance Air Force Base, one of AETC’s premier pilot training installations, the mission to produce pilots to fight in World War II began a few short months before AETC’s activation.

Vance Air Force Base history dates back to 1941 when it was originally founded as Air Corps Basic Flying School, Enid, Oklahoma. The base officially became the Enid Army Flying School Feb. 11, 1942. Months later the Army changed the name to Enid Army Air Field. Then, Enid AFB became Vance AFB on July 9, 1949.

This year, Vance members celebrated the wing’s 80th anniversary Sept. 17 at Woodring Regional Airport. Members showcased training aircraft with new heritage paint schemes, invited a couple hundred friends and family, rolled in food trucks, bouncy houses and outfitted a local hangar for a 1940s themed dance.

Today, the 71st Flying Training Wing’s mission is to deliver world-class pilots, develop resilient Airmen and families, deploy ready Airmen and demonstrate the “Vance Proud” culture. Vance members are responsible for training Air Force student pilots for worldwide deployment and aerospace expeditionary force support.

For Vance’s anniversary event, special guests, friends and neighbors from the community attended. Among the guests was Nicholas Vance Matthews, the great grandson of Lt. Col. Leon Robert Vance Jr., whom the base was named after.

Colonel Vance was an Enid native who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action over France in June 1944.

Col. Jay Johnson, the 71st FTW commander, was the key speaker at the anniversary celebration. “I’m humbled to stand before you as the 59th commander of Vance Air Force Base, representing the 2,600 Airmen, civilians and contractors that make up Team Vance,” he said.

Johnson thanked the City of Enid and the airport’s officials for their decades-long partnerships and he pointed out that Vance aircraft touch down at the airport more than 35,000 times each year. 

“The spirit of innovation and ingenuity lives on at Vance AFB as we make the largest changes to pilot training that we’ve made in 30 years,” said Johnson. “As we look to the future of aviation and continue to innovate, we remember those who paved the way for us, and we don’t forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

A prime example of that spirit of innovation happened April 2 this year when the first student pilots graduated Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5.

Vance members have been working on this type of training since 2018 when the base tested a prototype of UPT 2.5. The new training is one of the pilot training transformation initiatives that changes up the traditional syllabus used for the past 50 years and modernizes training with 360-degree virtual reality trainers and student-centric instruction.

Vance’s original mission was quite different and the wing traces its roots back to Aug. 18, 1948, when the War Department activated the wing as the 7lst Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, assigned to the 1st Air Division at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. The wing performed photographic reconnaissance, providing intelligence on Japanese troop concentrations, shore defenses, installations, supply routes, and shipping. The 71st TRW also produced maps of allied and enemy-held territory and prepared navigation charts.

Today, Vance has about 1,400 active duty and reserve military, plus more than 1,500 family members living in the local area. The base also employs more than 1,400 federal civil service employees, non-appropriated fund civilian employees and contractors. There are over 3,000 retired military members in the local area.

Today, its members are responsible for over 200 aircraft, fly more than 50,000 sorties annually and log more than 74,000 flying hours in the T-1A Jayhawk, T-6A Texan II and T-38C Talon. More than 300 U.S. Air Force and allied student pilots graduate from pilot training at Vance each year.