Its planes played an active role in the cold war, including reconnaissance patrols over Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis. Its units were involved in combat and reconnaissance tours in the Vietnam conflict and played pivotal roles in the Gulf War (1990–1991) and the Balkans crises.

Established in 1941 on the outskirts of Sumter to train pilots for World War II, Shaw Air Force Base later evolved into a home for U.S. Air Force tactical units. The facility was named after Sumter native Ervin Shaw, a pilot shot down over France in July 1918. Shaw Airfield originally consisted of less than three thousand acres and three 4,500-foot runways. Work began on the army flying school in May 1941 at an estimated cost of $2.5 million. Its first class of pilot cadets began training in December 1941 with BT-13s for basic flight training, the second of three training phases in earning a pilot’s commission. During the latter stages of World War II, Shaw was also the site of a German prisoner-of-war camp of about four hundred prisoners. Before the Axis surrendered in 1945, more than 8,600 American, British, Canadian, and French cadets received training at Shaw. After the war the airfield became a separation center for thousands of soldiers being discharged from the military. At about the same time it was also designated as the headquarters for training Nationalist Chinese crews to fly B-25 aircraft.

By 1948 the U.S. Air Force considered deactivating the facility but chose instead to rename it Shaw Air Force Base. It became part of its Tactical Air Command and home to the Ninth Air Force two years later. Its planes played an active role in the cold war, including reconnaissance patrols over Cuba during the 1962 Missile Crisis. Its units were involved in combat and reconnaissance tours in the Vietnam conflict and played pivotal roles in the Gulf War (1990–1991) and the Balkans crises. In 1993 Shaw became the permanent home of the Twentieth Fighter Wing, comprised of four fighter squadrons. Following the September 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Shaw AFB had personnel and planes assigned to action against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. As of 2002 Shaw AFB had 5,800 active-duty personnel, employed 1,000 civilians, and housed 6,500 dependents. The base and its payrolls injected more than $500 million into the local economy.

50th Anniversary: Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. 1941–1991. [Sumter, S.C.]: 363d Tactical Fighter Wing, Office of History, 1991.

University of South Carolina Legacy Project. The Cold War in South Carolina, 1945–1991: An Inventory of Department of Defense Cold War Era Cultural and Historical Resources in the State of South Carolina; Final Report. Vol. 3, The Department of the Air Force in South Carolina. Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.: Legacy Resource Management Program, United States Department of Defense, 1995.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Shaw Air Force Base
  • Author Fritz Hamer
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/shaw-air-force-base/
  • Access Date December 10, 2019
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date August 1, 2016
  • Date of Last Update January 19, 2019