Activated as a multi-engine flight training school in 1943, Altus AFB has been the cornerstone of southwestern Oklahoma for over 60 years. With an average of over 300 days of weather conducive to flying each year, a generally flat landscape and few obstructions, the base was then, and is still, ideally situated for young airmen to hone their flying skills. Over the next six decades, the base evolved to become the premier air mobility training location in the United States Air Force (USAF).
During WWII, students honed their skills on training aircraft such as the Cessna AT-17, the Curtiss AT-9 and to some extent the Beechcraft AT-7. Once confident and capable, the students received their wings and transferred to their next assignment operating the type of aircraft they would use in combat over the European and Pacific theaters. At the end of hostilities in Europe, Altus Army Airfield was inactivated as a training location and placed on temporary inactive status.
After reactivation on August 1, 1953, Altus AFB served briefly as a Tactical Air Command base, operating the C-47 Skytrain before switching to an operational Strategic Air Command wing with the first all jet-engine powered bomber, the B-47 Stratojet.
Through the 1950s and into the 1960s the base would also experience many mission changes to include the regular use of in-flight refueling with the KC-97 Stratofreighter and alert missions with the B-52 Flying Fortress and the ageless KC-135 Stratotanker. Also, during the early 1960s the base hosted a ring of twelve Atlas missile silos around the local area. As the Air Force expanded during the Cold War and the war in Southeast Asia, the base received another new mission, air transport. In 1967, the Air Force selected Altus AFB for the training site for its most versatile transport or cargo aircraft, the C-141 Starlifter and the enormous C-5 Galaxy. The clear skies and wide expanses of Oklahoma proved to be best suited for the mission. By the start of the 1970s, Altus AFB had three aircraft assigned: the KC-135, the C-141, and the C-5. Through the 1980s and the 1990s, these three aircraft became a common sight in the skies above Southwestern Oklahoma.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, Altus AFB welcomed the arrival of the agile C-17 Globemaster III in 1996. This aircraft, with a unique winglet, an expansive cargo area, and powerful engines, is the newest cargo aircraft in the Air Force. Even before its arrival, the base began training pilots and loadmasters to operate and fly the aircraft designed for use as an intermediate short-airfield cargo aircraft.
The dawn of the twenty-first century marked the retirement of an old workhorse. In 2001, following 32 years at Altus AFB, the C-141 was released from active duty.
The following year the Altus AFB mission grew again when the Air Force moved the basic loadmaster course from Sheppard AFB, Texas to Altus. The initiative combined similar training programs to reduce the number of moves required by trainees while cutting overall costs.
In August of the same year the 97 AMW reorganized as a "combat wing." The Air Force wide change involved the inactivation of the 97th Logistics Group and the task of all aircraft maintenance fell to the 97th Maintenance Directorate comprised of only civilian maintainers. The transformation involved the inactivation of the 97th Transportation Squadron. Its mission was combined with that of the redesignated 97th Supply Squadron as the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron. Additionally, the 97th Contracting Squadron became part of the 97th Support Group now called the 97th Mission Support Group.
In 2005, the wing expanded the training of the C-17 in two areas. First, adding the opportunity for dual-row airdrop delivery, doubling the amount of equipment the aircrews can bring directly into the combat theater of operations and second, training the aircrews on the use of night vision goggles. This provides crews with increased survivability during low-light operations, especially in combat.
In 2007, the C-5A Galaxy mission, the basic loadmaster and the basic boom operator courses left Altus and transferred to Lackland AFB, Texas with the C-5 training mission becoming the responsibility of the US Air Force Reserve. In addition, the Airfield Officers Training Program ceased operations at Altus AFB and the training transferred to the Air National Guard.
Along with training, the men and women permanently assigned to Altus AFB continually deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Since 2001, the wing has sustained an average of 150 personnel a year deployed at any one time.
Although numerous mission changes have occurred over the years, Altus AFB has continued to perform the basic mission it started in 1943, providing a safe environment to train military personnel and prepare them for action worldwide.