Chanute Air Force Base
|Part of Air Training Command (ATC)|
|Located in Rantoul, Illinois|
Chanute AFB, 12 April 1998
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
|Garrison||3345th Air Base Group, (1948 - 1993)|
Chanute Air Force Base (1917-1993) is a former United States Air Force base located south of and adjacent to Rantoul, Illinois, about 130 miles (210 km) south of Chicago. Its primary mission throughout its existence was Air Force technical training.
The base was closed as a result of BRAC in 1993.
Many of the Air Force base's buildings and facilities have found new life, with purposes that range from motels, retirement communities, restaurants, a fitness center, an aerospace museum, a prominent data center and several light manufacturing facilities. The golf course, once only available to service members and their guests, is now one of the most popular in east-central Illinois. The housing on base, once homes for airmen with families, are now occupied by civilians. Even so, many buildings remain unoccupied, and they are slowly falling apart due to lack of maintenance.
Parts of Chanute AFB has been converted into civilian use, including the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, an airport (Rantoul National Aviation Center) and a 6-month military boot camp academy for youths ages 16-18. This program is called Lincoln's Challenge Academy.
Chanute AFB was named in honor of Octave Chanute (1832-1910), a pioneer aeronautical engineer and experimenter, and friend and adviser to the Wright Brothers. Chanute's biplane glider (1896) with "two arched wings held rigidly together by vertical struts and diagonal wire bracing" (the principle of the Pratt truss used in the railroad bridges which Chanute constructed) served as a prototype design for airplanes.
In May 1917, Rantoul was chosen to be the site of Rantoul Aviation Field, however on 6 June 1917 the name was changed to Chanute Field. Rantoul was selected due to its proximity to the Illinois Central Railroad and the War Department’s ground school housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During World War I, Chanute was a pilot training school for the Army Air Service. With the end of the war, the facility was closed in January 1919 and used as a storage depot for surplus war material.
In February 1921 Chanute Field was reopened as a technical training center for the Air Service with various types of training being transferred from Kelly Field, Texas, to Chanute. Nine steel hangars were constructed to serve as classrooms by 1924. However, diminishing funds to the Air Service resulted in a sharp decline in the number of students and the use of the airfield during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
United States Army Air Service Technical Training Command was established at Chanute in 1941, and during World War II, thousands of airmen were stationed there to train new recruits who cycled in and out.
On March 19, 1941, the 99th Pursuit Squadron ("Pursuit" being an early World War II synonym for "Fighter") was activated at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois. Over 250 enlisted men were trained at Chanute in aircraft ground support trades. This small number of enlisted men was to become the core of other black squadrons forming at Tuskegee and Maxwell Fields in Alabama — the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
After World War II, with the formation of the Air Force, Chanute Field was renamed Chanute Air Force Base. It served as a major training facility for Air Force aircraft maintenance officers; Air Force and Navy meteorology; and enlisted technical training for Air Force aircraft maintenance, flight simulator maintenance, fuel system maintenance and missile system maintenance. An Air Force Technical Training Instructors Course was conducted as well. Additionally, Chanute AFB was the site for training firefighters, life support specialists (ejection seat, aircrew survival equipment, parachute riggers, etc.), welders, non-destructive inspection (of materials) and airframe repair.
The base was recommended for closure in 1988 and officially closed in 1993. Despite short-term blows to the local economy in the years leading up to and immediately after closing, in many ways, the transition of Chanute Air Force Base from military to civilian use has been successful. There are several condemned areas that are environmental safety issues including an area in the southeast corner of the base, Heritage Lake, which was a dumping ground, and numerous buildings containing asbestos.