Army Aviation had its auspicious beginning when the First Aero Squadron was established on a mesa at Fort Bliss in 1916. This historic unit received a compliment of Curtiss JN-2 “Jenny’s.” Their mission was to scout and observe a courier service for Infantry and Cavalry ground units. The famous Army base was named after William Wallace Smith Bliss a U.S. Army officer and gifted mathematician who taught at West Point and was a distinguished line officer.
In 1919 two DeHavilland DH-4 Bomber squadrons replaced the aging Jennies giving birth to the Border Air Patrol. In the years that followed, “Bliss Field” supported patrol missions and became the duty station for aviation heroes, Eddie Rickenbacker and General Billy Mitchell. The Eighth Airship Company was commissioned in 1920 one mile northeast of Bliss Field until it was decommissioned due to hazardous winds in 1922.
In January 1925, Bliss Field was renamed in honor of LT. James Berthes Biggs, a native El Paso pilot killed in 1918 when his plane went down in France. As WWII approached from 1942 to 1945, a massive construction project began at Biggs Army Airfield. The field was relocated to the northeast. Flight infrastructure was built around its new location to accommodate bombers, fighters, and support aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force came into being at Fort Bliss in 1947. From there the strategic Air Command would function as a base for B-36 Peacemakers, the B-47 Stratojet and the iconic B-52 Stratofortress for the majority of the next two decades. The Air Force left Biggs and turned the base over to the Army use in 1966.
It was reactivated in 1973 as a permanent airfield for the Army, becoming the world’s largest active Army Airfield. Biggs Army Airfield supported a large airlift of personnel and equipment to support Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991.
Today, Biggs Airfield is still home to massive and powerful C-5A Galaxies and a fleet of other aircraft to transport a routine rotation of personnel and equipment to Southwest Asia as well as a number of other operational theaters.
With the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror, came many changes to Fort Bliss. Changing priorities have caused long-standing air defense units to be transferred. Fort Bliss remains one of the nation’s largest military posts, conducting regular live fire training exercises within a vast maneuvering area.
Other articles by Jonathan Childress