Stewart Field and West Point

cadets_at_stewart

An air cadet receiving training at Stewart Field in the 1940s.

Air Corps activities at the United States Military Academy date from the late 1920’s, when a single hangar and ramp for amphibian-type aircraft were built here. In August 1933, a small USMA Air Corps detachment was established to familiarize cadets with the construction, types and capabilities of airplanes. Throughout the 1930’s, cadets studied Air Corps organization, equipment and training, and received some primary flight instruction during trips to various Army airfields during the summer months. Most actual flight training came after graduation.

By 1940, with the advent of the Second World War, it became evident that cadets needed more than this general aviation training. An embryonic flight school had been established at the partially completed Stewart Field. Stewart Air Field was named in honor of Lachlan Stewart, who skippered schooners, packets and other sailing vessels in the years 1850-1870. The original tract of land was donated by his son, Samuel L. Stewart, to the City of Newburgh in 1930, for use as a municipal airport and is located some 10 miles northwest of the West Point Military Reservation. The city of Newburgh deeded the field to the Federal Government in 1935 and it was accepted for War Department use by an act of May 13, 1936.

Final title to all land acquisitions was secured with the exchange of the city’s deed for a U.S. Treasury Department Check in the amount of one dollar on October 29, 1941, only a few months after the first proposals for extensive flight training at the Academy were introduced. By this time some first classmen were already receiving regular instruction in flight engineering and flight operations at Stewart Field.

Early in 1942, the War Department directed Air Corps Branch instruction to commence at West Point. The expanding USMA Air Corps Detachment, which had been stationed at Stewart Field, was redesignated the 570th School Squadron (SP) by USMA General Order 7, February 5, 1942. Several more squadrons were added shortly thereafter. A War Department letter of May 22, 1942, implemented by USMA General Order 31, July 13, 1942, formally established the Army Air Forces Basic-Advanced Flying School (AAFB-AFS) at the field for the purpose of giving flight training to qualified cadets in the first and second classes. Pilot training was introduced into the curriculum so that those cadets wishing to enter the Air Corps could receive their wings with their commissions at graduation and be assigned immediately to combat organizations. These air cadets received their basic and advanced flight training at Stewart Field concurrently with their academic and tactical training at West Point.

Stewart Field was officially dedicated on August 25, 1942 and the rapidly developing subpost became an integral part of the Military Academy. It contained shops, school buildings and other facilities for the training of up to 500 air cadets, and at its peak during the war years housed approximately 2,000 officers and enlisted personnel. Although Stewart Field was under the administrative control and responsibility of the Superintendent of USMA, it had its own commandant. Technical control was placed under the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command in July 1943; other changes in the command channel occurred during and immediately after the Second World War.

The last class of air cadets graduated in June 1946, after which flight training for cadets was discontinued. The AAFB-AFS was redesignated the 2002d Army Air Forces Base Unit (Base Services) in January 1947, and Stewart Field was later turned over to the newly established Department of the Air Force. When the Air Force closed the facility in December 1969, part of it was returned to the Academy for use as a housing area.

When Stewart Field was deactivated in 1970 due to the drawdown of the Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force released most of Stewart AFB back to civilian control.

Stewart Air Force Base transitioned back to active military control in 1983. Today, the former Stewart Air Force Base is home to both Stewart International Airport and Stewart Air National Guard Base, and has undergone several renovations.

Contents contributed by Alicia Mauldin-Ware, Archives Curator