(FOX40.COM) — It has been 110 years since the first air combat unit was formed in the United States and Sacramento’s own Mather Airport bears the name of one of those brave early pioneers of human flight.
When the first planes took off from the runways of the Sacramento County airfield in February 1918 it was known as Mills Field, taking on the name that the surrounding area was known as.
This name would be shortlived as a tragic crash in Texas would inspire a new name for the newly christened field.
Lt. Carl Spencer Mather
Carl Spencer Mather was born on May 26, 1894, and at the age of 16, he got his pilot’s license from Curtiss Flying School in Hammondsport, New York.
In August 1917, he enlisted as an aviation cadet and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. on Jan. 20, 1918, as he was already a licensed pilot.
Mather would move onto Ellington Field in Texas to further his training with the goal of becoming a Reserve Military aviator and being promoted to the rank of 1st Lt.
However, on Jan. 30, 1918, just 10 days after his commission, Mather died in a mid-air collision while flying his Curtiss JN-4D Jenny biplane.
Mather was a part of one of the earliest training classes for World War I pilots from the United States at the time of his crash.
Mills becomes Mather
Following the crash, the remaining pilots in Mather’s class were relocated to Mills Field and petitioned the facility to be renamed Mather Field in honor of the late pilot.
On May 2, 1918, only a few months after the opening of the base, it would be renamed Mather Field.
As the field grew into one of the largest Air Force bases in Northern California the small community around the base also took the name of Mather and can be seen noted as such on historic United States Geological Survey maps.
Mather AFB’s On-And-Off Service Life
The initial phase of the base would not last long as it was deactivated in 1922, after serving as a training ground for four years.
It was briefly reopened in 1930 before being deactivated in 1932 and again reopened in 1941 to get pilots trained up and headed to fight in World War II.
Between 1918 and 1940 though, the base would be used by air crews looking for somewhere to practice dropping bombs. There are no signs that live bombs were ever used during the practices.
Those servicemen wanting to be pilots, navigators, observers or bombardiers during World War II would find themselves at Mather Field for their training.
Those soldiers heading to the Pacific Theater between 1944 and 1945 would catch their departing flight from Mather Field.
As the Cold War dawned, Mather served as the only aerial navigation school for the newly created United States Air Force.
Before the base was finally decommissioned in September 1993, Mather hosted more than 20 other units over its 70-year service life.
Mather was also the training ground for countless pilots from 88 allied countries following World War II and into the early 1990s.
Today the historic base is known as the Sacramento Mather Airport and services local flights and cargo aircraft. It is also home to the annual California Capital Airshow.