If you’ve ever had to sprint through the airport to catch a flight, consider it a privilege! The invention of the airplane has been a pivotal part of world history, and it is celebrated annually on National Aviation Day (August 19th). Before Brooks grew into the master-planned, mixed-use community it is today, aviation was at the heart of its origin as a nationally renowned U.S. Air Force base.

The national observation commemorates flight originated under president Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939. Two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, studied flying machines and are credited with inventing the first successful airplane in 1894. President Roosevelt established the day to be observed on Orville Wright’s birthday, as he was still alive at the time.

South San Antonio is home to over a century’s worth of aviation history.

In 1917, a year before the end of the first World War, an Army Air Corps installation was established at Brooks Field, designated for flight training for young cadets. Training consisted of some interesting methods back then. One practice included chasing jack rabbits through large fields, and when the plane matched the speed of the animal, they knew they were going fast enough to be ready for take-off. The facility became known as Kelly Field no. 5, and was one of thirty-two air force training camps in the U.S.

Thirty years later, the campus would become established as Brooks Air Force Base, named after local San Antonio aviator Lt. Sidney Brooks, who died in his final flight before completing military airman training in 1917. Aviator Brooks received his commission and wings posthumously.

President John F. Kennedy delivers his famous “Cap Over the Wall” speech at Brooks Air Force Base on Nov. 21, 1963.

In 1927, ten years after the Air Corps installation, the School of Aviation Medicine relocated from its original home in New York to Brooks Field. The school eventually evolved into the Brooks School of Aerospace Medicine. The dedication of the School of Aerospace Medicine would be President John F. Kennedy’s last official act as president, as the school was dedicated by him on Nov. 21, 1963, just one day before his assassination in Dallas, Texas.

While the Brooks campus originally was a place where cadets learned how to fly, groundbreaking facilities were built to teach cadets medical techniques and practices that were related to aviation. This included learning the effects of flight and space travel on the human body. The school earned national recognition for its medical discoveries both in air and here on earth, as they are credited with significant findings that contributed to the development of MRIs and Lasik eye surgery.

Learn more here.

Brooks Air Force Base only continued to grow.

In the 1980s, Brooks attracted four organizations- the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory, the Harry G. Armstrong Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, and the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory- that would eventually combine to become the Armstrong Laboratory. This facility was one of four facilities designated as “super labs” of the Air Force branch.

Sidney J. Brooks Jr. Memorial Park

Brooks AFB is also credited with forming the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence that had the significant task of ensuring that future United States Air Force (USAF) installations are environmentally safe. During the celebration of the base’s 70th anniversary in 1987, Sidney J. Brooks Jr. Memorial Park was opened to commemorate the beauty and heritage that lives in South San Antonio’s Air Force history.

In the late 90s, Brooks AFB was added to the BRAC closure list, a federal commission that sought to increase the efficiency of the United States Department of Defense with the closure of certain military installations. The City of San Antonio and the USAF took years of planning to grant ownership of the base from the Air Force to the Brooks Development Authority. In 1997, the concept of a ‘city base’ was produced as a result.

Congress enacted the Brooks City-Base project with special legislation, and it was officially established in 2002. As the city-base project continued to grow and reshape the area of Brooks, the military presence slowly decreased until Air Force operations ceased completely in the fall of 2011.

Just Call Us Brooks.

Now known as just “Brooks,” the former Air Force Base redefined their mission and grew into the successful community it is known as today. National Aviation Day provides South San Antonio with a reminder to remember and appreciate it’s significant hand in the history of aviation in the United States.

Hangar 9, the oldest wooden aircraft hangar of its kind, is now an open-air, 8,700 square foot versatile event space.

Brooks honors its 100-year-old history through the redevelopment of Hangar 9 and the Sidney Brooks memorial. Instead of tearing down buildings, Brooks thrives to take an adaptive reuse approach to projects like The Aviator Apartments (former barracks) and The University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine (former School of Aviation Medicine). Campus is full of nods to history like the naming of Nineteen17 Restaurant (the year the base opened), The Kennedy Apartments complete with a mural of JFK, and street names like Sidney Brooks.

There are plenty of ways to take flight in celebration of this observed date. This could include planning a visit to San Antonio’s Texas Air Museum located at Stinson Municipal Airport or coming down to campus and seeing the history and growth with your own eyes.

Check out the complete timeline of Brooks here.