Mather History

Mather Main Gate, circa 1955.
Mather Main Gate, circa 1955. Photo provided by:
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Early history and naming
The United States Army Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, activated the base -- then known as Mills Field -- on Feb. 21, 1918 as a pilot training base.

Later that year, Mills Field was renamed Mather Field for 2nd Lt. Carl Spencer Mather, an Army Signal Corps pilot who was killed in an air collision at Ellington Field, Texas in 1918. Mather earned his pilot's license at age 16 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps on Jan. 20, 1918. Five days later he was killed during one of the first training classes for World War I pilots. The remainder of his class was re-stationed at Mills Field and requested that the facility be renamed in Mather's honor. On May 2, 1918, the name was changed to Mather Field, the precursor to Mather Air Force Base and today's Sacramento Mather Airport.

Although the base was deactivated from 1922 to 1930 and from 1932 to 1941, it was used for aerial gunnery and practice bombing between 1918 and 1940. However, there is no evidence that live bombs were used.

Mather's role in World War II and the Cold War
During World War II, Mather Field was used for pilot and navigator training as well as observer and bombardier training. From 1944 to 1945, Mather Field became a departure point for planes leaving the U.S. mainland for battle assignments in the Pacific.

During the Cold War, Mather became the sole aerial navigation school for the U.S. Air Force after its companion navigation schools at Harlingen Air Force Base and James Connally Air Force Base in Texas were closed in the 1960s. Mather hosted the Strategic Air Command 320th Bombardment Wing from 1958 to 1989.

The major command responsible for Mather Air Force Base until base closure was the Air Training Command based at Randolph AFB in Texas. The host wing at Mather AFB was the 323rd Flying Training Wing, which trained Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel for the U.S. and its allies. More than 20 other units were located at Mather.

Mather decommissioned
Mather was announced for closure in 1988 and was closed in September, 1993 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). At the time of closure, the base encompassed 5,845 acres, including 129 acres of easements. Most of the former base was ruled surplus to the needs of the federal government.
In 1995, the airport officially reopened as Sacramento Mather Airport, operated by the Sacramento County Department of Airports.

As of late 2010, in addition to the cargo-focused airport, the former base housed 54 businesses and government agencies, including the Sacramento Veterans' Affairs Medical Center at Mather, the California Emergency Management Agency, and TRACON, the Federal Aviation Administration's Terminal Radar Approach Control. An estimated 4,192 people worked on the former base at the end of 2010. Mather also houses an enormous regional park and 18-hole golf course, more than 1,200 single-family homes, and other amenities.

Located partially in unincorporated Sacramento County and partially in the city of Rancho Cordova, much of the property at the former base (about 4,188 of 5,717 acres total at the beginning of 2011) is still owned by the Air Force. The airport and parks are owned by the Air Force and leased to Sacramento County until the property is deeded to County ownership.