Ellington celebrates 100th anniversary
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ellington Field.
Named for 1st Lt. Eric Ellington, a pioneering U.S. Army aviator who was killed in a plane crash in 1913, the 2,300-acre facility is now known as Ellington Airport and serves as both a military and public airport.
The local airport/military base now has the rare distinction of housing all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The military base hosts both active and reserve units.
The facility also serves as home for Texas Air National Guard’s 147th Reconnaissance Wing. Formerly known as the 147th Fighter Wing, the unit changed its name to 147th Reconnaissance Wing in 2008 when its focus shifted from flying F-16 aircraft to operating a fleet on unmanned MQ-1B Predator drones, following recommendations from the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
While TANG’s 147th Reconnaissance Wing, commanded by an Air Force colonel, operates as the host unit for the joint base, the Army Reserve’s 75th Training Command, led by a major general, is the senior military command on site.
Ellington also serves as a base for much of NASA aircraft flight operations.
In June 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration granted a license to the Houston Airport System that will allow Ellington to construct a commercial spaceport – the 10th such facility in the United States.
Currently still in its design phase, the spaceport will serve as a launch site for reusable launch vehicles, which execute horizontal launches, rather than vertical, similar to commercial aircraft. Other potential uses for the facility include launching micro satellites, astronaut training, zero-gravity experimentation and even spacecraft manufacturing.
Last month, the spaceport project received a $1 million federal grant to help build roadways and utilities needed to attract aerospace companies to the future site.
Also in 2015, ground was officially broken on the Lone Star Flight Museum, set to open in the near future.
In addition to is collection of rare historic aircraft, the 130,000-square-foot museum, which occupies 13 acres at Ellington, will feature interactive, educational exhibits focusing on the science, technology, engineering and math concepts essential to flight, while allowing visitors to explore the state’s rich aviation heritage.
Originally located in Galveston, the museum was forced to relocate after receiving extensive damage during Hurricane Ike in 2008. The site has been leased from the City of Houston for 40 years at the cost of only $1 per year.
Each October, Ellington hosts the annual Wings Over Houston Airshow. Featuring both vintage and state-of-the-art aircraft, the event is one of the largest of its kind in the country.
Built in 1917 during the height of World War I, Ellington Field was originally used as a pilot training facility. At its peak, the base housed approximately 5,000 men and 250 aircraft (a technology then still in its infancy). After the war’s conclusion, the base was deemed unnecessary by the military and was ordered to be dismantled.
In 1928, what little remained of the base was destroyed by fire.
The imminence of U.S. involvement in World War II, however, prompted the reconstruction of the base in 1941. Manpower again rose to 5,000, as Ellington served once more as a training facility (as it would during the Korean War).
Following World War II, Ellington served primarily as a reserve air base from 1945 until 1948. In March 1949, however, Ellington was reactivated as part of Cold War preparations and renamed Ellington Air Force Base.
The City of Houston annexed Ellington in the late 1960s, and the base was officially deactivated by the Air Force in 1976, forcing the facility to change its name back to simply Ellington Field. In 1984, the city purchased Ellington to use as a third civilian airport, but the military, as well as NASA, still maintain a large presence there.
In 2010, Ellington underwent a massive military expansion as part of the Grow the Army project. The expansion included the construction of ten new buildings for the Army National Guard and reserve units.
The $80 million construction project included a 40,000-square-foot battle command training center and a second Armed Forces Reserve Center.
The U.S. Coast Guard broke ground on its new command center at Ellington in January 2012. The four-story, 117,000-square-foot facility replaced the previous Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston headquarters located in Galena Park.
Once combined with the new Reserve base, the installation of the Coast Guard center brought the total number of military personnel assigned to Ellington to approximately 7,000.
The base was again relabeled in January 2009 when the City of Houston changed its name to Ellington Airport. The military installation, however, continues to retain some of its history and is now known as the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base.
The 21st annual South Belt Spectacular Cook-off will take place Thursday, April 27, through Saturday, April 29, at El Franco Lee Park, located at 9400 Hall Road. (Thursday will be for cookers only, while Friday and Saturday will be open to the public.)
Organized by the Southeast Volunteer Fire Department, the event is the sole fundraiser for the annual South Belt Fourth of July fireworks display, also to be held at the area park.
In recent years, the event has also provided funds for local scholarships and various youth organizations.
While evenings at the function are geared more for adults, Saturday afternoon is intended for families, with kids 12 and under being admitted for free.
A Kids Fun Zone will take place Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Free children’s activities include moonwalks, rock climbing, an obstacle course, pony rides, a petting zoo, a train, face painting and hair braiding, a bungee trampoline, a bubble blaster, coins in a haystack and characters such as Snow Queen Elsa, Elena of Avalor, Spiderman and Captain America.
Police, fire department and EMS vehicles will also be on display.
Attendees will also have a chance to take photos with a live Watusi bull named Oliver.
While no outside alcohol will be allowed for patrons, it will be for sale on the cook-off grounds, along with barbecue sandwiches, sausage on a stick, cotton candy, nachos, snow cones and drinks.
At press time, roughly 10 cooking spots were still available. Sponsorship opportunities are also still available. Cooking spots are $175 for a 40 foot by 40 foot space.
Admission on Friday will be $10. Admission on Saturday will be $5 before 4 p.m. and $10 after.
A cookers meeting for registered teams will take place Tuesday, April 18, at The Gardens, located at 12001 Beamer at Hughes Road.
For more information or to reserve a spot, contact event organizer Linda Arnone at 281-484-4325.
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