MacDill tour reveals huge impact on our South Shore area

Published on: May 24, 2017

MacDill tour reveals huge impact on our South Shore area

By Troy McClellan

Contributing Writer/Photographer

Tampa Bay has over 3 million residents. Many of them have flocked to the area to enjoy the Florida sunshine and take in the tropical paradise we call home. Some of them bravely serve our country in the United States Armed Forces. Nearly 15,000 employees at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa live in our communities. MacDill celebrates a long history with the Tampa Bay area and provides a huge economic impact on our region.

Troy McClellan / Full Dome FX Multimedia PHOTO
An air traffic controller watches over the skies surrounding MacDill Air Force Base from the control tower.

Through an invitation from the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Hillsborough, the public was given an opportunity to tour the base recently and learn about its rich history and impact.

MacDill Air Force Base spread its roots in 1939 as Southeast Air Base, Tampa, and later that year in December it was re-named MacDill Field to honor Colonel Leslie MacDill. MacDill was killed in a North American BC-1 airplane. The BC-1 was a new type of training aircraft that later become known as the North American T-6.

The T-6 officially went into active service in the United States in 1948, shortly after the formation of the United States Air Force on September 18, 1947. Prior to that, the Air Force was part of the U.S. Army. After the creation of the United States Air Force, MacDill Field was renamed MacDill Air Force Base.

The base is located 7 miles south of Tampa and lies at the southern edge of the interbay peninsula. This area has a history of military significance during the Spanish-American War in 1898, long before the invention of the airplane.

During World War II, MacDill Field was home to several bombardment squadrons that included storied aircraft such as the B-24, B-26 and the famous B-17 Flying Fortress. Later in the war the venerable B-29 Superfortress was stationed at the base and was used on photographic missions.

The B-29 became famous as Colonel Paul Tibbets flew a B-29 dubbed the Enola Gay from the tiny island of Tinian in the North Pacific Ocean dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

After World War II, MacDill became home to the Strategic Air Command and hosted a number of bomber groups, including some of the early jet airplanes.

MacDill continued to host a variety of U.S. military aircraft and missions over the decades, but in the early 1990s the U.S. Military was downsizing after the end of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission moved the remaining F-16 Training Mission and the 56th Fighter Wing to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona during 1991.

Troy McClellan / Full Dome FX Multimedia PHOTO
Crews prepare a KC-135 refueling aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as seen during a recent Leadership Hillsborough/Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce tour.

In the late summer of 1992, MacDill began to temporarily host aircraft, when the Air Force 31st Fighter Wing and the Air Reserve’s 482nd Fighter Wing were evacuated from Homestead Air Force Base ahead of the now-famous Hurricane Andrew. The jets remained in Tampa for several months due to the massive damage to Homestead caused by Andrew.

In 1993, the flight line was active once again. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) transferred the operations of the Hurricane Hunter aircraft from Miami to Hangar 5 at MacDill.  Shortly after that, the 6th Air Force Mobility Wing began operating refueling missions with the KC-135 Stratotankers. The KC-135 tankers are sophisticated “flying gas stations” that enable the U.S. Military to keep the planes flying on long-duration missions, anywhere in the world.

Colonel Leslie MacDill, namesake of MacDill Air Force Base. Circa 1930s.

There are currently 19 aircraft, worth over $1 billion based and supported at the base. MacDill is also home to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) among others, and they play a vital role in our nation’s national security. The base is nothing short of a small city. While it is true, you can find most of what you need to go about your day-to-day activities without even leaving the base, the economic impact on the entire Tampa Bay area can certainly be felt.

MacDill generates $1.9 billion in payroll. A good part of that is spent directly in local stores, restaurants, gas stations and many other local businesses. According to published information, MacDill props up Tampa Bay to the tune of $2.3 billion. If you add in the retiree population at MacDill that figure grows to an astounding $4.9 billion.

There is no doubt that MacDill has enabled Tampa Bay to thrive. Many of our honorable service men and women reside right here in the South Shore area that includes Ruskin, Riverview, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach and Sun City Center. Many civilian employees also call this place home, too. It is important for us to recognize the service and sacrifice that is made every day by our MacDill community. As we go about our day, enjoying the freedom to pursue our passions, remember, it is not without someone’s cost and sacrifice. Don’t be shy when you see a man or woman in U.S. Military uniform. Honor them by letting them know how much they are appreciated.

A vintage postcard featuring MacDill Field. A recent tour of the facility was arranged by the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce along with Leadership Hillsborough.

B-17G Flying Fortresses taxiing at MacDill Air Force Base, 1944. The base has a rich military history.

U.S. Air Force PHOTO
Three aircraft formation of B-47E Stratojets of the 306th Bombardment Wing of the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft was retired in 1965.

Troy McClellan / Full Dome FX Multimedia PHOTO
A couple of KC-135’s are readied on the ramp at MacDill Air Force Base on a gorgeous Florida morning.