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Topeka airport once bore name of elite pilot Daniel Forbes Jr.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, July 2, 2012, at 6:43 a.m.

Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

Sometimes name recognition is everything.

So it is in Topeka where last week local officials renamed the airport and its adjoining industrial park.

The new name is the Topeka Regional Airport & Business Center, nicknamed the Topeka Regional.

An Associated Press story last week reported that the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority board approved the name change in an effort to bring more recognition to the airport.

At the meeting, board chairman Rich Davis was reported to have said no one outside of Shawnee County knows where Forbes Field is located.

In year’s past, the airport, located three miles south of Topeka, has been a place where presidents and dignitaries have landed. The area is where the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard is located.

For much of the 20th century, the base remained a significant midway stopping point for politicians and military officials as they commuted between Washington, D.C., and the West Coast.

Construction of the Topeka Army Air Base began within two weeks of Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

In 1945, the base was one of three B-29 centers.

It was named after a pilot.

At age 27, Daniel Hugh Forbes Jr. was at the top of his game.

It was June 1948. He was one of the nation’s most elite pilots, a pioneer in strategic air photo reconnaissance who flew missions to North Africa, the Pacific theater, and, after World War II, the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests.

Forbes was testing the fastest, most powerful bomber of its day, the YB-49, when on June 5, 1948, the plane exploded in midair and fell from the sky, crashing into the sagebrush at Muroc Air Force Base in California.

The crash killed all five members of the plane’s crew.

A year later, the Army airfield in Topeka was renamed Forbes Air Force Base. The base closed in 1973.

Forbes was born June 6, 1920, in Carbondale. He and his family moved to Wichita. He graduated from North High School in 1937. He attended the University of Wichita and Kansas State College in Manhattan.

He joined the Army on June 5, 1941.

His military career included graduating from the Air Force Photographic School at Lowry Field in Denver. He flew in photographic squadrons over Africa and Italy during World War II.

He also trained as a B-29 pilot at the Smoky Hill Army Air Field near Salina and was a member of the first photographic mission over Japan.

The Kansas City Times reported shortly after the fatal crash that Capt. Glen Edwards and Maj. Daniel Forbes — co-pilot and pilot of the No. 2 YB-49 — were making an unplanned flight. There was no chase plane and no firsthand account of the accident.

One other crew member of that fateful flight — Edwards, the co-pilot — also had a base named for him. Edwards Air Force Base in California is the former Muroc Air Force Base where the crash occurred.

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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