JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Sept. 27 marks an important date in Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph’s history.
On that date 90 years ago, the U.S. War Department approved an Army Air Corps selection committee’s recommended name for a base set for construction on farmland adjacent to the community of Schertz.
The installation was named Randolph Field, ensuring that the memory of Capt. William Randolph would be preserved for generations.
Randolph, an Austin native who entered military service in 1916, was initially named to that selection committee, but tragedy struck on Friday evening, Feb. 17, 1928. While taking off from Gorman Field, Texas, the 34-year-old captain was killed when the AT-4 aircraft he was piloting crashed in a cotton field.
Randolph was serving as adjutant of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, at the time of the accident. He had started his Army career as a member of the Second Texas Infantry, but was commissioned as a first lieutenant of infantry less than a year later after completing officer training at Leon Springs, Texas. He entered pilot training in 1918 and was commissioned as a captain in the Army Air Service about two years later.
The accident that resulted in Randolph’s death occurred on a routine cross-country training flight, according to a document compiled by the 3510th Flying Training Wing Office of Information Services at Randolph Air Force Base. The 3510th Flying Training Wing was a predecessor of the 12th Flying Training Wing.
Lt. James B. Burwell, the investigating officer who witnessed the accident, said in his official report that Randolph “took off into a strong wind, climbed slowly to gain speed and then started a steep right-hand, down-wind bank with nose up, gaining altitude. The nose fell, airplane continued to bank over past vertical, whipped upside down, striking the ground nearly head-on from an altitude of about 300 feet, going directly into the wind. The tail flopped over, leaving airplane flat on ground, headed in the wind.”
Burwell, 43rd School Squadron engineering officer, had gone to Gorman to assist Randolph when the captain notified him that he was having difficulty in starting the engine. Burwell inspected the aircraft and found the engine in good condition with the exception of the booster magneto, which he replaced.
Following the accident, Burwell concluded the aircraft experienced no mechanical trouble. He said the accident “was directly due to making a nose-high down-wind turn with a full auxiliary tank, losing flying speed and nosing down too near the ground to recover.”
Burwell also cited a high wind, about 35 miles an hour, and “very bumpy and gusty air” as contributing factors.
After Randolph’s death, the selection committee felt it was appropriate to name the new base in honor of Randolph, according to Air Education and Training Command History Office documents.
“Tour of Historic Randolph,” a publication of the 12th Flying Training Wing History Office, recounted that Randolph’s widow, Cornelia, escorted by Brig. Gen. Frank Lahm, first commander of the Air Corps Training Center, raised the first flag over Randolph Field when it was dedicated June 20, 1930.
The program concluded with the “spectacular sight” of 233 airplanes from Brooks and Kelly Fields, Fort Crockett and Fort Sill passing overhead in what was described as “the largest assembly of aircraft in the world.”