Rhein-Main Air Base is a small base named after the confluence of the Rhine and Main (pronounced mine)rivers located to the west of Frankfurt. This small community is approximately six miles southwest of Frankfurt, in the state of Hessen. The city of Frankfurt has a population of over 630,000 but that number doubles during the workday when people commute from all over to work in the city. Frankfurt offers all the services expected from an international city. The city has over 1000 years of history. It is Goethe's birthplace, the seat of the first national assembly, and a center of trade from the very early days. Roman armies camped here. Charlamagne held an imperial Reichstag here. Thirty-six rulers were elected here. Frankfurt has always been Germany's main financial center and the headquarters of the German Federal Bank, the Bundesbank, which supervises the stability of the Deutsche mark. It is now also the financial center for the European Community, comprised of 11 countries. the Euro is the single currency of the European Community and is already being used in some transactions and can be seen on most price tags. However, the Euro will not be available to hold in one's hand until the year 2002. The city of Frankfurt is a hub of autobahn intersections and railway junctions. The Frankfurt International Airport handles more cargo than any other European airport, and is the second largest in terms of passengers. Rhein-Main Air Base has been called Gateway to Europe and it truly is.
In 1909, Count von Zepplin used the area where Rhein-Main is now located as the landing sight for his lighter than air dirigible Z-II. Germany had planned the site for use as one of the most important European terminals in the continent. In 1936, the base opened for commercial use. In May 1940 the base was converted for military use. Luftwaffe engineers extended the single runway and erected hangers and other facilities for German military aircraft. During World War II, the Luftwaffe used the field sporadically as a fighter base and as an experimental station for jet aircraft. Allied Forces bombed the base heavily in the latter part of 1944 and the beginning of 1945.
United States forces, the 826th Engineering Aviation Battalion, arrived at Rhein-Main in April 1945 and immediately began the task of clearing rubble and reconstructing major buildings. Army engineers built new runways and extended and widened the existing runway. They also constructed new aprons and hardstands as well as taxiways leading to the new Rhein-Main passenger terminal completed in 1946. Air traffic into Rhein-Main increased in 1946 when the air terminal at Orly Field, Paris closed. Rhein-Main then hosted the Eastern Air Transport Service (EATS)in January 1947.
Officials in the Ninth Air Force intended the base for use as a bomber base, but Rhein-Main became a principal European air transport terminal from 1947-1959. Rhein-Main was the main western base for the round-the-clock Berlin Airlift, Operation VITTLES, from June 1948 to September 1949. In April 1959, USAFE turned over the northern part of the base to the German government for use as a civilian airport. The Frankfurt Airport (flughafen) became the chief commercial airport for the greater Frankfurt area. The rest of the base remained under the control of USAFE and became the principal aerial port for US Forces in Germany.
On 20 December 1993, base officials announced plans to drawdown to half the physical size and reduce the active duty force by more than two thirds. Rhein-Main was scheduled to become a contingency base and by 1 April 1995 the drawdown was complete. The remaining units support more than 2500 community members and maintain facilities for spin-up use by transient airlift aircraft. No aircraft are permanently assigned to the base. In August 1996, the 469th Air Base Squadron became the 469th Air Base Group under U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
Rhein-Main was heavily tasked during Operation Joint Endeavor during late 1995 and the earlier part of 1996. By the end of the first year as a contingency base, Rhein-Main AB supported 8 contingency operations. The base also served as the arrival and departure base for US Army troops stationed in Bosnia and provided with leave under the U.S. European Command's Rest and Recuperation program. Since then, Rhein-Main AB has been heavily tasked during numerous contingencies, most recently in Operation Allied Force.
Rhein-Main Air Base is scheduled to close by December 31st, 2005.