Congress authorized the Topeka Army Air Field (TAAF) building project within two weeks after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Eight months later, the completed air base including essential buildings, hangars, repair shops, steam heating plants, fuel storage and three 7,000 by 150-foot paved runways, was formally accepted by the Army Air Corps. In August 1942 the first troops arrived and had to be quartered in the agriculture building on the Topeka Fair Grounds because their green wooden two-story barracks buildings weren't finished yet. By September 1942, the field was the home of the 333rd Bombardment Group. By 1945 TAAF was one of three B-29 centers where newly transitioned crews claimed new Superfortresses and took off for the Pacific to aid in the assault on the Japanese home islands. On October 31, 1947 Topeka Army Air Field was inactivated.
On July 1, 1948 TAAF was reactivated as a Strategic Air Command base (SAC), home to the 311th Air Division Reconnaissance and to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. That mission continued until October 14, 1949 when the base was again inactivated. During that activation, TAAF was renamed Forbes Air Force Base in memory of Maj. Daniel H. Forbes, a Topeka pilot killed June 5, 1948, while testing the Northrop XB-49 "Flying Wing" jet bomber near Muroc Dry Lake, Calif. During the Korean War, Forbes AFB reopened and was again assigned to SAC. On February 16, 1951 the 21st Air Division was activated at Forbes, and the division's 90th Bombardment Wing moved to the base in February and March. The wing trained SAC's newly activated 376th, 308th and 310th Bomb Wings. From June 1951 to August 1953 it also trained B-29 replacement crews for combat. About 10 people were trained per month until August 1952 when the bomb wing training program was concluded and the number of B-29 crews produced had doubled.
On June 16, 1952 the 90th was redesigned as the 90th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW), Medium, and five months later started training recon crews as replacements for Far East Air Forces. During October 1952, the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing moved to Forbes from Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, continuing its program of photography, photomapping and electronic reconnaissance. The 90th and 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wings flew Boeing RB-29 and RB-50 Superfortresses, then the Boeing RB-47 Stratojets.
The planes were equipped with a bank of six cameras behind and below the crew compartments. Aerial photo and electronic intelligence monitoring became the primary mission of Forbes based Wings during this period. Such flights often put the planes and crews close to Korea and the USSR. For the arrival of RB-47 jet aircraft in February 1954, a 12,000 foot runway was constructed. Both the 90th and 55th Wings trained to combat readiness and began overseas duty tours. In June 1960, the 90th SRW was deactivated and replaced by the 40th Bomb Wing, transferred from Schilling AFB, Salina, Kan. The 40th was here until 1964 and it flew the B-47 Stratojets. The Tactical Air Command began operation of the base in 1965.
In October 1958, Topeka received news that Forbes AFB would support Atlas E missile sites to be constructed in the surrounding area. The Corps of Engineers Kansas City District managed construction of the nine "coffins" where the missiles would be stored horizontally. Although Forbes was slated to have three sites with three missiles at each site, in February 1959, the Air Force directed that each missile be placed at an individual launch site, these sites were situated at or near Valley Falls, Dover, Waverly, Osage City, Delia, Wamego, Overbrook, Holton and Bushong. Construction officially began on June 9, 1959, when Kansas Governor, George Docking, drove a silver nail into a construction form.
Site construction was split between two firms, with one firm responsible for work at three sites and the other for work at the other six. There were difficulties encountered due to some 519 modifications made during construction. One modification concerned the propellant loading system. Prefabricated in Pittsburgh by Blaw-Knox Manufacturing for Atlas E sites at Vandenberg AFB, California; Warren AFB, Wyoming; Fairchild AFB, Washington; and Forbes AFB, the system components were to arrive on skids bolted together. Unfortunately the skids often arrived late and testing revealed system defects that took time. Labor-management problems caused occasional setbacks in construction. During the project there were 22 work stoppages, most of which were quickly resolved. However, in October and November 1960, a long work stoppage occurred due to a work assignment dispute between the hoisting engineers and the electrical workers. The problem was resolved after the National Labor Relations Board issued a restraining order. There were 25 lost-time accidents during construction, including two fatalities that were electricity-related. One minor disturbance occurred at one of the sites when students from McPherson College arrived to protest the deployment of ICBMs.
Despite the labor problems and student pickets, the project continued on schedule. On July 1, 1960 the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron stood up. Nearly 6 months later, on January 24, 1961 the first Atlas missile arrived at Forbes. By October, all nine sites had their Atlas E missiles. The Forbes sites were completed 3 weeks ahead of schedule. On October 16, 1961 Air Force Ballistic Missile Activation Chief, Maj. Gen. Gerrity turned over operational control of the sites to Second Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. John D. Ryan. In the ensuing press conference the two generals urged Kansans to become interested in constructing fallout shelters as an insurance policy that could enhance deterrence.
As a result of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's May 1964 directive accelerating the decommissioning of Atlas and Titan I missile bases, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was deactivated on March 25, 1965.
Forbes transferred to the Tactical Air Command and the 838th Air Division in October 1964. The 313th Troop Carrier Wing (later Tactical Airlift Wing) became the primary flying unit at Forbes, operating Lockheed C-130B and C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft. In 1966, the 1370th Photo Mapping Wing of the Military Airlift Command began operating at Forbes with Boeing RC-135 Lockheed RC-130 aircraft.
The 1370th later became the Aerospace Cartographic and Geodetic Service (ACGS). Forbes Air Force base was deactivated in 1972 through1973.
In January, 1974 the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority was created by Topeka City Charter Ordinance to oversee the transition period. The title for most of the 3,100-acre facility was transferred to the City of Topeka in April of 1976. Title was transferred to the city, except for the Air Guard enclave on the northern third of the 6,000-foot north-south ramp, a portion of the south ramp and four associated buildings reserved for the Kansas Army National Guard. Commercial air service was moved to Forbes in May of 1976 and a month later Frontier Airlines initiated the first-ever jet service to Topeka.
In November 1978, the Shawnee County voters approved legislation that made MTAA responsible for Philip Billard Airport, the Topeka Air Industrial Park, and Forbes Field.
In 2012 the MTAA Board of Directors renamed the facility to Topeka Regional Airport and Business Center, maintaining the name of the airfield as Forbes Field. Topeka Regional Airport is currently the home of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing and the 1st Battalion 108th Aviation Kansas Army National Guard.