History of Eglin Air Force Base

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    The History of Eglin Air Force Base

    Eglin AFB Emblem Gallery


    The 1930s

    What became Eglin Air Force Base had its beginnings with the creation in 1933 of the Valparaiso Airport, when an arrowhead-shaped parcel of 137 acres was cleared for use as an airdrome. Two unpaved runways, with a supply house at their intersection, were in use by 1935. "On 1 March 1935, application was made for an FERA grant to pave the runways and to build an office, a barracks 30 by 120, a mess hall and kitchen, and an oil storage building..."

    Eglin Air Force Base was initially established as the U.S. Army Air Corps' Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base on 14 June 1935. On 4 August 1937, the installation was renamed Eglin Field in honor of Lt Col Frederick Irving Eglin (1891-1937). First rated as a military aviator in 1917, Lt Col Eglin helped train other Army flyers during World War I. On 1 Jan 1937, while assigned to General Headquarters, Air Force at Langley Field, VA, Colonel Eglin was killed in the crash of his Northrop A-17 pursuit aircraft on a flight from Langley to Maxwell Field, Alabama.

    A ceremony was held in June 1939 for the dedication and unveiling of a plaque honoring Valparaiso, Florida banker and businessman James E. Plew, as founder of Eglin Field. Embedded in the stone gate to the airfield, the plaque read "In memory of James E. Plew, 1862-1938, whose patriotism and generosity made this field possible."

    The 1940s

    On Friday, 16 August 1940, the Okaloosa News-Journal, Crestview, Florida, reported that the Southern Bell Telephone Company was cutting a right-of-way for a line directly across the military reservation to connect the Eglin Field Army headquarters to the company line at Holt, Florida. The newspaper also stated that President Franklin Roosevelt had approved a plan on 14 August for a Works Projects Administration (WPA) expenditure of approximately $64,842 to make additional improvements at Eglin, including grading and surfacing a road to the machine gun range, clearing and grubbing 500 additional acres of landing field, and other work. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was erected at Valparaiso, Florida from November 1940 to house 1,000-plus CCC workers engaged in base construction.

    On 1 October 1940, the installation was renamed the Eglin Field Military Reservation in recognition of its increased importance to the Air Corps and its increasing size, as characterized by the construction of numerous auxiliary airfields in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties, the clearing of areas in the Choctawhatchee Forest for which was begun in January 1941.
    Clearing and grading for Auxiliary Field No.2 began 9 January, Auxiliary Field No. 3 on 23 January, and $800,000 allocated for the grading and paving of fields 1, 3, 5, and 6 on 24 April 1941. The Okaloosa News-Journal on Friday, 31 January 1941, listed the following construction: 30 enlisted men's barracks, eight day rooms, an enlisted men's mess building, a flying cadets mess building, four officers' quarters, eight supply rooms, eight administration buildings, a hospital, a post exchange, a motor repair shop, a theatre, four warehouses, six operations buildings, a Link trainer building, a parachute building, five magazines, and necessary utilities. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad laid a long sidetrack in Crestview, Florida to handle the number of oil tankcars required to supply the Asphault Products Company with material for the vast paving job of the new airfields. A fleet of trucks were operated round the clock to offload an estimated 180 car loads of petroleum product for the task. There were more than just a few vehicle accidents under the urgent tasking, some fatal. The clearing of Auxiliary Field No. 6 began 7 March 1942. Building construction at Auxiliary Field No. 7 began 14 March 1942.

    Appropriations of $202,536 were announced by Congressman Bob Sikes of Crestview in mid-April 1941 for construction and installation of water, sewage, electrical facilities, sidewalks, roads, fences, parking areas, landscaping and for the construction of a sewage disposal plant. Submitted to the WPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. in late March, the request received presidential approval in April. Work continued apace on some projects on a 24 hour a day basis.

    A severe housing shortage in the region for the burgeoning base-oriented expansion was partially alleviated by the construction of 100 units of the Plew Heights Defense Housing Project near Valparaiso for civil service employees and enlisted personnel. The Federal Works Agency, Division of Defense Housing, awarded the contract for the task to the Paul A. Miller Construction Company of Leesburg, Florida on 5 May 1941, with construction beginning on 8 May. The 11 November 1941 deadline for completion was beaten by almost a month.

    In June 1941, the Officers Club of Eglin Field made arrangements to take over the Valparaiso Inn, Valparaiso, Florida, as the "O Club". Doolittle Raiders would later lodge here during their training at Eglin.

    In June 1941, the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) in order to provide the air arm a greater autonomy in which to expand more efficiently, and to provide a structure for the additional command echelons required by a vastly increased force. Although other nations already had separate air forces independent of the army or navy (such as the British Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe), the USAAF remained a part of the United States Army. Following the 7 Dec 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into World War II, Eglin became a major stateside installation in support of the war effort.

    Eglin became a major training location for the Doolittle Raid on the Japanese mainland. The 24 crews selected and led by Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle picked up modified North American B-25B Mitchell medium bombers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and flew them to Eglin beginning on 1 March 1942. "9-25 March: Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle and a B-25 detachment of 72 officers and 75 enlisted men from Lexington County Airport, Columbia, South Carolina, were at Eglin Field in rehearsals for the Tokyo raid." There the crews received intensive training for three weeks in simulated carrier deck takeoffs by Naval Aviators from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola, as well as low-level and night flying, low altitude bombing, and over water navigation. Lt Col Doolittle stated in his after action report that an operational level of training was reached despite several days when flying was not possible due to rain and fog. One aircraft was heavily damaged in a takeoff accident at Eglin and another aircraft was taken off the mission because of a nose wheel shimmy that could not be repaired in time.

    On 25 March, the remaining 22 B-25s departed Eglin for McClellan Field, California, arriving on 27 March for final modifications at the Sacramento Air Depot. A total of 16 B-25s were subsequently flown to Naval Air Station Alameda, California on 31 March for embarkation aboard USS Hornet (CV 8).[24]  When now-promoted-to-General Doolittle toured the growing base in July 1942 with C.O. Grandison Gardner, the press made no mention of his recent training at Eglin.

    A captured Japanese A6M2 Zero, c/n 3372, originally coded 'V-172', of the 22nd Air Flotilla Fighter Unit, found after a forced-landing on a beach at Leichou Pantao, China, on 26 November 1941, and transported to the U.S., was test-flown at Eglin during mid-war.

    On 28 Dec 1944, Eglin reverted to its original name of Eglin Field as part of a new standardization practice by the USAAF. With the creation of a separate United States Air Force in 1947, Eglin Field continued to retain its name until 24 Jun 1948, when it was renamed to its current designation as Eglin Air Force Base.

    At the time of the design of the super-heavy intercontinental Convair B-36 Peacemaker bomber in the mid-1940s, Eglin Field had one of only three runways in the world capable of withstanding the landing gear footprint of the original 110-inch single tire main gear design of the fully-loaded bomber (concrete at least 22 inches thick). The B-36 would undergo a redesign for a four-wheel main gear bogie with 56-inch tires to reduce this operational constraint and allow B-36s to operate from runways able to support B-29 Superfortresses. (The other two runways were at the Convair plant at Fort Worth, Texas, and at Fairfield-Suisun Field, California.)

    Between mid-1946 and January 1947, the Army Air Force evaluated two of the three Boeing XF8B Navy fighter prototypes at Eglin as a potential fighter-bomber, but nothing came of the idea, it being found to be inferior in the rôle to the P-47 Thunderbolt already in service.

    The first production B-36A-1-CF Peacemaker heavy bomber, 44-92004, c/n 1, officially accepted by the USAF in May 1948, was delivered on 18 June 1948 to the Air Proving Ground Command to undergo extensive testing.

    A C-97 Stratocruiser was assigned at Eglin for tests from 1948 onward and made two flights to Alaska and two trans-Atlantic crossings to the British Isles by July 1950.

    On 7 November 1948, the second prototype of the Republic XR-12 Rainbow reconnaissance design, 44-91003, crashed at 1300 hrs. while returning to Eglin from a photographic suitability test flight. Unable to maintain control after the number 2 (port inner) engine exploded, the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Five of the seven crew escaped safely and were rescued by Eglin crash boats and helicopters. Airframe impacted two miles south of the base, in the Choctawhatchee Bay. Although further testing of the first prototype was conducted, no production was ordered.

    The sole remaining Hughes XR-11 reconnaissance aircraft prototype, 44-70156, arrived at Eglin in December 1948 to undergo operational suitability testing [30] but a production contract for 98 was cancelled.

    The 1950s

    A U.S. Air Force F-100C jet takes off from Eglin Air Force Base.

    The Main Base public address system, known as the "giant voice", first conceived in 1946 and installed by the communications maintenance division of the Mobile, Alabama Air Material Area, went into operation in February 1950 with preliminary testing completed by February 15. "The new PA system, situated in the Johnson Hall information booth, resembles an instrument panel from some Buck Roger's space ship. Two record turn tables are available for the transmission of transcribed bugle calls, and appropriate music. A telephone extension running to the commanding general's office will enable him to make special addresses to Eglin personnal. The third method of transmitting announcements and emergency bulletins is the microphone connection to the control console. Four amplifier speakers are located in clusters at each of the seven sites. Designed to saturate the area, the speakers are installed at the radio base maintenance shop, guided missiles headquarters, headquarters air proving ground, the motor pool area, the maintenance and supply area, the boat squadron area, in the Plew Heights housing area, and a direct connection to the station hospital's public address system."

    A large hump-backed steel hangar, the "Butler Hangar", 160 feet X 130 feet, transported from Trinidad, was erected at Auxiliary Field 3 between 1 April and ~10 July, 1950, by personnel of Company 'C', 806th Aviation Engineering Battalion, under Capt. Samuel M. Cable, and the men of the 550th Guided Missiles Wing. Project Officer was Capt. Clarence A. Ebbert of the Proving Ground Command Installations Division. An additional four feet of roof clearance was added to accommodate B-17s in the 21,000 square foot structure. Concrete block buildings, 160 feet X 40 feet, were erected on the flanks of the hangar. Concurrently, the 8,000 foot runway was widened to 100 feet and additional parking ramps were constructed, with 117,327 cubic yards of dirt excavated. The new ramps and runway expansion consisted of asphalt over a crushed shell base.

    The T-28A Trojan arrived at Eglin in mid-June 1950 for suitability tests as an advanced trainer by the 3200th Fighter Test Squadron, with consideration given to its transition, instrument, and gunnery capabilities.

    The Fledgling's Roost nursery opened on base on 30 June 1950, staffed by a practical or registered nurse and volunteers, and offered military and civilian families assigned to the Air Proving Ground space for up to 80-90 children, 8 a.m. to midnight, and 3 a.m. on special occasions. The establishment of this project was supported by base commander Col. M. C. Woodbury and the various wives clubs on base.

    A 40-lot trailer court opened on base at Postal Point in early July 1950. Proposed in April by Col. M. C. Woodbury, deputy commander of the Air Proving Ground, Col. E. W. Moore, deputy of material, and Lt. L. F. Strain, of budget and fiscal, site preparation was delayed until June by planning for the visit to Eglin by President Harry S Truman on 22 April.

    The XB-46 concluded its test program at Eglin Air Force Base, arriving from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on its last flight, in July 1950. Its pneumatic landing gear and brake system was tested under the coldest conditions in the large climatic facility there. Most aircraft used hydraulic or electrical systems. When this concluded in November 1950, the Air Force no longer had need for it, a fact acknowledged in the press as early as August, and on 13 January 1951 the nose section was sent to the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The rest of the airframe was scrapped 28 February 1952.

    Assault transport evaluations were done in the second half of August 1950, involving a modified Fairchild C-82 Packet, the Chase C-122 and C-123 Avitrucs, the Northrop C-125A Raider, and two gliders, the Chase XG-18A and Chase XG-20. Tests included short-field approaches over 50-foot obstructions, and operational abilities over rough, unprepared fields and roads with simulated full loads. Initial landing tests were conducted at the municipal airport at Crestview, Florida. " 'The assault transport airplane was developed as a replacement for the glider to be used as the vehicle for delivering ground force troops and equipment into an airhead assault area,' asserted Capt. H. A. Lyon, Eglin project officer. 'We are primarily interested in which airplane does this job best, and determining if the assault transport can match the landing performance of the glider under the worst conditions of rough terrain operation.' "

    The first B-36D Peacemakers accepted by the Air Force, in August 1950, were sent to Eglin AFB for testing.

    In 1951–1952, some of the non-combat-capable B-47A Stratojets (delivered without operational equipment) were assigned to the Air Proving Ground Command, two of which were utilized to test the A-2 and A-5 fire-control systems.

    Building 100 on the flightline is named the Audette Airborne Systems Building. A dedication plaque at the front entrance reads: "In memory of Lieutenant Colonel Leo R. Audette, United States Air Force - in recognition of his contribution in the development of airborne electronics systems - who on 25 August 1952, while a member of this command, gave his life while participating in operations which advanced the development of these systems."

    After ten years of service, primarily for electronic testing, the first B-50A-1-BO Superfortress, 46-002, reclassified as an EB-50A in March 1949, and then as a JB-50A in January 1956 for testing of special instrumentation, concluded its career by verifying a stellar monitoring inertial bombing system and was then salvaged at Eglin on 12 July 1957.

    The week of 1 April 1957 a Lockheed C-130 Hercules from the Air Force Operational Test Center at Eglin Air Force Base became the first turbo-prop aircraft to carry U.S. mail across the Atlantic. The C-130 was on its way to Evreux, France, where it was to be put through another phase of Employment and Suitability Testing by AFOTC. Stopping at Dover, Delaware, on the first leg of the Atlantic crossing, the Hercules took on 4,800 pounds of mail for servicemen overseas.

    The Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS), or toss bombing, tactic was first made public in May 1957 at Eglin AFB, when a B–47 Stratojet entered its bombing run at low altitude, pulled up sharply (3.5 g) into a half loop, releasing its bomb under computer control at a predetermined point in its climb, then executed a half roll, completing a maneuver similar to an Immelmann turn or Half Cuban Eight. The bomb continued upward for some time in a high arc before falling on a target which was a considerable distance from its point of release. In the meantime, the maneuver had allowed the bomber to change direction and distance itself from the target.

    The first operational Strategic Air Command GAM-77 Hound Dog A missile, 59-2794, arrived at Eglin AFB in December 1959 to equip the 4135th Strategic Wing, operating B-52G Stratofortresses out of the base.

    Base Railroad

    One of the U.S. Army ALCO RSD-1 locomotives originally assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, now preserved at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

    Col. George P. Kendrick, chief of installations of the Air Proving command, announced on Thursday, 11 August 1949, that negotiations were underway between the U .S. Air Force and the chief of the U. S. engineers relative to salvaging railroad materials at Camp Claiborne and Camp Polk, Louisiana, the Playground News, Fort Walton, Florida, reported on 18 August 1949. Kendrick stated that Third Army headquarters had indicated that the 44th Engineers Construction battalion, now in training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, would do the work on moving the railroad materials to the new location. Although no official date had been set, an unofficial report gave 15 November as an approximate arrival date for the engineer battalion.

    The Eglin Air Force Base railroad was first constructed from an interchange with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad at Mossy Head, Florida down to the main base complex, with spurs to Auxiliary Fields 1 and 2, the ammunition dump, and other parts of the military reservation, with a total of 45 miles (72 km) of track. It was constructed with materials salvaged from the Claiborne and Polk Railroad, a 43-mile line between the two camps, abandoned in 1945. The line, nicknamed the "B & F" (for back and forth), began operation in late 1951 as part of the transportation division, Air Proving Ground Command, and utilised three ALCO RSD-1 military diesel-electric locomotives. Its first yard manager was Shelby White.

    Initial construction of a railroad line into the region had been discussed as early as 1927 as part of the Choctawhatchee and Northern Railroad, though military-use proposals didn't come forward until 1941. The line was later abandoned in the late 1970s and the southern end, west of State Road 285, pulled up by the mid 1980s. Much of the tracks remain in place from the former L&N (now CSX) interchange to just south of Bob Sikes Road, about 11 miles (18 km) long. Building 538, formerly the two-track, four-engine capacity engine house, serves as the vehicle maintenance corrosion control shop in 2009. Two of its four oversize doors have been walled closed. The (by then) four RSD-1 diesels were donated to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.[48] One authoritative source on Florida railroad history has reported that steam was operated on the neophyte base railroad, but no local accounts support this.

    The 1960s

    The first GAM-77 Hound Dog missile assigned to the Strategic Air Command was carried aloft for the first time on Friday, 29 January 1960,[49] aboard a B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress, 57-6472, c/n 464177, of 4135th Strategic Wing, commanded by Capt. Jay L. McDonald. The strategic missile was carried on the port underwing pylon during the flight that lasted more than four hours. An operational test of the GAM-77 Hound Dog first took place over the Eglin water range on 31 March 1960 when a B-52G of the 4135th SW launched the missile from a point near Tampa, Florida, which then flew several hundred miles NW to hit a target in the Gulf of Mexico off the northwest Florida coast. This test followed a series of successful flights over the Atlantic Missile Range at Cape Canaveral as well as on the test ranges of Eglin.

    On 8 June 1960, the first SAC launch of an ADM-20 Quail decoy was made by a B-52G of the 4135th Strategic Wing, operating out of Eglin.

    The USAF Special Air Warfare Center was activated 27 April 1962.[52] Minnesota Honeywell Corporation conducted flight tests on an inertia guidance sub-system for the later-cancelled X-20 Dyna-Soar project at the base utilizing an NF-101B Voodoo, completed in 1963. QB-47E Stratojets and QF-104A Starfighters were operated by the 3205th Drone Director Group through the late 1960s (QB-47s) in support of such programs as the testing of the IM-99 Bomarc interceptor missile, and into the 1970s (QF-104s). Three SC-54 Rescuemasters and an HU-16 Albatross of the 48th Rescue Squadron deployed from Eglin to Grand Turk Island with a contingent of some 40 squadron personnel supporting four pararescuemen who jumped from SC-54s to recover four camera cassettes, and sight and mark a fifth, from the launch of Apollo mission SA-5 with launch vehicle AS-105 at 1625 hrs. GMT, 29 January 1964, the first launch of a live second stage. Two other Eglin-based HU-16s were flown to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, for alert missions during this launch.

    Much testing was done on developing Paveway laser-guided bombs at Eglin from the late 1960s into the 1970s.

    The 1970s & 1980s

    Specially-selected raiders for Operation Ivory Coast, the attempted POW rescue from Son Tay prison in North Vietnam, were extensively trained and rehearsed at Eglin Air Force Base, while planning and intelligence gathering continued from 25 May to 20 November 1970. The mission failed when it was found during the raid that all the prisoners had been previously moved to another camp.

    The Air Force Armament Museum was founded on base in 1975.

    Flight-testing of modified C-130 Hercules for Operation Credible Sport were conducted at Eglin and Auxiliary Field 3 (Duke Field) in 1980.

    The 1990s

    The USAF test facilities at Eglin were heavily involved in the F-15 AUP (Avionics Upgrade Program) for the Israeli Air Force that integrated the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) in the mid-1990s.

    The 2000s – present day

    The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb prototype is shown an instant before impact on Range 70, 11 March 2003. The detonation created a mushroom cloud that could be seen 20 miles away.

    The 'Massive Ordnance Air Blast' or 'Mother of All Bombs' (MOAB) was first tested at Eglin AFB on March 11, 2003 (2003-03-11). The X-43A-LS low-speed demonstrator underwent testing out of Auxiliary Field 6 in November 2003.

    As of 2009, the original World War II–era base theatre still exists, and is used for a briefing space.

    A move is afoot in 2009 to get the base hangar in which the modifications and maintenance of the Doolittle Raiders B-25s was performed, declared a national historic site. This work was performed by personnel from Wagner Field, Aux. Fld 1.

    The Air Force Armament Museum is located on the south side of Eglin main base after originally opening in 1975 in a converted World War II–era base gymnasium near the Valparaiso gate. When the gymnasium/museum structure was razed, it was replaced by a new facility housing the Eglin Training Center.

    With the departure of the 33rd Fighter Wing F-15 Eagles and the transfer of mission to AETC in the fall of 2009, Air Combat Command Gate (formerly Tactical Air Command Gate) on State 85 has been renamed Northwest Gate.