Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas
Over the years, the men and women of the Jacksonville community have developed and cultivated a high level of pride in their local base. This stems from both the base's unique origins and the important aircraft and missions that have been assigned. From the beginning, Little Rock AFB has played a major role in accomplishing the US Air Force mission, carving out a rich heritage along the way.
In late 1951, after learning of the Air Force's desire for a new base in the central United States, local leaders sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force urging serious consideration of the Little Rock area. The Air Force was warm to the idea, but Congress would not allocate funds to purchase the needed property. In an ambitious move, the local leaders convinced Pentagon officials that funds would be raised locally, then the land would be purchased and donated to the Air Force. In January 1952, the Air Force agreed to the proposal, and local citizens went to work.
The fund-raising effort was immense, but by the end of September 1952, the Pulaski County Citizens Council (forerunner of today's Air Base Community Council) had collected almost a million dollars, and the Air Base Committee began buying property from more than 150 private landowners near Jacksonville. That same month, the Air Force announced it would build a $31 million jet bomber base on the site. The fund raising and purchase process took nearly 18 months, but the land needed most urgently was purchased first, and construction began on 8 December 1953.
The Air Force decided to assign the base to Strategic Air Command, and by August 1954, SAC had selected the 70th Reconnaissance Wing as the first assigned organization. The 70 RW flew RB-47 Stratojet aerial reconnaissance aircraft and KC-97 aerial refueling aircraft. SAC also decided to assign the 384th Bombardment Wing to the new base. This wing also flew Stratojets, but they were B-47s in bomber configurations.
As these two wings awaited movement orders, Colonel Joseph A. Thomas arrived as the first base commander (4225th Air Base Squadron) in February 1955. His primary duties were to oversee the construction, coordinating with various levels of government. Tragically, barely five months after assuming command, Colonel Thomas died in a crash of the base's only aircraft, a C-45 assigned for administrative transportation. Before his death, Colonel Thomas was able to oversee the completion of numerous projects, including the gas distribution system, several buildings, and the railroad system. Thomas Avenue and the Thomas Community Activities Center were dedicated in honor of his tireless efforts.
Airmen had begun to arrive at the base in 1954, but no living quarters were available on base yet. Consequently, some airmen lived in temporary quarters at Camp Robinson, while others lived in rooms at the Little Rock YMCA. Some were even housed in the private homes of local citizens. This housing problem would continue for many years.
The 70 RW activated at the not-yet-completed base on 24 January 1955. The 384 BW soon followed, activating on 1 August 1955. On this same date, the 825th Air Division moved to the base and became the first level of higher authority in the chain of command for the two wings. Neither wing had aircraft on the new base yet, but the 70th had the advantage of staging at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, prior to moving their aircraft in. The 384th, on the other hand, was standing up an alert bomber wing from scratch, with aircrews in the student pipeline and no aircraft yet assigned.
At 8:00 AM on 10 September 1955, the base was opened to air traffic. In a special ceremony, local leaders and assigned personnel welcomed the arrival of the 70 RW aircraft. These RB-47s included three very special ones: the "Razorback," "City of Little Rock," and "City of Jacksonville." Although this was the defining moment, these aircraft were actually not the first RB-47s to land at the base. Two aircrews had landed three days prior for a one-night familiarization visit. Visual Omni Range was not yet established for the base, so aircrews flew VOR to Little Rock, then turned north and flew visual for the final stretch. Paint crews, still working on the runway, took a break as the aircraft made their final approach.
About a month later, on 9 October 1955, the base was officially dedicated. On this day, the Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Donald A. Quarles, and General Curtis E. LeMay, SAC Commander, joined about 85,000 visitors in the dedication of the Air Force's newest base. By that date, 90 buildings were either completed or in the final phase of construction, but the base was far from complete.
During these early years, the 70 RW maintained an operational reconnaissance mission. Crewmembers and maintainers ensured we had an "eye in the sky," launching missions from here at home and spending many months at various operating locations throughout the world. Prior to the emergence of U-2 aircraft, the B-47 was the perfect airframe to overfly and photograph potential adversaries. For most of the 1950s, nothing could touch a Stratojet. Surface-to-Air Missiles were in their infancy, Anti-Aircraft Artillery could not reach it, and enemy fighters could not climb to the Stratojet's altitude. It could virtually fly with impunity.
While the 70 RW was a photographic reconnaissance organization, other RB-47s were equipped with sensitive monitoring equipment and flown right at and sometimes beyond the border into the USSR. This would prompt the Soviets to fire up their defenses, and the RB-47 crew would monitor, record, and bring home the data. This was then used as the basis for effective war plans to be carried out by bomb wings like the 384th. This cat-and-mouse game of testing a potential enemy was extremely perilous. Aircrews were pushing the limits, and many of them were shot from the sky without so much as a peep in the newspapers.
The 384 BW handled bomber alert duties, spending countless days and nights on alert status with their aircraft armed, fueled, and ready to go at a moment's notice. 384th aircrews also commonly participated in REFLEX operations, spending short but continually recurring periods of time at forward locations around the world.
The 384 BW accomplished a truly remarkable feat by being certified combat ready just nine months after receiving its first aircraft. Stringent SAC requirements called for a specified percentage of the crews to be certified in order for the wing to be considered combat ready. Since aircrew members were fresh out of student status, beginning to arrive about the same times the aircraft did, preparing the group to become fully combat ready was a tremendous task. The culture of the organization would accept nothing less than full effort, and when the newly formed wing was mission capable by September 1956, it became the first such SAC wing to do so in such a short time.
By mid-1957, there were over 5,500 military personnel assigned and over 300 civilian employees. This large increase in personnel in such a short time compounded the continuing housing problem, especially for the military members with families. Accordingly, the USAF hired Miles Construction to build 1,535 Capehart family housing units. By 1 May 1959, all the housing units were either occupied or ready for occupancy.
The 70 RW eventually shifted from a reconnaissance mission to a purely training mission and was redesignated the 70th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. This training role would prove to be a glimpse at the future of the base. On 2 June 1958, the wing accepted its first group of students and began training them to fly the Stratojet. This continued for over three years, then the wing switched from RB-47 to B-47 aircraft and became the 70th Bombardment Wing. The days of the 70th at Little Rock AFB came to an end on 25 June 1962 when the wing was inactivated. (The 70th exists today as the 70th Intelligence Wing at Fort Meade, Maryland.) Many of the aircrew members remained at the base and transferred to the 384 BW, which was still serving in a bomber alert role.
While Little Rock AFB was still home to the two Stratojet wings, The Air Force decided to base 18 Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in underground silos around the base at an estimated cost of $80 million. On 3 January 1961, work began on the first missile site. While construction on the silos continued, the 308th Strategic Missile Wing activated and began operations as a tenant unit at Little Rock AFB.
Work on the Titan II silos took three years to complete, and on 1 January 1964, the 308 SMW completed its first full operational day with missiles on alert in each of the 18 silos. Qualified crews supported the mission uninterrupted, 24 hours a day, for over 23 years.
In 1962, the Arkansas Air National Guard became a presence at Little Rock AFB. Formerly operating out of Adams Field in Little Rock, the 189th Tactical Reconnaissance Group (forerunner to today's 189th Airlift Wing) began moving operations out to the base. The unit operated RB-57, RF-101, and KC-135 aircraft before eventually settling into the C-130 training role they share with the 314th today.
The era of the Stratojet ended on 1 September 1964 when the 384 BW inactivated. The 384th later activated at McConnell AFB, Kansas, but they had flown their last B-47. (The 384th is not an active wing today.)
The same day the 384 BW inactivated, the 43 BW, flying Convair B-58 Hustler aircraft, moved to Little Rock AFB from Carswell AFB, Texas. To fully appreciate the contributions of the 43 BW, it's necessary to consider at least a few of their accomplishments prior to their relocation to Little Rock.
The 43rd was initially activated at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in 1947. During the early years, the wing operated B-29s, B-50s, and KB-29s. 43 BW crews set flight records with all three aircraft. The most notable occurred on 26 February 1949 when a 43rd crew flew a B-50A, nicknamed "Lucky Lady II," completing the first non-stop flight around the world. As a result, the crew won the Mackay Trophy and the Air Age Trophy. Accomplishing firsts, setting records, and earning awards would prove to be recurring themes for this remarkable wing.
As with the 70 RW and 384 BW, the 43rd entered the jet age, flying B-47s from 1953 to 1960. Again, the wing would set a record with their new aircraft, although it was completely unplanned. On 17 November 1954, Colonel David A. Burchinal, 43 BW Commander, and his B-47 crew ran into problems on a flight from Sidi Slimane, Morocco to RAF Fairford, England. Inclement weather prevented landing in England, and after a return to Sidi Slimane, they found that bad weather had moved in there, too. Having no other options, the B-47 crew arranged for air refuelings until the weather cleared up at one of the locations. After nine in-flight refuelings and 47 hours 35 minutes in the air, the Stratojet was able to land at RAF Fairford. During this 21,163 mile flight, they inadvertently shattered the previous jet endurance record.
When the Convair B-58 Hustler emerged from development, the 43rd was selected as the first wing to fly the new technological marvel. This required the 43rd to move to Carswell AFB in March 1960, where they conducted Category II and III evaluations with the new bomber and operated a school to train SAC aircrews in the B-58. Armed with the world's first supersonic bomber, it didn't take long for 43rd aircrews to begin setting records again.
In a deliberate effort to surpass several speed records a 43rd crew ran a 2,000 km (about 1,242 miles) course near Edwards AFB, California. On 12 January 1961, the crew set three international speed-with-payload records (0 kg, 1,000 kg, and 2,000 kg) by flying the course at an average speed of 1,061.8 mph. Interestingly, the 2,000 kg record still stands as of this writing. Two days later, another 43rd crew set three more speed-with-payload records (same weights) over a 1,000 km course, averaging 1284.73 mph. This feat on the 1,000 km course led to that crew receiving the 1961 Thompson Trophy. The distinction here is that, for the first time in its 33 year history, the trophy had been presented to a bomber crew.
Four months later, on 10 May 1961, another 43rd crew raced a closed course, again near Edwards AFB, in pursuit of the Bleriot Trophy. According to regulations for earning the prestigious international award, crews must fly a course that starts and finishes in the same spot, stay aloft longer than 30 minutes, and average a speed over 2,000 kph (1,242.74 mph). They completed the 666.7 mile course in 30 minutes 43 seconds, averaging 1,302.07 mph. In other words, with the 30-minute minimum, they almost had to slow down to qualify. This set a new record for sustained speed and earned the coveted trophy.
Sixteen days later, a Hustler flew from New York City to Paris in 3 hours, 19 minutes, and 41 seconds. The B-58 averaged 1,089 mph in the 4,612 mile flight and completed it in 1/10th the time it took Charles Lindbergh to fly the route in 1927. This transatlantic flight earned the crew the Mackay Trophy (the seventh for the 43rd) and the Harmon International Trophy. Tragically, this crew was killed when their B-58 crashed on 3 June 1961 at the Paris Air Show. Though saddened by the loss, crews from the 43rd continued to set records with the Hustler.
On 5 March 1962, a B-58 crew set out to break three more speed records. The 43rd crew flew from New York to Los Angeles and back in 4 hours, 41 minutes, and 14.98 seconds. The crew took the bomber from New York to Los Angeles in two hours, 15 minutes, and 50.8 seconds. This was the first transcontinental flight to "beat the sun." All three crewmen earned the Mackay Trophy, the Bendix Trophy, Distinguished Flying Crosses, and congratulations from President John F. Kennedy.
On 28 March 1964, the day after a major earthquake devastated Alaska. Headquarters USAF tasked the 43rd to provide photographs of the region. Two 43 BW crews flew B-58s the 5,751 miles to Alaska and back, processed the film, and delivered the pictures to Washington DC an incredible 14 hours and 30 minutes after receiving the request.
Six months later the 43d Bomb Wing moved to Little Rock AFB. The wing added KC-135 refuelers to its inventory and carried out its mission of strategic bombardment readiness and air refueling at their new home for five and a half years.
In mid-1969, the Air Force began to retire the B-58s. While there was no disputing the value of the airframe, the costs of maintaining the weapon system were incredible. The B-58 had followed a typical path in the life span of an aircraft. It started as an untouchable high altitude bomber, but advances in Soviet defensive technology forced planners to use the aircraft in a low altitude bombing capacity. It worked quite well in this role (as had the B-47), but the stresses of low level flight began to cause lethal structural failures in the aircraft. The airframe had served its purpose, and it was simply time to move on.
The majority of the wing's bombers went to Davis-Monthan AFB for scrapping and reclamation, but eight were spared for static display. Most notably, aircraft #59-2458, the Bendix Trophy winner, was placed on display at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
On 1 January 1970, the 825 AD, by this time called the 825th Strategic Aerospace Division, inactivated. On the last day of that month, after the retirement of its last B-58, the 43 BW inactivated. Today, the 43rd is alive and well as an airlift wing at Pope AFB, North Carolina. Flying C-130s, the wing shares a kinship with today's Little Rock AFB.
The Air Force decided to close Sewart AFB and move the 4442d Combat Crew Training Wing and 64th Tactical Airlift Wing, both flying the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, to Little Rock AFB. On 9 March 1970, the headquarters for the 64 TAW was established here, and on 1 April 1970, it became the host wing. The 308 SMW and 4442 CCTW became tenants. Also on this date, the base changed command ownership for the first time, becoming a Tactical Air Command base.
About a year later, on 31 May 1971, in a move that changed names more than substance, the 64 TAW inactivated, and the 314 TAW concurrently "moved" in. The relocation of the 314 TAW from Ching Chuan Kang Air Base, Taiwan was a move without personnel or equipment, and the subordinate units at Little Rock AFB were simply reassigned and redesignated from 64 TAW assets to 314 TAW assets. The mission and units actually remained the same.
A short time later, the base lost one of its three wings when, on 1 August 1971, the 4442 CCTW inactivated. The 314th absorbed the training role, and the change left the 308 SMW as the lone tenant unit.
The next major change occurred on 31 January 1972 when the base welcomed the 834 AD. On 1 December 1974, the 834 AD and 314 TAW transferred from TAC to Military Airlift Command, while the 308 SMW remained under the command of SAC. The additional layer of command and control from the 834 AD soon proved superfluous, however, and it was subsequently inactivated on 31 December 1974.
The base enjoyed relative stability for the next 13 years; the 314 TAW was the MAC host unit flying and training in C-130s, and the 308 SMW was the SAC tenant on alert with Titan II ICBMs.
This steady base structure changed on 18 August 1987 when the 308 SMW inactivated, going quietly into history as the last unit to perform operational duty with Titan II missiles. The unit left a demilitarized Titan II nosecone as a memorial to the thousands of men and women who devoted their lives and energy to protecting the United States during the Cold War. The day before the wing inactivated, this nosecone was placed in the air park atop a time capsule to be opened 50 years later in 2037.
Since 1987, the 314th has been the only active duty wing stationed at Little Rock AFB, but there have been numerous changes within the wing and at other levels.
In 1989, the wing welcomed the US Army Joint Readiness Training Center to Little Rock AFB. JRTC was the largest tenant unit on the base until it moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana just four years later.
On 1 June 1992, the base and wing were assigned to the new Air Mobility Command, the successor to MAC. This was short-lived, however, as the wing was assigned to Air Combat Command, a new command created to combine SAC and TAC, on 1 October 1993.
In June 1993, Little Rock AFB hosted the largest RODEO ever held. Formerly called VOLANT RODEO, this event featured C-5, KC-10, KC-135, C-141, and C-130 aircraft. Also, the annual Security Police (now Security Forces) competition DEFENDER CHALLENGE was combined with RODEO, making RODEO Ô93 the largest and most comprehensive RODEO to date.
In 1994, the 34th Combat Airlift Training Squadron redesignated as the USAF Combat Aerial Delivery School (later, Mobility Weapons School), culminating more than a year of effort by General John M. Loh, ACC Commander, to establish a "center of excellence" for the venerable C-130 aircraft.
On 1 April 1997, a major shakeup was made at the base. The 314th Airlift Wing, as it is now called, transferred to Air Education and Training Command. Also on this date, the 463d Airlift Group was activated at the base as a tenant under AMC, and the 50th and 61st Airlift Squadrons were reassigned from the 314 AW to the 463 AG. Finally, CADS was realigned under AMC's Air Mobility Warfare Center. The purpose of these changes was to move the C-130 schoolhouse under AETC while retaining AMC's control over operational aspects of C-130 operations. The primary aspects of this organizational structure remains in place today.
Since its official opening in October 1955, Little Rock AFB has been a valuable component of US air power. From the first day a B-47 went on alert in 1956 until the final Titan II went off alert in 1987, the men and women of The Rock were on the front lines of the Cold War and played a vital role in winning it. The Cold War was one of attrition, a race for technological advantage and a measure of both the resolve and economic strength of two nations. Although the superpowers never went toe-to-toe on the battlefield, it would be a misjudgment to underestimate the very real aspects of the contest and the very real cost of victory. Peace is protected through readiness, and Little Rock AFB has always been ready.
In the midst of the many changes seen at the base over the years, one other factor has always remained constant - outstanding relations between the base and the local community. To this day, community support remains one of the key ingredients making our Air Force the most powerful force in the world. The community's tireless support efforts have proved that many times over.
History continues to be made here. The newest Air Force cargo aircraft, the C-130J operates here daily. The J model flies higher, faster and further than previous models. The 48th Airlift Squadron is the only active-duty squadron in the world.
2005 has brought many milestones for Little Rock AFB, including the base being selected by the US Government to be the hub for all international aid missions into the US for Hurricane Katrina relief operations. The base received 56 flights form foreign countries and offloaded more than 4 million pounds of supplies for our neighbors on the Gulf Coast.
History of the Titan II at Little Rock can be found here.