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Eaker Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png Tactical Air Command Emblem.png

Part of Strategic Air Command/Tactical Air Command
Located near Blytheville, Arkansas
Eaker AFB - 25 Mar 2001.jpg
25 March 2001
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 35°57′52″N 89°56′38″W / 35.96444°N 89.94389°W / 35.96444; -89.94389
Built 1942
In use 1942-1946, 1953-1992
Eaker AFB is located in Arkansas
Eaker AFB
Location of Eaker Air Force Base, Arkansas
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Arkansas International Airport

Eaker Air Force Base (1942-1992) was a front-line United States Air Force base for over 40 years. It was located 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Blytheville, Arkansas.

During its operational lifetime its mission was that of a training base during World War II and both a tactical as well as a strategic bomber base during the Cold War.

After the Cold War, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 1991 commission recommended Eaker be closed in a cost-cutting move. The facility closed on 15 December 1992.

Contents

97th Bombardment Wing

From 1 July 1959 until 1 April 1992, the host unit at Eaker was the 97th Bombardment Wing (97 BMW, later 97 BW) of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The 97th BMW was initially equipped the B-52 Stratofortress, which it flew until the unit's inactivation in 1992. In October 1961, the wing added the KC-135 Stratotanker, which it also flew until 1992.

The 97th BMW earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (AFOUA) for activities during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. During the Vietnam War, the wing supported SAC's combat operations in Southeast Asia. Tanker crews and aircraft refueled other Air Force units supporting the rescue of American citizens in Grenada in October and November 1983. During Operation Desert Storm, elements of the 97th conducted over 60 conventional bombing sorties and many air-refueling sorties over Iraq and Kuwait.

History

Known for most of its operational life as Blytheville Army Airfield (1942-1946) or Blytheville Air Force Base (1953-1988), the facility was renamed Eaker Air Force Base on 26 May 1988, in honor of General Ira Eaker, an air pioneer and first commander of Eighth Air Force during World War II.

Eaker was the architect of a strategic bombing force that ultimately numbered forty groups of 60 heavy bombers each, supported by a subordinate fighter command of 1,500 aircraft, most of which was in place by the time he relinquished command of Eighth Air Force at the start of 1944.

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Major units assigned

  • 25th Twin Engine Flying Training Group, 25 July 1942 - 29 February 1944
  • Army Air Force Pilot School, 3 May 1942 - 31 May 1945
  • 211th Army Air Force Base Unit, 1 May 1944 - 15 June 1945
  • 809th Army Air Force Base Unit, 16 June 1945 - 31 March 1946
  • 334th Army Air Force Base Unit, 1 April 1946 - 25 November 1946
Redesignated: 97th Wing, 1 September 1991 - 1 April 1992

Major aircraft assigned

Operational commands assigned to

Redesignated Strategic Air Command, 21 March 1946 - 1 April 1946

Operational history

Oblique airphoto of Blytheville Army Airfield, looking from the southwest, about 1945

World War II

Us army air corps shield.svg

Blytheville Army Air Field was originally a 2,600-acre (11 km2) installation used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II as a training airfield as part of the 70,000 Pilot Training Program. It was one of many air fields created in the country’s interior during the war. Mississippi County was a prime location because of its close proximity to the Mississippi River, where supplies could easily be shipped in.

Activated on 10 June 1942, the field was used as an advanced flying school in the Southeastern Training Command's pilot training program Flying training commenenced in the fall of 1942, advanced flying training started in the spring of 1943. Aircraft used at the facility were mostly AT-6 Texans, AT-9s, Beech AT-10s and Republic AT-12 Guardsmans. In September 1943, facilities for instrument flying training were completed. Throughout 1944, Blytheville trained many female WASP pilots as B-25 co-pilots, and AT-10 pilots with TB-25 Mitchells. Assignments included engineering test pilots, instrument check pilots, ferrying, and flight checks for returning overseas pilots. The mission of the airfield changed in 1945 to that of a troop carrier combat crew training facility with C-46 Commando and C-47 Skytrain aircraft. The flight school closed in October 1945 after the war ended.

In the immediate postwar era, the airfield was then used as a processing center for military personnel who were being discharged at a rapid rate as the country demobilized. The War Assets Administration officially shut down the installation in 1946. Control of the land was transferred to the city of Blytheville.

Cold War and Vietnam War

In the early 1950s, the United States Air Force approved a plan to convert the wartime airfield into an air base. A massive construction process began to rehabilitate the wartime facilities into a permanent base. The wartime runways were removed and reduced to aggregate, being used in the construction of a 10,000-foot (3,000 m) main runway, capable of being used by the Air Force's largest aircraft.

Blytheville Air Force Base was officially christened as a single-mission base on July 19, 1955. It consumed 3,771 acres (15.26 km2) of area farmland, most of which had been used by the original air field; the rest was purchased from local farmers. The Tactical Air Command (TAC) 461st Bombardment Wing was relocated to the newly constructed base from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. By the following spring, the base was fully operational with three squadrons of Martin B-57A tactical bombers.

On 1 April 1958, Strategic Air Command (SAC) assumed control of Blytheville AFB. The 4229th Air Base Squadron assumed operational control in April 1958 and remained in charge until 1 July 1959, when the 97th Bombardment Wing took control. Official dedication ceremonies held on January 10, 1960, marked the arrival of the 97th BMW's first B-52G, The City of Blytheville.

In addition to the B-52G, the base also housed the KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft. It was also used by the 42d Strategic Aerospace Division during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Blytheville Air Force Base witnessed a great deal of activity throughout the Cold War era. The 97th Bombardment Wing was placed on airborne alert on 22 October 1962, when it was discovered that nuclear missile silos were being constructed in Cuba with Soviet assistance. The following day, the SAC declared defense readiness condition (DEFCON) II for the first time in American history. Two B-52G bombers were placed on airborne alert and were ready to strike the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons if necessary. The standoff ended, and the wing returned on November 15. The wing was presented with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its performance during the crisis.

The 97th was also involved in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1965, it participated in the refueling of fighter jets in Operation Young Tiger. Pilots of the wing were stationed at Andersen AFB, Guam, while the B-52s remained at the base. In 1972, all of the bombers were temporarily moved to Guam. The 97th returned to the base and resumed normal functions after the conflict ended. It launched rescue missions from the base to Grenada in 1983.

In 1988, the installation was reanmed as Eaker AFB.

Post-Cold War and Operation Desert Storm

After August 1990, the 97th began practicing for missions overseas in the Middle East and eventually deployed and participated as part of an expeditionary bomber unit during Operation Desert Storm, executing multiple KC-135 air refueling missions in the region and B-52 strike missions over Iraq and Kuwait. Tragically, the only B-52 lost during the Gulf War was from Eaker AFB. It was not shot down but went down in the Indian Ocean due to a mechanical failure. Aircraft and personnel returned to Eaker AFB by mid-1991.

Closure

Eaker Air Force Base topped the Strategic Air Command’s list of base closures in 1991. The Cold War was coming to an end, U.S. defense spending was declining, and the U.S. Air Force, under the provisions of the START I treaty, began retiring the B-52G model of the Stratofortress, the housing and launching of which was the single mission of the base.

Official closure of Eaker Air Force Base was announced in 1991, and on March 6, 1992, the last aircraft, The City of Blytheville, left the base. With the disestablishment of Strategic Air Command in the summer of 1992, claiamcy of Eaker AFB briefly shifted to the newly-established Air Combat Command (ACC). The official closure ceremony for Eaker AFB was held on 15 December 1992, and the transition from military to civilian, general aviation airport began.

For a short period of time it was in the hands of USA FLORAL. In December 1998 USA FLORAL leased the former Eaker Air Force Base to become a distribution facility. They said "We plan to use this facility not only as a distribution center for our North American Wholesale Distribution operations but also as a production hub where we will process incoming flowers (i.e., break bulk, hydrate, re-cut stems and re-package to suit customer demand) to facilitate distribution of flowers and hardgoods to retail florists, mass-market retailers, wholesale distributors and Internet- based marketers throughout North America." USA FLORAL went out of business soon after.

Over the years, the facility has grown from a general aviation airport to the Arkansas International Airport and the adjacent Arkansas Aeroplex industrial park.

The military still makes use of the Arkansas International Airport in flight training maneuvers, and as a landing site to pick up and drop off local National Guard Troops.

See also

References

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Strategic-Air-Command.com - Eaker AFB
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • ArmyAirForces.com
  • Shaw, Frederick J. (2004), Locating Air Force Base Sites History’s Legacy, Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, Washington DC, 2004.
  • Manning, Thomas A. (2005), History of Air Education and Training Command, 1942–2002. Office of History and Research, Headquarters, AETC, Randolph AFB, Texas ASIN: B000NYX3PC

External links


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