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Ellsworth Air Force Base

Air Combat Command.png
Air Combat Command

Ellsworth Air Force Base - 3Apr1997.jpg
USGS aerial photo as of 3 April 1997
Airport type Military: Air Force Base
Owner United States Air Force
Operator Air Combat Command
Location Rapid City, South Dakota
Built 1942
In use January 2, 1942 - present
Occupants 28th Bomb Wing
Elevation AMSL 3,280 ft / 1,000 m
Coordinates 44°08′42″N 103°06′13″W / 44.145°N 103.10361°W / 44.145; -103.10361
Direction Length Surface
ft m
13/31 13,497 4,114 Concrete
Sources: official site[1] and FAA[2]
Ellsworth AFB is located in South Dakota
Ellsworth AFB
Location of Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota
Main entrance sign
A B-1B of the 28th Bomb Wing deployed at Ellsworth AFB

Ellsworth Air Force Base (AFB) (IATA: RCAICAO: KRCAFAA LID: RCA) is a United States Air Force base located approximately 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota.

The host unit at Ellsworth is the 28th Bomb Wing (28 BW) assigned to the Air Combat Command Twelfth Air Force. The 28 BW is one of only two B-1B Lancer strategic bomber wings in the United States Air Force, the other being the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, Texas.

Ellsworth AFB was established in 1941 as Rapid City Army Air Base (AAB). It is named in honor of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth (1911-1953), who was killed when his RB-36 Peacemaker aircraft crashed near Nut Cove, Newfoundland during a training flight. The 28th Bomb Wing is commanded by Colonel Jeffrey Taliaferro. Its Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sergeant Clifton G. Cole.


Ellsworth AFB is 10 miles east of Rapid City, S.D. The relationship between Ellsworth and Rapid City is exemplified by Ellsworth's main entrance, constructed to symbolize a B-52 Stratofortress, one of the aircraft formerly flown by the 28th Bomb Wing. It was a gift from the citizens of Rapid City.

The mission of the 28th Bomb Wing is to deliver decisive combat power for global response. The 28th Bomb Wing is divided into the 28th Operations Group, the 28th Maintenance Group, the 28th Mission Support Group and the 28th Medical Group.

Ellsworth's population of approximately 8,000 includes military members, family members and civilian employees. The base's sister city, Rapid City, has a population of just more than 62,500. There are also about 3,800 military retirees in Western South Dakota.


Units assigned to Ellsworth are:

The Wing commander’s staff consists of a vice commander, an executive officer, a secretary, a director of staff, a wing inspector general, a command chief-master sergeant, a historian, information management, protocol, public affairs, legal, chapel, military equal opportunity, wing plans, treaty compliance, safety, honor guard, the 28th Comptroller Contracting Squadron and a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
Provides combat-ready B-1 aircraft and crews to support Joint Chiefs of Staff taskings, including conventional theater operations and power projection. It plans and executes training missions essential to attain versatile power projection and global reach, and provides the aviation infrastructure necessary to conduct safe flight operations for the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons. The 28th Operations Group has three squadrons under its command to assist in accomplishing its mission—the 28th Operations Support Squadron, the 34th Bomb Squadron and the 37th Bomb Squadron.
  • 28th Maintenance Group
Responsible for formulating policies and implementing procedures to ensure availability of the 29 B-1 aircraft and associated support equipment and munitions in support of Joint Chief of Staff-tasked and other contingency missions. The 28th Maintenance Group manages the production of a 1,500- member workforce comprising four squadrons, an annual organizational maintenance and reparable support division budget exceeding $42.5 million, aircraft and weapons valued at more than $9 billion and real property worth $168 million. Additionally, the group directs the implementation of plans supporting pre-planned and contingency mobility taskings in support of national objectives.
  • 28th Mission Support Group
Provides mission essential “city” services at home and combat support services while deployed. Nearly 40 percent of military members and civilians stationed at Ellsworth are part of the 28 MSG team which maintains the base infrastructure by providing essential services to military members, Department of Defense civilians, retirees and their family members. Support operations range from base administration, personnel management, security, mobility readiness, vehicle maintenance, supply, educational services, phone and computer support to civil engineering and food services. Additionally, the group supports the base community through fire protection, disaster preparedness, family support. Recreational opportunities are also provided in the form of clubs, fitness facilities, the base library and other sport-related activities.
  • 28th Medical Group
  • Tenant Units
Air Force Financial Services Center
Area Defense Counsel
Detachment 226 AFOSI
Detachment 8, 372 TRS



Previous names

  • Established as Rapid City Army Air Base, Dec 1941
  • Rapid City Army Air Field (unofficial designation), c. 1 Sep 1946
  • Rapid City Air Field, 28 Nov 1947
  • Weaver Air Force Base, 13 Jan 1948
  • Rapid City Air Force Base, 24 Jun 1948
  • Ellsworth Air Force Base, 1 Jun 1953-Current

Major Commands to Which Assigned

  • Second Air Force, 9 Jun 1942
  • Continental Air Forces, 16 Apr 1945 (redesignated Strategic Air Command), 21 Mar 1946)
  • Air Combat Command, 1 Jun 1992-Present

Base Operating Units

  • 353d Air Base and HQ Sq, 2 Jul 1942
  • 225th AAF Base Unit, 25 May 1944
  • 354th AAF Base Unit, 22 Jul 1945
  • 62d Air Service Gp, 1 May 1947
  • 28th Airdrome Gp, 15 Aug 1947
  • 28th Air Base Gp, 12 Jul 1948 (rdsgd 28th Combat Support Gp, 1 Feb 1959)
  • 821st Combat Support Gp, 1 Jan 1962
  • 44th Combat Support Gp, 1 Aug 1972-5 Jul 1994
  • 28th Mission Support Group, 5 Jul 1994-Present

Major Units Assigned

  • 17th Bombardment Training Wing, 17 Jun 1942-28 Jun 1943
  • 41st Bombardment Wing, 25 Mar-2 May 1943
  • III Reconnaissance Command, 13 Nov 1945-9 Apr 1946
  • 28th Bombardment Wing, 15 Aug 1947-Present
  • 821st Air Division, 1 Jan 1959-30 June 1971
  • 44th Strategic Missile Wing, 24 Nov 1961–5 Jul 1994


Aerial view of Ellsworth AFB, c.1990.

On the 2 of January 1942, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base as a training location for B-17 Flying Fortress crews. From September 1942—when its military runways first opened—until mission needs changed in July 1945, the field's instructors taught thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators and gunners from nine heavy bombardment groups and numerous smaller units. All training focused on the Allied drive to overthrow the Axis powers in Europe.

After World War II the base briefly trained weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons using P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25 Mitchell aircraft. Those missions soon ended, however, and Rapid City Army Air Field temporarily shut down from September 1946 - March 1947. When operations resumed in 1947 the base was a new United States Air Force asset. The primary unit assigned to Rapid City Air Force Base was the new 28th Bombardment Wing (28 BMW) flying the B-29 Superfortress.

The installation changed names a few more times during its early years. In January 1948, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Carl A. Spaatz renamed it Weaver Air Force Base in honor of Brig Gen Walter R. Weaver, one of the pioneers in the development of the Air Force. In June of that year, however, in response to overwhelming public appeals, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington returned the base it to its previous name of Rapid City AFB. The base was also declared a "permanent installation" in early 1948.

Shortly after additional runway improvements, in July 1949, the 28 BMW began conversion from B-29s to the huge B-36 Peacemaker. In April 1950, the Air Staff reassigned the base from 15th Air Force to 8th Air Force.

Ellsworth AFB Main Gate with a B-52D on static display in the background, c.1988.

The base experienced one of its worst peacetime tragedies in March 1953 when an RB-36 and its entire crew of 23 crashed in Newfoundland while returning from a routine exercise in Europe. On 13 June 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a personal visit to dedicate the base in memory of Brig Gen Richard E. Ellsworth, commander of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, who lost his life in that mishap. The base was subsequently renamed Ellsworth AFB, and unlike the previous local controversy in 1948, there was no community objection to the name change.

Military organizations periodically upgrade manpower and machines from time to time to meet new national security requirements and Ellsworth Air Force Base's organizations were no exception. Headquarters Strategic Air Command (HQ SAC) reassigned the 28 BMW from 8th Air Force back to 15th Air Force in October 1955. Approximately one year later, SAC set plans in motion to replace the 28th's B-36s with the new all-jet B-52 Stratofortress. The last B-36 left Ellsworth on 29 May 1957 and the first B-52 arrived sixteen days later. In 1958, all base units came under the command of the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division, headquartered at Ellsworth.

In October 1960, Ellsworth entered the "Space Age," with the activation of the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron, initially assigned to the 28 BMW. For more than a year this squadron prepared for the emplacement of Titan I intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which finally arrived in 1962, shortly after the activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (44 SMW) in January. At that time, Headquarters SAC also named the 44 SMW as host wing at Ellsworth.

The Titan I's life span was short in western South Dakota. In July 1962, SAC had effectively rendered it obsolete by activating the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron, the first of three such units slated to operate 150 Minuteman I ICBMs under the 44 SMW. The 67th Strategic Missile Squadron joined the 44th in August, followed by the 68th Strategic Missile Squadron in September 1962.

On 1 June 1971, SAC deactivated the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division and by October of that year, an upgraded Minuteman II also replaced earlier missiles.

Ellsworth soon became known as "The Showplace of SAC" as it continued to fight the Cold War by maintaining two legs of America's strategic triad: strategic bombardment and ICBMs. It carried out these vital missions for more than 15 years with relatively little change. Then, the 1980s brought many new challenges. In 1986, the base and the 28 BMW made extensive preparations to phase out the aging B-52 fleet and become the new home for the advanced B-1B Lancer. Contractors completed new unaccompanied enlisted dormitories in March, a new security police squadron headquarters in October, and gave Ellsworth's 13,497-foot (4,114 m) runway a much-needed facelift. In addition, they completed new aircraft maintenance facilities for the complex new aircraft. The last of the 28 BMW's B-52Hs left in early 1986 and in January 1987, the wing received the first of 35 B-1B bombers.

The 12th Air Division moved to Ellsworth on 15 July 1988. This organization was responsible for training B-1B, B-52, and KC-135 Stratotanker aircrews at Ellsworth and other SAC bases in the region. Headquarters SAC activated a third wing, the 99th Strategic Weapons Wing, at Ellsworth on 10 August 1989. This wing assumed primary responsibility for B-1B advanced aircrew training.

Internationally, the destruction of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 symbolized the imminent demise of the Soviet Union over the next several months. During this transition the Air Force also had to reshuffle its organizations and resources to meet the shifting, although diminishing, threat. Changes came quickly. On 3 January 1990, SAC redesignated the 812th Combat Support Group as the 812th Strategic Support Wing (812 SSW), which, for a short time, became Ellsworth's fourth wing. The 812 SSW consolidated all combat support activities into one organization. On 31 July 1990, SAC replaced the 12th Air Division with the Strategic Warfare Center (SWC), which provided operational command and administrative control over Ellsworth's subordinate units. Then, as part of SAC's intermediate headquarters and base-level reorganization plan, on 1 September 1991, SAC renamed the 28 BMW the 28th Wing (28 WG), the 44 SMW the 44th Wing (44 WG) and the 99 SWW the 99th Tactics and Training Wing (99 TTW). Ten days later, SAC deactivated both the SWC and the 812 SSW. Once again, the 28th became Ellsworth's host organization and it soon absorbed all previous 812 SSW functions. It was also during this period that, in acknowledgment of the elimination of the Warsaw Pact, that the President, via the Secretary of Defense, ordered all strategic nuclear alert operations to stand-down. The decades-long Cold War was over.

On 1 June 1992, as part of the first major reorganization since the creation of USAF, the Air Force deactivated Strategic Air Command and assigned Ellsworth's organizations (including a renamed 28th Bomb Wing (28 BW) to the newly activated Air Combat Command (ACC). After less than a year under the new command, the 28th’s mission changed from that of strategic bombardment to one of worldwide conventional munitions delivery. The mission of the 99th Tactics and Training Wing (later to become the 99th Wing) also continued, albeit slightly modified to fit the requirements of the new force concept.

The 44th Missile Wing, however, had ably accomplished its deterrence mission. On 3 December 1991, the wing permanently pulled the first Minuteman II missile from its silo and on 6 April 1992, the first Minuteman II launch control center shut down. Deactivation of the entire missile complex ended in April 1994. In keeping with its patriotic Minuteman tradition, the 44th Missile Wing formally deactivated on 4 July 1994. Under conditions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, all of the 44th Missile Wing's Minuteman silos and launch control centers were slated for demolition with the exception of Sites Delta-01 and Delta-09. These latter two sites were subsequently turned over to the National Park Service for preservation as part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. [3]

In March 1994, Ellsworth welcomed the 34th Bomb Squadron, a geographically separated unit (GSU) that was awaiting airfield upgrades before it could return to its parent organization, the 366th Wing (366 WG), at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. While under the aegis of the 366 WG, the 34th's B-1Bs were part of one of the Air Force’s composite wings, which also included C/D and E model F-15 Eagles, C/D model F-16 Fighting Falcons, and R model KC-135 Stratotankers.

Also during 1994, the Air Force selected Ellsworth as the exclusive location from which to conduct a Congressionally-mandated operational readiness assessment of the B-1B, known locally as "Dakota Challenge." After six months of hard work, under both peacetime and simulated wartime conditions, the 28 BW and Ellsworth, with extensive technical and logistical support from sister B-1 units at Grand Forks and Dyess Air Force Bases, passed the test "with flying colors"; and proved the B-1 to be a reliable and capable weapons system; the mainstay of America's heavy bomber fleet for years to come.

In 1995, the 99th Wing departed Ellsworth for a new assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, although a small contingent formerly attached to that wing remained behind to continue bomber tactics training and radar munitions scoring from a handful of dispersed detachments. The year also saw the inactivation of one of Ellsworth’s oldest units, the 77th Bomb Squadron. While the unit (as an administrative entity) departed to save Air Force dollars for development of new follow-on B-1 munitions, the organization’s aircraft remained at Ellsworth (in a flying reserve status) under the able care of its sister unit, the 37th Bomb Squadron.

A reversal of fortune occurred in early 1996 when, on 26 March, an announcement was made that the 77th Bomb Squadron would soon return to Ellsworth. On 1 April, the squadron again activated at Ellsworth as the geographically separated 34th Bomb Squadron completed its transfer to its new home with the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. By June 1998, the 77th had six of its B-1Bs out of the reconstitution reserve. This number balanced those lost by the 34th BS.

In March 1999, the Air Force announced a reorganization plan that makes Ellsworth AFB and the 28 BW partners in the new Expeditionary Air Force (EAF) concept, now know as the Air & Space Expeditionary Force (AEF). The 28 BW was named a lead wing in the EAF, which enabled the 77 BS to gain six additional B-1Bs, and Ellsworth AFB to gain approximately 100 additional military personnel. The expeditionary force construct enables the Air Force to respond quickly to any worldwide crisis while making life more predictable for military members.

The summer of 2007 marked the last time that Ellsworth hosted a college/university level Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Field Training (FT) encampment. All college AFROTC FT encampments were subsequently consolidated at the Air Force Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Operation Allied Force

It wasn’t long before Ellsworth and the 28th Bomb Wing were taking the lead in the AEF concept. Five B-1Bs from the 28th Bomb Wing joined NATO forces in Operation Allied Force and began striking military targets in Kosovo on April 1, 1999. By the end of the conflict in June 1999, B-1Bs from Ellsworth flew 100 combat missions and dropped over 1,260 tons of Mk-82 general-purpose bombs.

Operation Enduring Freedom

A B-1B Lancer takes off from Ellsworth AFB in front of the control tower and radar.

After the events of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ellsworth deployed a number of B-1s in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Aircraft from the 37th BS at Ellsworth AFB joined additional B-1s from the 34th BS at Mountain Home AFB and formed the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. This squadron, along with other elements from Ellsworth, deployed to Diego Garcia and joined the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing. Their combat mission effectiveness was greater than 95% and they flew 5% of the total strike aircraft missions. They dropped 39% of the total tonnage of bombs, which was more than any other platform. During their deployment the 28th EBS dropped 2,974 JDAMs, 1,471 Mk-82, 135 Mk-84, and 70 CBU-87 bombs. Currently, the 28th Bomb Wing and personnel from Ellsworth Air Force Base continue to be the lead wing for AEF 8, and Ellsworth personnel continue to prepare for ongoing deployments in support of operations around the globe.

34th BS replaces the 77th BS

34th Bomb Squadron Patch

On 19 September 2001 the 34th Bomb Squadron rejoined the Ellsworth team and arrived from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. Due to a drawdown in the number of active B-1B aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the 77th BS at Ellsworth was deactivated and the "Thunderbirds" of the 34th BS were moved to Ellsworth to take their place.

Base Realignment and Closure

During the 2004 Senate race in South Dakota, Republican challenger John Thune made Ellsworth a campaign issue, stating in an April 16, 2004 appearance at the base that if he were elected over incumbent Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle: “It puts Ellsworth in a lot stronger position than having someone who's going to be in the minority and someone who doesn't have a relationship with the President of the U.S.” In a debate between the two men broadcast on KSFY-TV and KOTA-TV television on October 17, 2004, Thune said: "I think we have got to have somebody that has a relationship with the President of the United States, can work constructively across party lines in the Congress to get this done if we're going save Ellsworth" and was later quoted in the "Rapid City Journal" newspaper on October 27, 2004 claiming that: "an all-Democratic congressional delegation would have little political influence if President Bush is elected to a second term.”

In campaigning in South Dakota for Thune, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on May 24, 2004 said of Daschle: "Who is the president going to listen to more? The majority leader of the Senate, who he works with on almost a daily basis, or a senator from another party who every day is saying things on the floor that demonstrate a lack of support?" also adding: “This time around, the President is appointing who's on that BRAC commission, all of them."

Thune defeated Daschle with 51% of the vote in the election and President Bush was elected to a second term. Nevertheless, on May 13, 2005, the Department of Defense recommended that Ellsworth Air Force Base be closed. Thune in protest stated he would vote against confirmation of the President's nominee for United Nations Ambassador, John Bolton.

On August 26, 2005 the nine-member BRAC commission voted 8-1 to spare Ellsworth from the closure list. Commissioner Harold Gehman said, "We have no savings, we're essentially moving the airplanes from one very, very good base to another very, very good base, which are essentially equal." Senator Thune called the move a good, nonpolitical decision.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 1.9 mi² (4.9 km², all land.


As of the census[4] of 2000, there were 4,165 people, 1,056 households, and 991 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 2,217.8/ mi² (855.4/ km²). There were 1,076 housing units at an average density of 573.0/ mi² (221.0/ km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 82.21% White, 6.65% Black or African American, 0.91% Native American, 2.28% Asian, 0.29% Pacific Islander, 2.57% from other races, and 5.09% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.63% of the population.

There were 1,056 households out of which 74.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 86.6% were married couples living together, 4.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 6.1% were non-families. 4.5% of all households were made up of individuals, none of whom were 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.41 and the average family size was 3.51.

In the CDP the population was spread out with 36.4% under the age of 18, 24.7% from 18 to 24, 36.3% from 25 to 44, 2.4% from 45 to 64, and 0.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22 years. For every 100 females there were 119.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 131.0 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $31,919, and the median income for a family was $31,941. Males have a median income of $20,721 versus $15,238 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $11,362. About 3.4% of the population and 4.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.9% of those under the age of 18 and none of those 65 and older.

Nearby Installations

The nearest major military installations to Ellsworth are F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Minot AFB in Minot, North Dakota, both over 200 mi (300 km) away.

Smaller installations include Camp Rapid in Rapid City, which serves as the headquarters for the South Dakota National Guard. The 114th Fighter Wing (114 FW), an Air Combat Command-gained unit of the South Dakota Air National Guard flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is located at Sioux Falls Regional Airport / Joe Foss Field Air National Guard Station in Sioux Falls. The South Dakota Army National Guard also operates the South Dakota Military Academy located at Fort Meade, South Dakota, approximately 20 miles (32 km) NNW of Ellsworth AFB.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "Ellsworth Air Force Base".

  • 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.
  • Mueller, Robert, Air Force Bases Volume I, Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982, Office of Air Force History, 1989
  • Ellsworth AFB history

External links


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