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Walker Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png

Part of Strategic Air Command
Located near: Roswell, New Mexico
Roswell-19oct1997.jpg
USGS 1997 Aerial Photo
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 33°18′06″N 104°31′50″W / 33.30167°N 104.53056°W / 33.30167; -104.53056
Built 1941
In use 1941-1967
Walker AFB is located in New Mexico
Walker AFB
Location of Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Roswell International Air Center

Walker Air Force Base was the largest Strategic Air Command base of the United States Air Force at the time of its closure in 1967. It is located three miles (5 km) south of the central business district (CBD) of Roswell, a city in Chaves County, New Mexico, USA.

From 1941 to 1948, the facility was known as Roswell Army Air Field

It is also known for the Roswell UFO incident, an event that supposedly happened on July 4, 1947. It is alleged that a "flying disk" crashed during a severe thunderstorm near the base at Corona, New Mexico.

Contents

History

Walker AFB was named after General Kenneth Newton Walker, a native of Los Cerrillos, New Mexico. He was killed during a bombing mission over Rabaul, New Britain, Papua, New Guinea. on January 5, 1943. Though intercepted by enemy fighters, his group scored direct hits on nine Japanese ships. General Walker was last seen leaving the target area with one engine on fire and several fighters on his tail. For his actions, General Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943.

The base was renamed in his honor on January 13, 1948. Walker Hall, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, home of the College of Aerospace Doctrine Research and Education, is also named after the general.

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World War II

Enlisted men of Base Photo drawing cameras to go up in a Beechraft AT-11 on bomb-spotting missions at Roswell Army Flying School, Roswell, N.M.

What became Roswell Army Air Field was acquired by the United States Army Air Force in 1941 from rancher David Chesser for the purpose of establishing a Military Flying Training Center and Bombardier School.

The major unit at Roswell AAF was the 3030th AAF Base Unit (Pilot School, Specialized Very Heavy) which specialized in B-29 4 engine pilot training and bombardier training. Although there was a bombing target adjacent to the runway, the only items dropped from an aircraft were bags of sand or flour. The practice bombing and gunnery ranges were due south of the air field and on Matagorda Island along the Texas Gulf coast.

In addition to the airfield, the Roswell POW camp was built for up to 4800 Prisoners of War. Most of the POWs housed at the camp were German and Italian soldiers captured during the North African campaign. The POWs were actually used as construction laborers on local projects and many of Roswell's parks were built by POWs. The Spring River, which passes through downtown Roswell, was lined with concrete and stones using POW labor. The prisoners used stones of different colors to form an Iron Cross in the riverbed.

Cold War

509th Bombardment Wing

Martin-Omaha B-29-40-MO Superfortress AAF Serial No. 44-27353 The Great Artiste assigned to Crew C-15, 393rd Bombardment Squadron of the 509th Bomb Group. This aircraft was converted to Silverplate Victor number 89. This aircraft flew on both Atomic Bomb missions (6 August, 9 August 1945) as an instrument aircraft monitoring the nuclear explosions.

The 509th Composite Group returned from its wartime base on Tinian and relocated to Roswell in November 1945. The Group was assigned to Strategic Air Command on March 21, 1946, being one of the first eleven organizations assigned to SAC. At the time SAC was formed, the 509th Composite Group was the only unit to have experience with nuclear weapons and thus is regarded by many historians as the foundation on which SAC was built.

In April 1946 many of the group's Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft deployed to Kwajalein as part of Operation Crossroads, a series of atomic bomb tests. The remainder became the core of two new squadrons activated as part of the group, the 715th Bomb Squadron and the 830th Bomb Squadron. In May 1946, the Army Air Forces gave the newly-formed SAC the responsibility of delivering the atomic bomb. Only the 509th was trained and ready for the atomic bomb mission. Squadrons assigned to the 509th were:

On July 10, 1946, the group was renamed the 509th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy). With the creation of the United States Air Force as a separate service, the group became the combat component of the 509th Bombardment Wing on November 17, 1947, although it was not operational until September 14, 1948, when Colonel John D. Ryan was named commander.

The wing pioneered a new concept on June 30, 1948, when the 509th Air Refueling Squadron was activated as part of the 509th BW, along with the 43rd ARS at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, the first such unit ever created. With the addition of KB-29M tankers, the 509th's bombers could reach virtually any point on earth. The dawning of a new decade brought more changes to the wing.

In June 1950, it began receiving the upgraded version of the B-29, the Boeing B-50A Superfortress. When the huge Convair B-36 Peacemaker joined the Air Force inventory, the "Very Heavy" designation was dropped. The 509th - like all other B-29 and B-50 wings - was redesignated "Medium."

In January 1954, the Boeing KC-97 aerial tanker replaced the aging KB-29Ms, and the wing entered the jet age in June 1955 when it received the first all-jet bomber: the Boeing B-47 Stratojet.

On 16 June 1958 the 509th Bombardment Wing was transferred to Pease AFB, New Hampshire. The 509th is currently located at Whiteman AFB, Missouri where it operates the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

468th Bombardment Group

The 468th Bombardment Group arrived at Roswell on 12 January 1946 from West Field, Tinian. At Roswell the group exchanged aircraft and equipment with the 509th, with the lowest-hour and most reliable B-29 aircraft being transferred then being sent to Fort Worth, Texas for modification to Silverplate (Atomic Bomb-Capable) specifications. The balance of the aircraft were sent to storage at Davis-Monthan Arizona or Pyote Airfield Texas. The group was inactivated on 31 March 1946.

33d Fighter Group

Republic P/F-84C-6-RE Thunderjet AF Serial No. 47-1479 of the 33d Fighter Wing - 1948

The 33d Fighter Group was assigned to Roswell on 25 August 1947, being transferred from Bad Kissingen AB, West Germany after a year of occupation duty. Squadrons of the 33d at Roswell were:

The group was initially attached to the 509th Bombardment Group to perform fighter escort duties. SAC was founded by men who had flown bomb raids against Germany during World War II. They usually encountered swarms of enemy fighters and knew the importance of having fighter escorts. They didn't want to haggle with other commands to get fighters when needed, so they had fighter groups placed under their own operational control.

The group was redesignated as the 33d Fighter Wing on 15 October 1947. It remained at Roswell until 16 November 1948 when it was transferred to Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts.

6th Bombardment Wing

Convair B-36F-5-CF (III) Peacemakers of the 6th Bomb Wing. B-36F AF Ser. No. 49-2683 is in foreground. Each aircraft had a crew of 15 men, sixteen 20mm cannons in eight turrets, and carried a 43,500 lb. MK-17 Thermonuclear Weapon during EWO (Emergency War Order) operations.

The 6th Bombardment Wing, Medium was activated on 2 January 1951 at Walker AFB and was equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress. On 1 August 1951, the 307th Air Refueling Squadron was attached to the wing. It flew KB-29 tankers until deactivated 16 June 1952. The 6th, along with the 509th Bombardment Wing at Walker formed the SAC 47th Air Division until June 1958 with the reassignment of the 509th to Pease AFB.

However the three squadrons of wing (24th, 39th, 40th) were soon re-equipped with SAC's new heavy bomber, Convair B-36D Peacemaker and the unit was redesignated the 6th Bombardment Wing (Heavy).

The B-36D was essentially the final production model of the bomber, being equipped with two pairs of General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets in pods underneath the outer wings to assist the six R-4360-41 piston engines. The B-36D flew fairly well on just four or even three piston engines, so it was common practice to shut down some of the engines during cruise. The turbojets were normally used only for speed dashes over the target area or for takeoff. The 6th conducted strategic bombardment training with the aircraft, being deployed at Andersen AFB, Guam from October 1955 to January 1956.

The phaseout of the B-36 began in 1957, when the wing began receiving the new B-52E Stratofortress jet bomber. They were flown by its existing squadrons. The last of the B-36s departed Walker in 1958.

In September 1959, the 24th and 30th Bombardment Squadrons joined the newly assigned 4129th Combat Crew Training Squadron to train B-52 and KC-135 crews. The 40th Bombardment Squadron continued flying operational missions until 10 June 1960. From 10 June 1960 to 1 December 1961 the wing flew a few operational missions in a non-combat ready status. The 40th Squadron returned to operational status on 1 December 1961. The other two bomb squadrons regained tactical status on September 5, 1963. The 39th Squadron discontinued a few days later, but the 24th and 40th continued global bombardment training through December 1966, when they phased down for inactivation.

The 6th Air Refueling Squadron, flying early-model KC-135A aircraft, was assigned to Walker AFB from 3 January 1958. On 3 February 1960, a "short-tail" (non-hydraulic-power-assisted rudder) KC-135A crashed during takeoff in strong and gusty crosswinds. The pilot failed to maintain directional control, rotated the aircraft 5-10 knots too early and the aircraft settled onto the dirt apron of the runway, shed two engines, plowed through the aircraft parking area and came to rest in an aircraft hangar. This single crash resulted in the destruction of three KC-135 aircraft and the deaths of eight military personnel.

The wing was redesignated the 6th Strategic Aerospace Wing on 1 May 1962. On 25 June 1965, the 310th Air Refueling Squadron was attached to the wing. It flew KC-135A aircraft until the base was deactivated and the unit was moved to Plattsburgh AFB, NY on 25 January 1967.

579th Strategic Missile Squadron

579sms.jpg

In 1960, Atlas missile silos were constructed around the Roswell area. Reportedly, the first Atlas missile to arrive in Roswell received a welcoming parade. On 2 January 1961 579th Strategic Missile Squadron was activated as part of the 6 BW at Walker. New Mexico’s Governor Mecham gave the keynote speech at a Site 10 ceremony held on 31 October 1961, in which the first missile site was turned over to the Air Force.

Although Chaves County residents took patriotic pride in the news of the missile squadron’s arrival, Roswell residents submitted 10 permit requests for bomb shelters in October 1961 as construction went ahead.

The 579th SMS received its first missile on 24 January 1962. In April 1962, a completed liquid oxygen plant built at Walker AFB was turned over to the Air Force. The squadron completed missile installation approximately one month before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Roswell’s sites developed a notorious reputation due to three missile explosions. On 1 June 1963, launch complex 579-1 was destroyed during a propellant loading exercise. On 13 February 1964 an explosion occurred during another propellant loading exercise, destroying launch complex 579-5. Again, a month later, on 9 March 1964, silo 579-2 fell victim to another explosion that occurred during a propellant loading exercise.

Fortunately, these missiles were not mated with their warheads at the time of the incidents. The only injury reported was that of a crewman running into barbed wire as he fled a site.

The accidents at Walker and at other Atlas and Titan I sites accelerated the decision to deactivate these systems. On 25 March 1965 the 579 SMS was deactivated and the Air Force removed the missiles from their silos. After being demilitarized, the former missile sites were reverted back to private ownership.

Closure

In 1966, the Air Force announced that Walker AFB would be closed. This was during a round of base closings and consolidations as the Defense Department struggled to pay the expenses of the Vietnam War within the budgetary limits set by Congress. The 6th BW became the 6th Strategic Wing and was relocated to Eielson AFB, Alaska. The 6th Strategic Wing was later inactivated, but was subsequently reactivated in the 1990s at MacDill AFB, Florida. Initially redesignated as the 6th Air Base Wing, then the 6th Air Refueling Wing, it is now known as the 6th Air Mobility Wing operating KC-135R Stratotankers and C-37A Gulfstream Vs at MacDill.

Walker AFB was officially closed on 30 June 1967. It has since been redeveloped by civil authorities into the Roswell International Air Center.

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.
  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0912799536; 0160022614
  • Krauss, Robert (2005) The 509th Remembered: A History of the 509th Composite Group as Told by the Veterans Themselves, 509th Anniversary Reunion, Wichita, Kansas 509th Press ISBN 0923568662
  • Lloyd, Alwyn T. (2000), A Cold War Legacy, A Tribute to Strategic Air Command, 1946-1992, Pictorial Histories Publications ISBN 1575100525
  • Turner Publishing Company (1997), Strategic Air Command: The Story of the Strategic Air Command and Its People. Turner Publishing Company ISBN 1563112655
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present
  • ArmyAirForces.com
  • Strategic-Air-Command.com

External links


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