Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
Origin of current name: Named in honor of Col Carl Benjamin Eielson (1897-1929), a pioneer National Guard and Alaskan bush pilot. In 1927 he became the first to pilot an airplane over the Artic Ocean and fly the 2,500-mile North Pole route from Alaska to Spitsbergen, Norway. Eielson died on November 9th 1929 in the crash of his single-engine Hamilton airplane during an attempt to rescue crewmen of the icebound US fur trading schooner Nanuk, off the Siberian North Cape.
Date current name was assigned to base: January 13, 1948
Previous Names: Mile 26 Satellite Field, December 15th 1943; Mile 26 Field, October 1st 1947.
Date Established: December 15, 1943
Date Occupied: September 20, 1943
Construction Began: August 25, 1943
Changes in Capability: Two parallel runways, each 6,625 feet, completed November 1944; minimal activity 1944-1947; 8,000-foot landing strip completed mid-1947; spur railroad line to Ladd AB completed mid-1947; winter training for unites temporarily assigned 1947-; 41 family housing units and base power plant completed November 1952; facilities to provide base with capability for staging SAC bomber and tanker operations constructed 1952-1955; new air terminal inaugurated November 18th 1960; support of SAC and ADC operations prompted construction for bombers, tankers, and reconnaissance aircraft during late 1960s and 1970s; new control tower opened May 29th 1976; phasing in of A-10s brought additional construction 1980-1981.
Changes in Status: Satellite of Ladd Field, July 10th 1943; standby status, September 1944; field "operationally closed," June 7th 1945; field opened, September 25th 1946; field became an independent station, October 1st 1947.
On June 7, 1943, the Western Defense Command ordered construction of a new airfield near present-day Ft Wainwright, then an Army airfield named after Major Arthur Ladd. Because of its hazard-free approaches and relatively flat terrain, surveyor reports indicated a site a little more than twenty miles southeast of Ladd Field to be the best in the vicinity for military aviation. The field would become known as "Mile 26" because of its proximity to a US Army Signal Corps telegraph station and a Richardson Highway milepost marker using the same designation.
A month later, contractors and civilian crews from Ladd Field started laying out the new airfield. Actual construction began on August 25, 1943. Crews built two parallel runways, 165 feet across and 6625 feet long. Other facilities included an operations building, housing for 108 officer and 330 enlisted personnel, and a ten-bed dispensary. The garrison and airfield totaled about 600 acres. Completed on October 17, 1944, the 14- month project cost about eight million dollars.
Operational uses of Mile 26 were few. Ladd Field served as the debarkation point for the Alaska-Siberia Ferry Route of the lend-lease program and was the hub of activity. Lend-lease aircraft would occasionally land at Mile 26, but there are no indications any lend-lease aircraft ever used the airfield to take off for Russia. Then when the war ended Mile 26 closed.
The base reopened in September 1946, once again as a satellite of Ladd Field. A year later, however, it moved from under the shadow of Ladd Field when the Alaskan Air Command assumed organizational control. Also in the fall of 1947, Colonel Jerome B. McCauley assumed duties as commander. The primary missions of Mile 26 were to support Arctic training for USAF tactical and strategic units, as well as defend the base itself.
Headquarters USAF General Order 2, dated January 13, 1948, redesignated Mile 26 as Eielson AFB. Slightly more than three months later, on April 1, the Eielson AFB Wing (Base Complement) was formed. The host-unit subsequently would be dubbed the Eielson AFB Bomb Wing, and finally, in January 1949, the 5010th Wing. Colonel John L. Nedwed, the third commander of the base since it fell under Alaskan Air Command fifteen months before, became the first to head the 5010th. For the next 34 years, the 5010th - alternately known as the Wing, Composite Wing, Air Base Wing, and lastly, Combat Support Group - served as host-unit at Eielson.
Construction boomed at Eielson AFB during the 1950s. Many of the facilities still in use today were built at that time - Amber Hall, Thunderdome, Base Exchange, Commissary, Gymnasium, Theater, Base Chapel, some of the schools and many of the dormitories, just to name a few.
In July 1960, the Strategic Air Command stationed the 4157th Combat Support Group (later Strategic Wing) at Eielson. The 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (6 SRW) replaced the 4157 SW in March 1967. The 6 SRW remained at Eielson AFB until 1992. Other significant tenant units at the base included the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS) "Pole Vaulters" and the 65th Fighter Squadron of World War II fame.
A new chapter for the base began October 1, 1981 when the 343d Composite Wing replaced the 5010th as Eielson's host unit. Flying squadrons assigned to the new wing included the 25th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) and the 18th Fighter Squadron (18 FS). The 25 TASS, at Eielson since 1971, flew O- 2A and OV-10 aircraft until its inactivation in 1989; the newly assigned 18 FS operated A-10s until converting to F-16s in 1991.
In 1984, the 343d Composite Wing was redesignated a Tactical Fighter Wing. Seven years later, in 1991, it was redesignated as the 343d Wing. Also that year, the 343d gained a second flying unit, the 11th Tactical Air Support Squadron, which flew OA-10s.
The 354th Fighter Wing replaced the 343d Wing on August 20, 1993. No personnel or equipment were affected by the change. Prior to its shutdown, the 343d was the oldest surviving air combat unit in Alaska, with a lineage dating back to the Aleutian Campaign. The 18 FS, whose history also dated back to World War II, remained active, but the 355th Fighter Squadron replaced the 11th TASS. Also changing names were the 3rd Fighter Training Squadron, which became the 353rd Fighter Squadron (later Combat Training Squadron). The 353 FS and 355 FS have long associations with the new host unit.
June 11, 1944 - An L-5 was the first aircraft to land at Mile 26.
August 1947 - Although his main objective was a look at Ladd Field, General Hap Arnold toured Mile 26 in anticipation of the arrival of operational units.
March 6, 1949 - The 375th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first operational squadron assigned to Eielson AFB.
February 21, 1951 - The 58th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium, Weather) replaced the 375th. The unit earned the nickname "Pole Vaulters" for their frequent trips over the North Pole. The unit primarily flew WB-29 aircraft however, it transitioned to WB-50 aircraft shortly before it inactivated in 1958.
September 7, 1951 - Three people died in a C-47 crash about five miles southeast of the base. It was the first fatal accident involving an aircraft assigned to Eielson.
January 11, 1952 - A C-47 crashed 40 miles southeast of Ft. Yukon village. The crash site was not found until July 1952. Evidence indicated at least two of the crewmembers survived the crash, but perished in the bitter cold. Captain Ernie Walker, a Special Services officer, was on board the aircraft. In November 1953, the newly built Eielson AFB theater was dedicated in honor of Captain Walker.
January 23, 1952 - Eielson AFB published its first base newspaper and held a base wide contest to name it. Two weeks later First Lieutenant Hal Pressman won the contest and the newspaper was named "Mile 26 Post." Over the years the name has changed to Eielson Friendly Times, Eielson Times, The Goldpanner, and to its current name Arctic Sentry.
January 25, 1952 - What was believed to be the biggest single- dormitory facility in the Air Force opened. Dubbed the 750-man barracks, the building would later be known as Ptarmigan Hall and in 1970, it was renamed Amber Hall.
July 1952 - Second Lieutenant Jean Mills was Eielson's first Woman in the Air Force (WAF). Lt Mills was assigned to the Food Services Squadron while at Eielson AFB.
December 12, 1952 - Eielson AFB officials approved plans to rename Boundary and First Avenues as Broadway and Flightline Avenues, respectively. Many other streets assumed the names we know them by today, including Kodiak, Arctic, Wabash, and Central.
May 29, 1954 - Former 8th Air Force Commander and World War II hero General Jimmy Doolittle visited Eielson.
September 25, 1953 - A 58 WRS WB-29 crashed just after takeoff two miles north of the base. Captain Charles F. Baker, a weather observer assigned to the unit was the only fatality.
August 30, 1954 - Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott dedicated the Baker Field House. Home to a well-equipped gymnasium and a variety of other offices, the $2.37 million facility was named after Captain Charles F. Baker.
August 1954 - The Eielson "Outlaws" - the name given to all base teams competing in downtown leagues - jumped out to a two- games-to-none lead against the Fairbanks Malamute-Redcaps, then dropped three straight to lose the North of the Range baseball league "World Series." The Outlaw's losses included two 9-8, extra inning decisions in games three and four. After a hiatus of many years, Eielson fielded an extra-mural baseball team again in 1995 - and again finished second in the post-season tournament.
January 1955 - During Operation Snowbird, First Lieutenant William Caffrey lost the canopy from his F-86 and his helmet at 32,000 feet. Still 100 miles from base, the 720th Fighter-Bomber Squadron pilot descended until he blacked out from lack of oxygen. After recovering consciousness, the radio-less flyer regained control of the aircraft, only to realize he didn't know where he was. He eventually found himself near Eielson, and landed the plane uneventfully. He suffered frostbite on his ears and hands.
November 29, 1955 - An F-84 crashed into Eielson family housing, killing fourteen. Seven of the victims were children, including the first triplet's known to be born in the Fairbanks area. Forty years later, the base dedicated its new Child Development Center to the children.
December 1955 -January 1956 - An F-100 and B-52 arrived for cold weather testing. In September 1956, an RB-47 arrived for a 190-day cold weather test. As the Air Force northern-most base (except for Ladd), Eielson would host a number of tests over the coming years, most recently the C-17 in 1994 and B-2 in 1996.
April 2, 1956 - Eielson AFB acquired two L-20 Beavers from Ladd Field to support operations at the Blair Lakes bombing range.
August 31, 1956 - A 58th Reconnaissance Squadron WB-50, recently dubbed the "Golden Heart" in honor of the city of Fairbanks, crashed into the Susitna River near Willow. All eleven aboard died.
June 29, 1956 - General Curtis LeMay toured Eielson.
December 2, 1956 - The Bob Hope Christmas show performed at the base. Joining Hope were Mickey Mantle, Mitzi Gaynor, Ginger Rogers, Jane Powell, and Les Brown, among others. Hope performed at Eielson three times in the 1950s.
Jan 17, 1957 - A WB-50 assigned to the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron crashed shortly after takeoff approximately three miles north of Eielson AFB. All 12 crewmembers were killed.
July 20, 1957 - Sixty years after his birth, Air Force officials, community and state dignitaries, and members of Carl Ben Eielson's family gathered at the base to dedicate a memorial to the fallen Arctic pilot. Originally located just outside the main gate, the memorial's present location is at Heritage Park.
September 9, 1958 - While flying as a relief navigator aboard an SC-47, Major Charles Pennell of Eielson's 11th Aviation Depot Squadron died in a crash at Elmendorf. Pennell Elementary School would later be named after him.
September 11, 1958 - Screen star Mary Martin entertained Eielson personnel. Three months later, the Harlem Globetrotters performed.
February 1, 1959 - Captain Perry Amidon, suspecting the aircraft he was in to be out of control, ejected from the B-58 Hustler at 24,000 feet. The aircraft's pilot thought otherwise, however, and landed the plane at Eielson a few minutes later. The uninjured Captain Amidon, flew back to base about an hour later in a helicopter.
September 18, 1959 - The base dedicated Taylor Junior High School in honor of Airman Second Class Shelby C. Taylor, who died trying to free a co-worker from a power line at Quarry and Ski Lodge Roads. His work-mate was also killed.
February 27, 1963 - Airman Second Class and air policeman Roy L. Hursey was killed at his post when a KC-135 from Castle Air Force base plowed through the entry control building and exploded. Air Force officials later speculated that had the explosion taken place fifty feet to either side of the building, it would not have been seriously damaged. The building would later be named after Hursey.
April 21, 1964 - A WB-47 belonging to Detachment 1 of the 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron crashed on takeoff. Three of the five crewmembers died in the accident.
September 30, 1965 - An Eielson helicopter crew rescued two Baptist ministers after their light plane crashed between Nome and Moses Point. Throughout the 1960s, Eielson crews averaged several rescues each year.
November 17, 1967 - The quick response of the 5010th Combat Support Group to the Chena River flood (12-21 August 1967) and the subsequent help provided to Fairbanks and other communities led to the 5010th's third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
June 5, 1969 - A Rivet Amber RC-135 assigned to Eielson crashed in the Bering Sea minutes after leaving Shemya Air Force Base. Nineteen crewmembers died. Amber Hall, the headquarters building at Eielson, was named for the crew a year later.
August 23, 1969 - Air Force officials, community and state dignitaries, and family members gathered to dedicate the re-built monument to Ben Eielson. The original monument was destroyed by the 1963 crash, which killed A2C Hursey. Among the guests at the rededication ceremony was Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, who provided the keynote speech.
July 8, 1971 - When Lieutenant Colonel James O. Swanson became commander of the reincarnated 25th Tactical Air Support Squadron, he had a borrowed desk, a telephone, and a promise for nine aircraft and accompanying personnel. It took two months to get the first O-2A "Mosquito," and the unit's complement of 14 officers and eight NCOs would not be complete until June 1972. Despite the inauspicious beginning, the arrival of the 25th marked a significant addition to the mission of EAFB - that of air strike control and liaison for ground units stationed in Alaska.
February 1974 - Captain Carol E. Primson became commander of the newly formed Women in the Air Force Squadron Section. Eielson was home to 18 female personnel.
June 4, 1974 - The rock group KISS performed at the Baker Field House. The London-based group Savoy Brown headlined the event, alternately described as the area's "first big taste of the multi-million dollar rock industry" and "the most spectacular concert ever held in Alaska."
August 16, 1974 - The Comptroller released a study noting a twenty to thirty percent increase in housing costs in the Fairbanks area since pipeline construction began in May 1973. The report anticipated a continuing rise through 1977, when the pipeline was scheduled to be complete.
September 4, 1974 - Eielson and Elmendorf began receiving mail through regular US Mail service. Previously, the Alaskan bases used military post offices (APOs).
December 9. 1974 - An O-2A, assigned to the 25th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Eielson AFB, crashed while on a routine training mission on the Fort Greeley training area near Delta Junction. The pilot and co-pilot were both killed.
March 9, 1975 - A plan to consolidate the officer and enlisted clubs was voted down by members of both clubs. Twenty years later, fiscal realities led to the clubs' merger at the site of the officer's club.
May 1975 - Workers began construction of the Alaska Pipeline on Eielson AFB.
November 29, 1975 - President Gerald R. Ford stopped at Eielson en route to China. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger accompanied Ford, only the second President to visit Interior Alaska and the first to tour Eielson.
December 7, 1975 - All crewmembers died when a KC-135 assigned to Plattsburgh AFB in New York crashed after takeoff from Eielson.
January 15, 1976 - Air Force General George S. Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Eielson. Brown was observing "Jack Frost Ô76," an exercise featuring over 14,000 personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard.
June 18-19, 1976 - Eielson hosted the 1976 Alaska Special Olympics.
February 1977 - Cold weather testing of the A-10 aircraft took place through the end of the month. As part of the test, the aircraft participated in the "Jack Frost" exercise also hosted by the base.
July 8, 1977 - Eielson firefighting, medical, and support personnel responded quickly to explosions and fire at Alaska pipeline Pump Station 8.
January 1979 - The base instituted a policy requiring that personnel reimburse the government for parkas lost through "simple negligence," such as leaving it unsecured on a chair or rack. Some personnel took to chaining and padlocking their parkas to coat racks.
January 12, 1979 - Five-hundred Eielsonites braved sub-zero temperatures to view the Air Force' newest aircraft, the as yet unnamed F-16. It was here for cold weather testing.
March 27, 1979 - Paul Airey, the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, spoke at the chartering ceremony for the Last Frontier chapter of the Air Force Sergeant's Association.
March 15, 1981 - An RC-135 assigned to the 6th Strategic Wing crashed while attempting to land at Shemya Air Force Station, Alaska. Five crewmembers died as result of the crash.
October 1, 1981 - The 343d Composite Wing replaced the 5010th Combat Support Group as Eielson's host unit.
February 27, 1985 - An RC-135 belonging to Eielson's 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing crashed near Valdez, killing all three aboard. Exactly one month later, a 25th TASS pilot died while flying an Air Warrior mission in California.
October 25, 1986 - The 168th Air Refueling Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard activated at Eielson. Later elevated to Group status, the 168th flew KC-135 aircraft. As the only Arctic-based tanker group in PACAF, the 168th transfers more fuel than any other ANG refueling unit. It often participates in COPE THUNDER exercises. In 1994, the 168th boasted over 700 full and part time guardsmen. Although the 168th has only been active since 1986, KC-135s have been assigned to Eielson AFB for over 35 years.
November 21, 1988 - PACAF Commander General Merrill A. McPeak (became the Air Force Chief of Staff a few years later) visited Eielson AFB. Ironically, one of the policies he would implement few years later during his tenure as CSAF would impact Eielson's host unit.
June 17-28, 1991 - Pacific Air Forces premier flying training exercise, COPE THUNDER, came to Eielson. The eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippine Island prompted the move; the subsequent closing of Clark AB, COPE THUNDER's home since 1976, brought the exercise to Alaska permanently.
August 20, 1993 - The 354th Fighter Wing became the host-unit at Eielson AFB when the 343d Wing inactivated. General McPeak ordered the change as part of a service-wide effort to preserve the lineage of the Air Force's most honored wings.
March 20-26, 1994 - Eielson hosted Arctic SAREX 94, a joint search-and-rescue exercise featuring US, Canadian, and Russian personnel. The first exercise of its kind in the US, Arctic SAREX tested the interoperability of the participants SAR units, as well as established military-to-military contacts among the three countries.
July 15, 1994 - Colonel Ronald E. Keys was promoted to Brigadier General, becoming the first of his rank to command Eielson AFB.
April 1995 - Eielson AFB leadership dedicated its newly constructed Child Development Center in honor of the seven children that died on 29 Nov 55 when an F-84 crashed into military family housing.
February 1996 - Eielson took possession of the first twelve Moose Lake Section "801" military family housing units. In October, French Creek units for enlisted members began to open up. Section 801 housing was privately owned, then leased back to the government. The first 801 housing in the Air Force were Eielson's "Cool Homes," constructed in 1986; the Moose Lake and French Creek homes were the last constructed under the provisions of Section 801 legislation.
March 1996 - Eielson hosted a B-2 for cold weather testing. The aircraft returned to Eielson in July for a ceremony where it received its name "The Spirit of Alaska."
January - March 1997 - The 355th Fighter Squadron deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy to support Operation DECISIVE EDGE, the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The deployment marked the first time an Eielson-based fighter unit deployed to a combat environment.
October - December 1998 - The wing deployed both flying squadrons to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait to support Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. While there, the 355 FS participated in Operation DESERT FOX, becoming the first Alaska-based unit to engage enemy targets since World War II.
March 1999 - Delegations from Japan and the Russian Far East Military district visited Eielson to observe Exercise NORTHERN EDGE activities.
August - December 1999 - The 355 FS deployed to Southwest Asia for a 90-day rotation in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.
July 20, 2000 - Eielson AFB celebrated the grand opening of Heritage Park. Members of the Iceman Team also celebrated the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Carl Ben Eielson.
September - December 2000 - Aircraft and personnel from the 18 FS deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey in support of Operation NORTHERN WATCH.
July 25, 2001 - While participating in a COPE THUNDER exercise a Royal Air Force Jaguar crashed, killing the pilot, east of Eielson in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
December 2001 - March 2002 - The 18 FS deployed to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait in support of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and ENDURING FREEDOM. The unit flew over 3,200 hours in just three months.
Carl Ben Eielson
Born in Hatton, North Dakota in 1897, Eielson served in World War I in the US Army Signal Corps' aviation section. A month before he was to depart for France, the war ended. He earned Second Lieutenant bars in March 1919, and was discharged the same day.
For several years thereafter, Eielson alternated between barnstorming and college life. He dropped both, temporarily it turned out, and in 1922 moved to Fairbanks to teach high school. Aviation continued to beckon, however; that same year he became the sole pilot for the North Aviation Company, an enterprise he and several local businessmen founded. After obtaining a surplus Army aircraft in the United States, Eielson soon began making regular commercial flights frosupplies, mail, and passengers.
In 1924, the Company received a postal contract from the government. After a crash, it was canceled, and Eielson returned to the military. He served at Langley Field for most of 1925, before moving back to North Dakota and working as a bond salesman.
Arctic aviator Hubert Wilkins gave the erstwhile aviator another chance in late 1925, when he asked Eielson to pilot an expedition across the North Pole. After two unsuccessful attempts in 1926 and 1927, the pair succeeded in 1928, flying from Barrow, Alaska to Spitzbergen Island north of Norway. It was the first flight from North America to Europe over the North Pole. As such, it brought Eielson lasting fame. The feat earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the 1928 Harmon Trophy for the greatest aviation exploit of the year. Later in 1928, Eielson would also fly in Antarctica with Wilkins.
Eielson returned to Fairbanks in early 1929 and helped found Alaska Airways Incorporated. He died on November 9, 1929 while flying across the Bering Strait to Siberia, during an attempt to bring supplies to an ice-bound ship, the Nanuk. An international team of rescuers did not locate the wreckage until January 1930. Eielson is buried in North Dakota.