Air Force Bases

Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota

Location: Located 16 miles west of Grand Forks, ND, about 275 miles northwest of Minneapolis, MN.

Origin of current name: Named after a city in North Dakota.

Date current name was assigned to base: December 1, 1955

Date Established: August 20, 1956

Date Occupied: January 28, 1957

Construction Began: September 1, 1955

Changes in Capability: Base operations building, control tower, storage tanks, and jet fuel facilities completed July 31st 1957; fighter base, 1957-1961; hangars, base headquarters building, and first runway completed December 31st 1957; SAGE building accepted March 15th 1958; 150 Minuteman II missile sites and 15 launch control facilities installed January 1965-January 1966, replaced by 150 Minuteman III missiles in 1974; 744-unit Capehart housing project completed June 15th 1965; 200-man dormitory and 300-unity trailer park occupied July 1966; assembly-surveillance-inspection facility completed August 7th 1970; nuclear storage maintenance buildings accepted February 1971; facilities for remote alert tour aircraft completed January 1973; 164-unit Capehart housing project completed spring 1982; facilities for air launched cruise missiles completed fall 1983.


During the early 1950s, as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union continued, the US Air Force announced plans to build an Air Defense Command (ADC) fighter-interceptor base in eastern North Dakota. The Defense Department chose Grand Forks as the site for the new installation in 1954. The citizens of Grand Forks donated money toward the purchase of 5,400-acres of land 15 miles west of the city. Contractors began construction of the base with grubbing operations for the 12,350-foot runway on 5 February 1956. During that same month, the Air Force announced it would build up Grand Forks AFB to support Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers and tankers as well as ADC fighter-interceptors.

On 8 February 1957, the ADC activated the 478th Fighter Group (FG) at Grand Forks. This unit would serve as the host unit for a fighter-interceptor squadron, an air defense sector operation, and SAC units. In December 1957, the US Air Force activated the Grand Forks Air Defense Sector of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The sector became operational with the semi-automatic ground environment (SAGE) system on 15 December 1959. The Grand Forks Air Defense Sector covered the air space of three US states and one Canadian province.

In the meantime, SAC activated the 4133d Strategic Wing (Provisional) as a tenant unit at Grand Forks AFB on 1 September 1958. The command expected to equip the unit with bombers and tankers within a few years.

In 1960, the Air Force stationed the first flying units at Grand Forks AFB. Strategic Air Command organized the 905th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) (Heavy) at Grand Forks on 1 February 1960. The 905 ARS acquired its first KC-135A Stratotanker on 6 May 1960. Earlier that same week, on 1 May, ADC transferred the 18th Fighter- Interceptor Squadron (FIS) and its F-101B Voodoos, from Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan, to Grand Forks. On 28 December 1960, ADC activated the 478th Fighter Wing (FW) (Air Defense) at Grand Forks, replacing the 478th Fighter Group. Besides operating the base, the 478 FW controlled the F-101 operations of the 18 FIS.

On 1 January 1962, SAC transferred the 30th Bombardment Squadron (BMS) (Heavy) from Homestead AFB, Florida, to Grand Forks, assigning it to the 4133d Strategic Wing. The 30 BMS acquired its first B-52H Stratofortress on 29 April 1962.

On 1 February 1963, SAC organized the 319th Bombardment Wing (BMW) (Heavy) at Grand Forks AFB. The 319 BMW replaced the inactivated 4133d Strategic Wing. Strategic Air Command assigned the 905 ARS and newly organized 46th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), equipped with B-52H bombers, to the 319 BMW. The 30th Bomb Squadron was inactivated that same day and ADC turned command and control of Grand Forks AFB over to SAC. The Air Force also inactivated the Grand Forks Air Defense Sector and 478th Fighter Wing in 1963. Even so, the 18 FIS continued to operate from Grand Forks AFB. For a short time (1 July 1963 to 21 October 1964), the 319 BMW took over responsibilities as host unit at Grand Forks.

Numerous organizational changes occurred at Grand Forks in 1964. Strategic Air Command activated the 804th Combat Support Group to assume duties as the host unit on 19 August, besides stationing the 4th Air Division (later, Strategic Aerospace Division) at Grand Forks on 1 September. Two months later, on 1 November, the command organized the 321st Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) while construction began on a Minuteman II missile complex. The 321 SMW became operational with the Minuteman II in December 1966.

Grand Forks experienced several major changes during 1971 to 1973. The Aerospace Defense Command inactivated the 18 FIS on 15 April 1971. In its place, the command stationed the 460th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Grand Forks on 30 July 1971. The squadron kept F-106 Delta Darts on alert at Grand Forks. Meanwhile, SAC transferred the 4th Strategic Aerospace Division to Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, on 30 June 1971. The command tasked the 321 SMW to assume command over the 804th Combat Support Group and host unit responsibilities on 1 July 1971. The 804th Combat Support Group was inactivated on 31 July 1972. During this period construction began for the 321 SMW to upgrade to Minuteman IIIs, a project that was completed on 8 March 1973.

In 1974, the 460 FIS captured first place at the William Tell Air-to-Air Competition in Florida. Shortly afterward, the ADC inactivated the squadron as part of a major restructuring of its air defense system.

The 1980s brought further changes to Grand Forks AFB. In 1983, the 319 BMW swapped its B-52H for B-52G bombers. This modification updated the offensive avionics system on the aircraft. On 4 December 1986 the B-52Gs left Grand Forks. In 1987 Grand Forks AFB converted to the B-lB Lancer. On 16 June 1988, SAC stationed the 42d Air Division at Grand Forks AFB, making it the host support unit, instead of the 321 SMW.

In 1991, SAC again made significant organizational changes at Grand Forks. It inactivated the 42d Air Division on 9 July, appointing the 319 BMW as the host unit. Additionally, the command redesignated the 319th Bombardment Wing as the 319th Wing and the 321st Strategic Missile Wing as the 321st Missile Wing on 1 September.

On 1 June 1992, the Air Force inactivated SAC and reassigned Grand Forks AFB to the newly established Air Combat Command (ACC). The 319th Wing was redesignated as the 319th Bomb Wing since its KC-135R tankers were reassigned to the 305th Air Refueling Wing, belonging to Air Mobility Command (AMC), at Grissom AFB, Indiana. Although part of the 305th, the 905 ARS continued to operate from Grand Forks AFB. Again, physically remaining at Grand Forks, the 905 ARS was reassigned to the 43d Air Refueling Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, on 1 July 1993.

As part of the restructuring process, the Air Force reassigned the 321st Missile Wing from ACC to Air Force Space Command on 1 July 1993. The command redesignated the wing as the 321st Missile Group (MG) on 1 July 1994. Meanwhile, on 1 October 1993, the Air Force redesignated the 319th Bomb Wing as the 319th Air Refueling Wing (ARW), and reassigned it to AMC. At the same time, the 905 ARS was reassigned to the 319 ARW and the 46th Bomb Squadron joined the newly activated 319th Bomb Group, an ACC unit. Completing the restructuring of Grand Forks AFB, the Air Force assigned the 906th, 911th and 912th Air Refueling Squadrons to the 319 ARW in 1994.

Ending an era of over 30 years of heavy bomber operations at Grand Forks, the last B-1B Lancer departed the base on 26 May 1994. Air Combat Command inactivated the 319th Bomb Group on 16 July 1994. Additionally, in 1995, the Air Force announced it would remove the 150 Minuteman III missiles from the Grand Forks AFB missile field and inactivate the 321 MG.

The most memorable event during 1997 for the base was weather related. The 1996- 97 winter was particularly harsh even by North Dakotan standards. Record numbers of blizzards dumped a corresponding record amount of snow on Grand Forks AFB and the surrounding communities, culminating in the spring with the worst flood in recorded history for the region. Members, from both the 321 MG and 319 ARW, stationed at Grand Forks AFB were instrumental in protecting the city from rising waters and sheltering victims when the rising river finally burst its banks.

On 2 July 1998, the 321 MG inactivated. All the Minuteman III missiles were shipped to other locations and the silos placed in caretaker status. On 6 October 1999, the missile silos began to be imploded as required by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). On 24 August 2001, the last missile silo implosion by the US, in accordance with the START treaty, occurred. One silo was sealed up and placed in caretaker status pending transfer to the State of North Dakota as a historical exhibit. After all silos but the one were imploded, Grand Forks AFB became a Formerly Declared Facility under the START treaty in 2002.

History of the Minuteman at Grand Forks can be found here.

History of the Safeguard ABM at Grand Forks can be found here.