Air Force Bases

Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico

World War II

What became Walker Air Force Base 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.

3030th AAF Base Unit

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 Bombadier School.

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.

Roswell POW Camp

In addition to the airfield, the Roswell POW camp was bulit 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.

468th Bombardment Group

The 468th Bombardment Group arrived at Roswell on 12 January 1946 from West Field, Tinian. The group was assigned to Roswell until the group's deactivation on 31 March 1946. During the stay the unit was equipped with B-29s.

USAF / SAC Use

Republic P/F-84C-6-RE Thunderjet Serial 47-1479 of the 33d Fighter Wing - 1948

The Army Air Corps utilized the airfield until June 1947, when it was transferred to the newly-created Department of the Air Force, thereafter known as Walker Air Force Base, named after General Kenneth Newton Walker, who was killed during a bombing mission over Rabaul on 5 January 1943.

33d Fighter Group/Wing

The 33d Fighter Group was assigned to Walker AFB on 25 August 1947, being transferred from West Germany after a year of occupation duty. Its mission at Walker was to provide strategic fighter escort/defense for SAC's bomber fleet.

Squadrons of the 33d at Walker were:

  • 59th Fighter Squadron (F-51,F-84)
  • 60th Fighter Squadron (F-51,F-84)

The Wing stayed until 16 November 1948 when it was transferred to Otis Air Force Base Massachusetts

509th Bombardment Group/Wing

Martin-Omaha B-29-40-MO Superfortress Serial 44-27353 of the 509th Bomb Wing - 1948. During World War II, 353 flew on both Atomic Bomb missions (6 August, 9 August) as an instrument aircraft monitoring the nuclear explosions.

The 509th Bomb Wing is one of the most famous wings in the Air Force.

In May 1946, the Army Air Forces gave the newly-formed Strategic Air Command the responsibility of delivering the atomic bomb. Only one of the command’s bombardment units, the 509th Composite Group was trained and ready for the atomic bomb mission. The 509th arrived at Roswell from its former combat base on Tinian in the Western Pacific on November 6, 1945.

On November 17, 1947, SAC (now a command of the United States Air Force) activated the 509th Bombardment Wing at Roswell and assigned the group as the combat component of the wing, with the lineage and honors of the group also bestowed on the wing.

Squadrons assigned to the 509th at Roswell/Walker were:

  • 393d Bombardment: 17 Nov 1947 - 1 Jul 1958
  • 715th Bombardment: 17 Nov 1947 - 1 Jul 1958
  • 830th Bombardment: 17 Nov 1947 - 1 Jul 1958

On 19 July 1948 the 509th Air Refueling Squadron was added and the 661st Bomb Squadron arrived on 1 March 1959. The 661st was deactivated on 1 June 1962.

When the group arrived at Roswell, the wing flew B-29s. In June 1950, the 509th re-equipped with B-50s and KB-29s. 1955 brought a change to B-47Es and KC-97s. Refueling missions were flown initially with B-29M hose-type tankers and later with B/KB-29P boom-type tankers. The 509th was charged with strategic bombardment training and air refueling between 1949 and 1958, and deployed as a wing several times in the early 1950s, three times to England and once to Guam.

On 16 June 1958 the 509th BW was transferred to Pease AFB, New Hampshire. The 509th remained at Pease until September 30, 1990, when the base was deactivated, then was transferred on paper to Whiteman AFB, Missouri. Currently, the 509th flies the B-2 "Spirt" (Stealth) bomber from Whitman as the only B-2 wing in the USAF.

6th Bombardment Wing

Convair B-36F-5-CF (III) Peacemakers of the 6th Bomb Wing. Serial 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 was established on 20 December 1950 and was activated at Walker AFB on 2 January 1951. Along with the 509th BW they formed the SAC 47th Air Division which was activated on 1 February 1951 and was assigned to the Eighth Air Force.

Squadrons of the 6th BW at Walker were:

  • 24 Bombardment (later, 24 Strategic Reconnaissance): 2 Jan 1951 - 25 Jan 1967.
  • 39 Bombardment: attached 2 Jan 1951 - 15 Sep 1963.
  • 40 Bombardment: attached 2 Jan 1951 - 25 Jan 1967.
  • 6 Air Refueling: 3 Jan 1958 - 25 Jan 1967.
  • 310 Air Refueling: 25 Jun 1965 - 25 Jan 1967.
  • 579 Strategic Missile: 1 Sep 1961 - 25 Mar 1965 (See Below).
  • 4129 Combat Crew Training: 1 Aug 1959 - 15 Sep 1963.

Aircraft and missle types assigned to Walker were: B-29, 1951-1952; KB-29, 1951-1952; B-36, 1952-1957; B-52, 1957- 1967; Atlas, 1962-1965; KC-135, 1958-1967

Upon it's initial activation, the 6th BW flew the 3 squadrons of B-29 Superfortress. In August 1952, the unit received the new B-36 Peacemaker. The 6th BW would remain at Walker until its closure in 1967.

In 1957 the B-36s were replaced with B-52E Stratofortress aircraft.

The 6th BW conducted strategic bombardment training from activation in 1951 until 1 September 1959, with air refueling as additional mission in 1951-1952, and again from April 1958 until January 1967.

The Wing deployed to Andersen AFB, Guam, October 1955 – January 1956. Two bombardment squadrons (24th and 30th) joined the 4129th CCTS in Sep 1959, training B–52 and KC–135 crews, while 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, and on 5 September 1963 the other two bomb squadrons also regained tactical status. 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.

579th Strategic Missile Squadron

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 Cheves 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 1 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-l 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 after the Air Force removed the missiles from their silos. After being demilitarized, the former missle sites were reverted back to private ownership.

Closure

Within a year of the deactivation of the 579th SMS, the Air Force announced that Walker AFB would be closed. This occurred on 30 June 1967. The 6th BW became the 6th Strategic Wing and relocated to Eielson AFB, Alaska.

Walker AFB Today

As with many former military bases taken over for civilian use many of the former structures remain. In the case of the base hospital, the structure is now used to house the New Mexico Rehabilitation Center.

The departure of 5,000 military personnel and an additional 5,000 support personnel from a town of less than 50,000 people had a huge impact on the local economy. The former Air Force Base became the Roswell Industrial Air Center (RIAC).

The RIAC is home to a fireworks factory, a plastic manufacturer, a builder of buses, a candy manufacturer, aircraft repair and refurbishing companies, and the Roswell Municipal Airport.

A New Mexico National Guard facility also utilizes some of the buildings of Walker.

History of the Atlas at Walker can be found here.