Eaker Air Force Base

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For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Arkansas International Airport.
Eaker Air Force Base
Blytheville Army Air Force Base
Blytheville Army Airfield

Shield Strategic Air Command.png Tactical Air Command Emblem.png

Part of Strategic Air Command/Tactical Air Command
Blytheville, Arkansas
Arkansas International Airport AR 2006 USGS.jpg
USGS 2006 airphoto
Eaker AFB is located in Arkansas
Eaker AFB
Eaker AFB
Coordinates 35°57′52″N 89°56′38″W / 35.96444°N 89.94389°W / 35.96444; -89.94389
Type Air Force Base
Site information
Controlled by 461st Bombardment Wing (196–1958)
97th Bombardment Wing (1959–1991)
Site history
Built 1942
In use 1942–1946, 1953–1992

Eaker Air Force Base (1942–1992) was a front-line United States Air Force base for over 40 years. It was located 3 miles (5 km) northwest of central Blytheville, Arkansas. It was closed as a military base in 1992 at the end of the Cold War pursuant to BRAC action and now operates as Arkansas International Airport.

The military still makes use of the Arkansas International Airport in flight training maneuvers, and as a landing site to pick up and drop off local Arkansas National Guard personnel.

Overview[edit]

Known for most of its operational life as Blytheville Army Airfield (1942–1946) or Blytheville Air Force Base (1953–1988), the facility was renamed Eaker Air Force Base on 26 May 1988, in honor of General Ira Eaker, an air pioneer and second commander of Eighth Air Force during World War II.

Eaker was the architect of a strategic bombing force that ultimately numbered forty groups of 60 heavy bombers each, supported by a subordinate fighter command of 1,500 aircraft, most of which was in place by the time he relinquished command of Eighth Air Force at the start of 1944.

During its operational lifetime the mission of Eaker Air Force Base was that of a training base during World War II and both a tactical as well as a strategic bomber base during the Cold War. After the Cold War, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 1991 commission recommended Eaker be closed in a cost-cutting move. The facility closed on 15 December 1992.

History[edit]

World War II[edit]

Oblique airphoto of Blytheville Army Airfield, looking from the southwest, about 1945
"BL"-coded Curtiss-Wright AT-9 in flight from Blytheville AAF

Blytheville Army Air Field was originally a 2,600-acre (11 km2) installation used by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II as a training airfield as part of the 70,000 Pilot Training Program. It was one of many air fields created in the country’s interior during the war. Airfield construction was that of an overlapping square design, with three large ramps for aircraft parking and two parallel N/S concrete runways; 5000x150(NE/SW), 5000x150(NW/SE).[1] In addition to the main airfield, four axillary fields were constructed to support the training mission. Those were located as follows

The initial USAAF unit at Blytheville was the 326th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, which organized the ground support units at the field.[2] Activated on 10 June 1942 for flight operations, the field was used as an advanced Twin-Engine flying school in the Army Air Forces Training Command Southeastern Training Command's pilot training program. Its students were pilots being trained to fly twin-engine medium bombers and also twin-engine C-47 Transports.[2] The 25th Twin-Engine Flying Training Group was activated at Blytheville on 25 June 1942 with four (700,701,702,703) training squadrons. Flying training commenced in the fall of 1942.[2] The main trainer used at Blytheville AAF was the Beechcraft AT-10 Wichita, along with some Curtiss-Wright AT-9s, Cessna AT-17 Bobcats, and some North American B-25 Mitchell trainers (designated as AT-24s). Planes from Blytheville were fuselage-coded "BL".[3]

In September 1943, facilities for instrument flying training were completed. Throughout 1944, Blytheville trained many female WASP pilots as B-25 co-pilots, and AT-10 pilots with TB-25 Mitchells.[2]

Training Command ended control of Blytheville on 16 June 1945, the facility being taken over by Continental Air Forces. The 809th Army Air Forces Base Unit assumed control of the station and the mission of Blytheville was changed to that of a troop carrier combat crew training facility with C-46 Commando and C-47 Skytrain aircraft. The flight school closed on 31 October 1945. after the war ended.[4]

In the immediate postwar era, the airfield was then used as a processing center for military personnel who were being discharged at a rapid rate as the country demobilized.[2] On 1 April 1946, the base was assigned to the new Tactical Air Command, however demobilization was rapidly reducing the size of the Army Air Force and the facility was officially closed on 15 August 1946; being turned over to the War Assets Administration (WAA) for disposal. Control of base and land was transferred to the city of Blytheville by the WAA.[2]

During the postwar era, the base was closed and generally unused. However the United States Air Force activated the reserve 387th Composite Squadron briefly in 1949.[5]

Tactical Air Command[edit]

Martin B-57B Night Intruder 52-1550.

As a result of the Cold War and the expansion of the United States Air Force, Blytheville Air Force Base was reopened on 10 June 1953. However a much needed construction program was begun at the former World War II training facilities to rehabilitate the wartime facilities into a permanent base. The wartime runways were removed and reduced to aggregate, being used in the construction of a 10,000-foot (3,000 m) main runway, capable of being used by the Air Force's largest aircraft.

Blytheville Air Force Base was officially christened as a single-mission base on 19 July 1955. It consumed 3,771 acres (15.26 km2) of area farmland, most of which had been used by the original air field; the rest was purchased from local farmers. The base was assigned to Tactical Air Command (TAC), and plans were made to make the base ready by the end of 1955, with operational status to be restored by mid-1956 with combat units assigned there. The 4431st Air Base Squadron was the initial host at the base as a "housekeeping" unit; the 764th Bombardment Squadron was moved to the base on 8 October 1955 from Hill Air Force Base, Utah equipped with Martin B-57B Canberra twin-engined tactical bombers to begin the base's operational use.

Enough construction was completed by the spring that on 8 April 1956, the full 461st Bombardment Wing was assigned to Blytheville from Hill, along with two more B-57 squadrons (765th, 766th). The mission of the 461st Bomb Wing was to provide training in air support of ground forces and air interdiction from lessons learned during the Korean War. However, a number of B-57Bs were lost in accidents, particularly during high-speed, low-level operations when aircraft suddenly and unexplainably dove into the ground. As these accidents persisted, all tactically-assigned B-57Bs were grounded in May 1956 for a period of four months while the problem was investigated. The fault was eventually traced to a faulty tailplane actuator which set the trim incorrectly. The installation of a new actuator switch cured the problem.

However, the USAF was not very happy with the B-57B as it was initially produced. It was still deemed to be inadequate to meet the night intruder and close support role for which it had originally been designed. The target acquisition system was inadequate, the navigational range was too short, and the radio navigation could not recover the aircraft after strikes. The armament was inadequate—the gun-bomb-rocket sight, the gun charging systems, and the external stores release mechanisms were all unreliable.

After three years of service with the B-57, the decision was made by TAC to phase out the B-57B in favor of supersonic F-100 Super Sabre aircraft. The wing turned in its aircraft to Air Materiel Command for disposition and the wing inactivated on 1 April 1958.

Strategic Air Command[edit]

Front gate sign, early 1960s

With the inactivation of the TAC 461st Bombardment Wing on 1 April 1958, Strategic Air Command (SAC) assumed control of Blytheville AFB. The provisional 4229th Air Base Squadron assumed operational control of the base and remained in charge until 1 July 1959, when the 97th Bombardment Wing took control, being moved from Biggs AFB, Texas. At Blytheville, the 97th was under the control of the SAC 42nd Air Division, Eighth Air Force with a mission to "provide command and staff supervision over assigned combat tactical units that execute bombardment missions designed to destroy enemy forces and facilities."

Official dedication ceremonies were held on 10 January 1960, with the arrival of the 97th BMW's first B-52G Stratofortress, The City of Blytheville, being assigned to the wing's 340th Bombardment Squadron. In addition to the B-52G, the base also housed the KC-135A Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft beginning in October 1961 with the activation of the 914th Air Refueling Squadron. The aerial refueling capability of the KC-135s extended the range of the wing's B-52s. Along with refueling the B-52s on training missions, the tankers participated in an ongoing command-wide rotation to bases in Southern Europe to support CHROME DOME bombers.

The 97th BMW earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (AFOUA) for activities during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. On 22 October SAC responded by establishing Defense Condition Three (DEFCON III), and ordered the 97th to place two B-52s on airborne alert. Tension grew and the next day SAC declared DEFCON II, a heightened state of alarm. While at DEFCON II the 97th maintained two B-52s on airborne alert. One of the 97th's bombers carried AGM-28 Hound Dog and ADM-20 Quail missiles, the other carried nuclear and conventional ordnance. No missions were aborted or canceled during the crisis. The 97th and other units deployed KC-135 tankers to Zaragoza Air Base, Spain to refuel the alert force. Reconnaissance photographs taken on 1 November 1962 indicated that the Soviets had begun dismantling the SS-4 IRBM missile sites in Cuba. The wing returned to DEFCON III on the 15th and subsequently resumed normal activity on 20 November.

97th Bomb Wing B-52G and KC-135A from a Blytheville AFB postcard made in the early 1960s

During the Vietnam War, the wing supported SAC's combat operations in Southeast Asia. Its involvement began on 14 December 1965 when the wing sent one KC-135 to participate in YOUNG TIGER, the operation to refuel fighters involved in the conflict. At first, the wing's B-52Gs remained at Blytheville while bomber crews went to Guam to fly ARC LIGHT bombing missions. However, by the summer of 1972 all the 97th's bombers were at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, detached to the 72d Strategic Wing (Provisional).

From Andersen, wing crews flew LINEBACKER II (sometimes called the "11-Day War" because of its intensity) missions in December 1972. On 18 December 1972 Hanoi's air defenses claimed the lives of nine crew members during this operation, while North Vietnamese ground forces captured another four and held them as prisoners of war. On 15 August 1973, after months of committing most of the wing's people and resources to the conflict, crew E-21 had the distinction of flying the last mission over a target in Cambodia. This marked the end of the United States' bombing in Southeast Asia.

After the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War ended, the 97th resumed its bomber training and refueling missions while it continued to participate in contingency operations and assume new roles. Tanker crews and aircraft refueled other Air Force units supporting the rescue of American citizens in Grenada in October and November 1983. In 1984 the wing upgraded its B-52G force to carry the AGM-86B air launched cruise missile (ALCM). The wing further expanded its mission in 1987 to include conventional bombing, sea search and surveillance, and aerial mining.

In 1988, the installation was renamed as Eaker AFB.

After August 1990, the 97th began practicing for missions overseas in the Middle East as a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In late December, 97th Bombardment Wing B-52 crews practiced high altitude bombing missions at the Nellis AFB test range in Nevada, anticipating their role in the inevitable war to come.

On 1 February 1991 major elements of the 97th deployed to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, forming the 806th Bombardment Wing (Provisional). At Fairford, the Wing participated as part of the expeditionary unit during Operation Desert Storm, executing multiple KC-135 air refueling missions in the region and B-52 strike missions over Iraq and Kuwait. The wing conducted over 60 conventional bombing sorties and many air-refueling sorties. Tragically, the only B-52 lost during the Gulf War was from Eaker AFB. It was not shot down but went down in the Indian Ocean due to a mechanical failure. Aircraft and personnel returned to Eaker AFB by mid-1991.

Closure[edit]

Eaker Air Force Base topped the Strategic Air Command’s list of base closures in 1991. The Cold War was coming to an end, U.S. defense spending was declining, and the U.S. Air Force, under the provisions of the START I treaty, began retiring the B-52G model of the Stratofortress, the housing and launching of which was the single mission of the base.

Official closure of Eaker Air Force Base was announced in 1991, and on 6 March 1992, the last aircraft, The City of Blytheville, left the base. With the disestablishment of Strategic Air Command in the summer of 1992, claiamcy of Eaker AFB briefly shifted to the newly established Air Combat Command (ACC). The official closure ceremony for Eaker AFB was held on 15 December 1992, and the transition from military to civilian, general aviation airport began.

Current uses[edit]

Bunkers at the base, now used as distribution warehouses

For a short period of time it was in the hands of USA FLORAL. In December 1998 USA FLORAL leased the former Eaker Air Force Base to become a distribution facility. They said "We plan to use this facility not only as a distribution center for our North American Wholesale Distribution operations but also as a production hub where we will process incoming flowers (i.e., break bulk, hydrate, re-cut stems and re-package to suit customer demand) to facilitate distribution of flowers and hardgoods to retail florists, mass-market retailers, wholesale distributors and Internet- based marketers throughout North America." USA FLORAL went out of business soon after.

Over the years, the facility has grown from a general aviation airport to the Arkansas International Airport and the adjacent Arkansas Aeroplex industrial park.

Previous names[edit]

  • Blytheville Army Airfield, 1942-1948
  • Blytheville Air Force Base, 1948-1988
  • Eaker Air Force Base, 1988-1992

Major commands to which assigned[edit]

Emblem of the 461st Bombardment Wing, 1956-1958
Emblem of the 97th Bombardment Wing, 1959-1992
Redesignated Strategic Air Command, 21 March 1946 – 1 April 1946

Major units assigned[edit]

  • 25th Twin Engine Flying Training Group, 25 July 1942 – 29 February 1944
  • Army Air Force Pilot School, 3 May 1942 – 31 May 1945
  • 211th Army Air Force Base Unit, 1 May 1944 – 15 June 1945
  • 809th Army Air Force Base Unit, 16 June 1945 – 31 March 1946
  • 334th Army Air Force Base Unit, 1 April 1946 – 25 November 1946
Redesignated: 97th Wing, 1 September 1991 – 1 April 1992

Major aircraft assigned[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Military Airfields in WW2
  2. ^ a b c d e f Eaker Air Force Base, The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture
  3. ^ FLIGHT TRAINING FIELD FUSELAGE CODES of WORLD WAR II
  4. ^ Manning, Thomas A. (2005), History of Air Education and Training Command, 1942–2002. Office of History and Research, Headquarters, AETC, Randolph AFB, Texas ASIN: B000NYX3PC
  5. ^ ArmyAirForces.com[dead link]

External links[edit]