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Eielson Air Force Base History:
Significant People and Events

Eielson Air Force Base History

  • 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, Army Air Forces Gen. Henry "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 Air Force Base.
  • Feb. 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 flew WB-29 and WB-50 aircraft until its inactivation in 1958.
  • Sept. 7, 1951 - One officer and two airmen died in a C-47 crash about five miles southwest of the base. It was the first fatal accident involving an aircraft assigned to Eielson. The following day, a helicopter on its way to evacuate the bodies of the crew members of that crash, crashed as well, killing two more men. Read 3 newspaper articles about these crashes here.
  • Jan. 11, 1952 - Captain Ernie Walker, for whom the Eielson theater was named in 1953, died in a C-47 crash 40 miles southeast of Fort Yukon Village. The wreck was not found until July. Evidence indicated at least two of the crewmembers survived the crash, but perished in the bitter cold.
  • Jan. 25, 1952 - What was believed the largest single-dorm facility in the Air Force opened. Dubbed the 750-man barracks, the building would later be known as Ptarmigan Hall and in 1970, Amber Hall.
  • July 1952 - Second Lieutenant Jean Mills was Eielson's first WAF.
  • Dec. 12, 1952 - Eielson 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 Gen. Jimmy Doolittle visited Eielson.
  • Aug. 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 Capt. Charles F. Baker, a WB-29 pilot for the 58th Reconnaissance Squadron killed in a crash the year before.
  • January 1955 - During Operation Snowbird, 1st Lt. 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.
  • Nov. 29, 1955 - A stricken F-84 slammed into Eielson family housing, killing 15. Seven of the victims were children, including the first triplets known to be born in the Fairbanks area.
  • 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. Eielson would host a number of tests over the coming years, most recently the C-17 in 1994.
  • Aug. 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 11 aboard died.
  • April 17, 1956 - While practicing touch-and-go landings, the front landing gear of a KB-29P buckled, sending the temporary duty aircraft careening across the Eielson runway into a snowbank. Towing operations damaged the aircraft even more, and base officials decided to condemn the aircraft and strip it of usable parts. Several years later, the story goes, the KB-29 was hauled to a gravel pit off Transmitter Road, where a lake formed around the dilapidated aircraft. It subsequently became known as "Lady of the Lake." It's a good tale, but alas, not the origin of the Lady of the Lake. The "Lady," it turns out, is just a worn out B-29 formerly belonging to Eielson's 58th WRS. It broke down in September 1954 and was declared a permanent loss due to wear and tear Nov. 15. It is likely that because of the impending phase-out of the B-29 in favor of the B-50, base officials decided not to repair the aircraft. Air Force records show it dropped from the inventory due to a ground accident in May 1955, although no available evidence suggests it was fixed after November or that it was ever in any accidents. When it was towed to its present location is unknown.
  • June 29, 1956 - Gen. Curtis LeMay toured Eielson.
  • Dec. 2, 1956 - The Bob Hope Christmas show performed at the base. Joining Hope were Mickey Mantle, Ginger Rogers, Mitzi Gaynor, Jane Powell and Les Brown, among others. Hope performed at Eielson three times in the 1950s.
  • January 17, 1957 - A four-engined WB-50 Weather Reconnaissance plane with 12 men aboard crashed and burst into flames shortly after taking off from Eielson Air Force Base at 6:45 this morning. Territorial Police reported there were no survivors. The huge aircraft, loaded with 10,000 gallons of gasoline for a weather check flight out over the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, crashed three miles north of the runway and about one mile from the Richardson Highway. The plane was blown to bits when its huge load of gasoline exploded upon contacting the ground. See news reports of the crash here.
  • July 20, 1957 - Sixty years after his birth, Air Force officials, community and state dignitaries, and members of the family of Carl Ben Eielson gathered at the base to dedicate a memorial to the Arctic pilot. Originally located just outside the main gate, its present location is the corner of Broadway and Central.
  • Sept. 9, 1958 - While flying as a relief navigator aboard an SC-47, Maj. Charlie Pennell of Eielson's 11th Aviation Depot Squadron died in a crash at Elmendorf. Pennell Elementary School would later be named after him.
  • Sept. 11, 1958 - Screen star Mary Martin entertained Eielson personnel. Three months later, the Harlem Globetrotters performed.
  • Feb. 1, 1959 - Capt. Perry Amidon, suspecting an out-of-control aircraft, ejected from his B-58 Hustler at 24,000 feet. The aircraft's pilot thought otherwise, however, and landed the plane at Eielson a few minutes later. Amidon, helicoptered back to the base about an hour later, was unhurt.
  • Sept. 18, 1959 - The base dedicated Taylor Junior High School in honor of A2C 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.
  • Feb. 27, 1963 - Air policeman A2C Roy L. Hursey was killed at his post when a KC-135 from Castle Air Force Base, Calif., exploded directly over the entry control gate. Officials speculated that had the plane blown up fifty feet on either side of the building, it would not have been seriously damaged. The entry control building would later be named after Hursey.
  • Sept. 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 numerous rescues each year.
  • 1967 - The Eielson fire department beat out 174 other Air Force bases to win the Grand Award. Conferred by the National Fire Protection Association, it was the highest award attainable by a fire department.
  • Nov. 17, 1967 - The quick response of the 5010th Support Group to the Chena River Flood (Aug. 12 - 21, 1967) and the subsequent help provided to Fairbanks and other communities led to the unit's third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
  • June 5, 1969 - A Rivet Amber KC-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.
  • Aug. 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 explosion, which killed A2C Hursey. Among the guests at the ceremony was Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, who provided the keynote speech.
  • July 8, 1971 - When Lt. Col. 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 noncommissioned officers would not be complete until June 1972.
  • Aug. 16, 1974 - The comptroller released a study noting a 20 to 30 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.
  • Sept. 4, 1974 - Eielson and Elmendorf began receiving mail like bases in the continental United States when Alaska lost its military post offices.
  • 1975 - The Eielson Air Force Base dining hall facility earned the Hennessy Trophy, an annual Air Force award recognizing excellence in food service operations. Eielson earned the award in the "multiple operation" category.
  • Dec. 7, 1975 - All crew members died when a KC-135 assigned to Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y., crashed after takeoff from Eielson.
  • Nov. 29, 1975 - President Gerald R. Ford stopped at Eielson during a tour of Interior Alaska.
  • February 1977 - Cold weather testing of the A-10 took place through the end of the month. As part of the test, the aircraft participated in the "Jack Frost" exercise, which Eielson played host to.
  • July 8, 1977 - Eielson firefighting, medical and support personnel quickly responded to explosions and fire at Alaska pipeline Pump Station No. 8 to help local emergency response crews.
  • Oct. 1, 1981 - The 343rd Composite Wing replaced the 5010th Combat Support Group as Eielson's host-unit. The activation of the 343rd ended more than 30 years of the 5010th.
  • Feb. 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 Tactical Air Support Squadron pilot died while flying an Air Warrior mission in California.
  • Oct. 25, 1986 - The 168th Air Refueling Squadron of the Alaskan Air National Guard activated at Eielson. Later elevated to group status, and in 1995 to a wing, the 168th flies KC-135 aircraft. As the only Arctic-based tanker group in PACAF, the 168th transfers more fuel than any other Air National Guard refueling unit. It often participates in Cope Thunder exercises. In 1994, the 168th boasted over 700 full and part-time guardsmen.
  • Sept. 20, 1989 - Two people died when an Alaskan Air National Guard KC-135E caught fire on the Eielson flightline. Five others escaped with minor injuries.
  • June 17-28, 1991 - Pacific Air Force's premier flying training exercise, Cope Thunder, came to Eielson. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippine Islands prompted the move; the subsequent closing of Clark Air Force Base, Cope Thunder's host since 1976, brought the exercise to Alaska permanently. Through 1995, Eielson served as the main operating base for 16 Thunder exercises.
  • Sept. 1, 1992 - The 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing ended a quarter of a century tenure at Eielson. The 6th would later be activated as an Air Base Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
  • Feb. 19, 1993 - Capt. Glen S. Porter of the 18th Fighter Squadron and Maj. (Dr.) Robert D. Verdone, a base flight surgeon, were killed when the F-16D Porter was piloting crashed 20 miles east of Eielson while participating in a training mission. Exactly three months to day after this crash, Capt. Luis F. Jordan, also of the 18th Fighter Squadron, died when his F-16C crashed about 60 miles east of Eielson.
  • Aug. 20, 1993 - The 354th Fighter Wing became host unit when the 343rd Wing inactivated.
  • Jan. 1, 1994 - Detachment 1 of the 210th Rescue Squadron activated at Eielson. Det. 1 flew the HH-60G helicopter. Throughout most of its history, Eielson hosted helicopters dedicated to search and rescue.
  • March 20-26, 1994 - Eielson Air Force Base hosted Arctic SAREX 94, a joint search-and-rescue exercise featuring American, Canadian and Russian personnel. The first exercise of its kind in the United States, Arctic SAREX tested the interoperability of the participants' search and rescue 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 Air Force Base.
  • February 1995 - Eielson took possession of the first twelve of a planned 366 "801 housing" military family housing units, including the general-officer quarters.
  • July 27, 1996 - 3,500 people attended a ceremony in which a B-2 stealth bomber was christened the 'Spirit of Alaska'.

To Eielson Air Force Base History

To Aircraft operating at Eielson Air Force Base

Carl Ben Eielson