Wendover Air Force Base

Wendover Air Force Base

Wendover Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force base in Utah now known as Wendover Airport. During World War II, it was a training base for B-17 and B-24 bomber crews before being deployed to the European and Pacific Theaters. It was also the training site of the 509th Composite Group, the B-29 unit which dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

After the war, Wendover was used for training exercises, gunnery range and as a research facility. It was closed by the Air Force in 1969, and the base was given to Wendover City in 1977. Tooele County took over ownership of the airport and base buildings in 1998. A portion of the original bombing range is now the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) which is used extensively by the Air Force with live fire targets on the range.


Wendover Air Force Base's history began in 1940, when the United States Army began looking for additional bombing ranges. The area near the town of Wendover was well suited to fit these needs. The land was virtually uninhabited, had generally excellent flying weather, and the nearest large city (Salt Lake City) was 100 miles away. Though isolated, the area was served by the Western Pacific Railroad, and many of its citizens were employees of the railroad. Construction of the base and ranges began on 4 November 1940. The first military personnel arrived in August, 1941. Facilities were Spartan, with just a few barracks, officer's quarters, and a mess hall. There were also some warehouses, a theater, a medical facility, and a few other buildings located on the airfield. By the end of 1941, Wendover airfield had been expanded with additional buildings and paved runways.

World War II

With the entrance of the United States into World War II, Wendover Field began to take on greater importance. For much of the war the installation was the Army Air Forces' only bombing and gunnery range.

On 1 March 1942, the Army Air Force activated Wendover Army Air Field and also assigned the research and development of guided missiles, pilotless aircraft, and remotely-controlled bombs to the site. The new base was supplied and serviced by the Ogden Air Depot at Hill Field.

In April, the Wendover Sub-Depot was activated and assumed technical and administrative control of the field, under the immediate command of the Ogden Air Depot. The Wendover Sub-Depot was tasked to requisition, store, and issue all Army Air Forces property for organizations stationed at Wendover Field for training.

By late 1943, there were approximately 2,000 civilian employees and 17,500 military personnel at Wendover. Construction at the base continued for most of the war, including three 8,100' paved runways, taxiways, a 300,000 square foot ramp, and seven hangars. By May 1945, the base consisted of 668 buildings, including a 300-bed hospital, gymnasium, swimming pool, library, chapel, cafeteria, bowling alley, two movie theatres, and 361 housing units for married officers and civilians.

South of the main airbase and runways, a facility was built for development of the technology necessary to drop the first atomic weapons. These buildings were known as the "Technical Site", and were located as far as possible from the rest of the base for security and also for safety in the event of an accident. Today they are abandoned but still standing.

Heavy Bombardment Group Training

Wendover's mission was to train heavy bomb groups. The training of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator groups began in April 1942, with the arrival of the 306th Bomb Group flying B-17s.

From March 1942 through April 1944 Wendover AAF hosted twenty newly-formed B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 groups during one phase of their group training. In March 1942, heavy bomber training was a two-phase program, with each phase being six weeks long. Later, the training was changed to a three-phase program, and each stage lasted four weeks. Wendover would do the second phase training.

At Wendover, these groups utilized the huge (3,000,000+ acre) Wendover Bombing and Gunnery Range southeast of the airfield.

::Heavy Bomb Groups Trained at Wendover Army Air Base:Source: Hill Aerospace Museum

509th Composite Group

By late 1943 Manhattan Project scientists were confident enough to direct the Army Air Forces to begin preparations for the atomic bomb's use against Germany and Japan. The AAF concluded that the B-29 Superfortress aircraft would be the most suitable delivery vehicle in either theater of operations. In April, Gen. Henry H. Arnold selected one of its most able bomber commanders, Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., to form and train a group devoted solely to dropping the device. Tibbets chose the remote Wendover Army Air Field over Great Bend, Kansas, and Mountain Home, Idaho, as the location for the Silverplate training program. The 509th's training was classified Top Secret; therefore the desert isolation of Wendover Field was ideal.

For a short time, beginning in May 1944, Wendover field trained fighter groups. However, this was abruptly canceled in September 1944. In September, Boeing B-29 Superfortresses arrived on the field, as part of an operation code named "Silver Plate." They would begin preparations for the dropping of the world's first atom bomb.

This operation and everything connected with it required utmost secrecy. The base itself was given the code name "Kingman" and the activity to assemble, modify and flight test prototype bombs was code named "Project W-47".

In September 1944, the 393d Bomb Squadron, nearing completion of its training as part of the 504th Bomb Group, was moved to Wendover. In November 1944 the 393rd was re-assigned directly to the Second Air Force and in December became the core of the new 509th Composite Group. As part of the buildup of the 509th, about 800 people stationed at the field, were transferred into the group and began training. Some of the other units transferred were the 390th Air Service Group, the 320th Troop Carrier Squadron (the "Green Hornet Airlines"), the 1395th Military Police Company, and later the 1st Ordnance Squadron. In addition, qualified personnel throughout the military were filtered into the group. Security was so intense, that 400 FBI agents were involved to help maintain it. Personnel were instructed to talk with no one about their activities, not even among themselves. Those who did were immediately transferred from Wendover to other assignments, some as far away as Alaska.

Most of the 509th Composite Group's training (which included individual as well as crew training) was done at Wendover. Crews were trained to drop one bomb with a high degree of precision, and to execute a sharp turn after dropping it in order to avoid the effects of the nuclear blast. These practice bombs were called "pumpkins" because some were painted orange, and because one of the two types being tested had a round shape.

The 215th Base Unit (Special) continued constructing prototype atomic weapons (without the nuclear material) and drop testing them. Known as "Project W-47", at the time, little was known about the flight characteristics of the prototype atom bomb designs and how the fusing mechanism would work. Much time and effort was spent 24 hours a day, six days a week helping perfect the design of the prototype bombs, later called Fat Man and Little Boy. Much of the technical work was done outside the site but the prototype bombs were assembled there. Once assembled they were loaded into specially modified B-29s and then dropped over Wendover's bombing ranges and elsewhere. The flight characteristics of the bomb would he noted, analyzed at a different location by scientists, and changes in design would be ordered. This continued right up to a couple of days prior to the deployment of the Fat Man bomb on Nagasaki.

The aircrews of the 393rd trained continuously for the classified mission until May. In late April 1945, Colonel Tibbets declared the group combat ready and the ground echelon moved to its new home, North Field, Tinian, in the Marianas, on May 29 with the air echelon following on June 11.

V-1 / JB-2 Testing

A detachment of the Special Weapons Branch, Wright Field, Ohio, arrived at Wendover in 1944 with the mission of evaluating captured & experimental rocket systems, including the German V-1 "buzz bomb" and guided glide bombs. Numerous tests were conducted, including the JB-2, a American copy of the German V-1, which was tested at a site just south of Wendover's Technical Site.

The JB-2 'Doodle Bug' cruise missile (called the 'Loon' by the Navy) was an American-made copy of the German V-1 'Buzz Bomb', reverse-engineered by Republic Aviation (airframe) & Ford Aerospace (pulsejet engine) based on inspections of V-1 wreckage in England. The JB-2 was flight-tested less than 4 months after the first V-1 attack on England. Approximately 1,000 cite journal| last = Boyne| first = Walter J.| title = Project Paperclip| journal = AIR FORCE MAGAZINE, Journal of the Air Force Association| volume = 90| issue = 6| pages = p.72| date = June 2007| publisher = Air Force Association| url = http://www.afa.org/magazine/june2007/ | format = | id = ISSN: 0730-6784| accessdate = ] 'Loons' were built.

Ironically, the JB-2 was built to be used in the invasion of Japan - an invasion which was prevented by the atomic bombs dropped by the 509th Composite Group, based only a few hundred feet away on the Wendover ramp. After the war, German V-1s were tested from this site to compare performance with the American copies.

The remains of the launch site are visible on Google Earth, just to the south of the "Technical Site" buildings.

Postwar Use

The training of B-29 aircrews and the testing of prototype atom bombs was the last major contribution of Wendover Field during World War II. After the end of the war with Japan, some crew training continued, but at a reduced level. For a while, B-29s were stored there.

In the summer of 1946 the Ogden Air Technical Service Command assumed jurisdiction over all operations at Wendover Field except engineering and technical projects.

In March 1947, 1,200 personnel from Wendover Field in Utah were relocated to Alamogordo to conduct guided missile research projects. Three ongoing projects were transferred: Ground-to-Air Pilotless Aircraft (GAPA), Jet Bomb-2 (JB-2), and TARZON.

Transferred to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1947, Wendover was used by bombardment groups deploying on maneuvers. With the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as an independent service, the installation was renamed Wendover Air Force Base in 1947, inactivated in 1949 and retained in a caretaker status. It was transferred to the Ogden Air Material Area at Hill AFB in 1950 and the range continued to be utilized for bombing and gunnery practice.

Tactical Air Command (TAC) reactivated the base in 1954 and tactical units deployed there for exercises, as well as utilzing the base for the next four years. TAC invested several million dollars renovating facilities. Wendover was transferred back to Ogden in 1958 and renamed Wendover Air Force Auxiliary Field, while the range was renamed Hill Air Force Range in 1960.

By 1965, the airfield was closed. The non-flying components were inactivated in 1969 and the entire facility declared surplus in 1976.

In July 1975, the base was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1977, the government deeded much of the airfield to the City of Wendover, to include the runways, taxiways, flight line, former hospital complex and hangars. Some acres, including the radar site, were retained by the military.

Beginning in 1980 the 4440th Tactical Fighter Training Group (Red Flag), Nellis AFB, Nevada, used Wendover for exercises, but they were discontinued after 1986.

Current Uses

"Main Article: Wendover Airport"

Today this former Air Force Base is used as a civil airport, with an unusually long runway for such a facility (there are two 8,000' long runways). The facility was turned over to the town of Wendover as a municipal airport, named Decker Field.

Many of the buildings are leased for storage, and there is a daily 737 flight into the airport carrying casino gambling charter passengers. There are not a lot of General Aviation aircraft based at the field. Located at the west end of a corridor running between two restricted USAF gunnery ranges, it is used as a refueling and lunch stop for light planes traveling between Salt Lake City and Nevada or Northern California.

Wendover is one of the most intact World War II training airfields. It is also one of the most historic. The airfield is very isolated in northwest Utah, sitting in the middle of a vast wasteland miles away from any major population center. It is probably for this reason, and the dry hot climate, that much of the airfield remains today.

Still-extant facilities include the vast runway system, numerous ramps, taxiways, dispersal pads, and most of the original hangars (including the "Enola Gay" B-29 hangar). Most of the hospital complex and many barracks remain, as does a chow hall, chapel, swimming pool and many other WW2-era buildings. The control tower is still in use and overlooks the remains of the former secret "Technical Site" where components of the first atom bombs were assembled. There is much preservation work being carried out at the airfield, thanks to a local group "Historic Wendover Airfield" is hard at work preserving the former base.

Numerous films and television shows have been filmed using Wendover Field.

One of these was the 1973 TV-movie "Birds of Prey," in which stunt pilots flew and maneuvered helicopters inside one of the large hangars, the first time ever done.

In addition to a post-war military base backdrop for the 1996 film "Mulholland Falls", Wendover Field also stood in for the exteriors of Area 51 in the 1996 film "Independence Day". Several flying scenes for the 1997 movie "Con Air" were filmed at Wendover, using Fairchild C-123K Providers, one of which was modified into a nonflying "prop" mounted on a bus chassis. Abandoned following the filming, it now remains on the ramp as an attraction for visitors.

A non-profit group, Historic Wendover Airfield, is attempting to restore the historic elements of the field (see wendoverairbase.com).

The northeast/southwest runway (3/21) has been pulverized and was used for base course material for the new 8/26 runway. The old east/west runway (7/25) was used by USAF engineers training for runway demolition and repair and is unusable. A joint program with the Utah National Guard will attempt to turn this into an assault training landing strip for C-130 and other aircraft. The east/west runway (8/26) is new, constructed in 1998 and is used as the main precision runway for the commercial Boeing 737 flights.

ee also

* Utah World War II Army Airfields


* Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
* Thole, Lou (2003). Forgotten Fields of America, Volume III. Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. Inc ISBN: 1575101025

External links

* [http://www.wendoverairbase.com Historic Wendover Airfield]
* [http://www.hill.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=5955 Hill Aerospace Museum Page about Wendover ]
* [http://members.tripod.com/Airfields_freeman/UT/Airfields_UT_NW.htm#wendover Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Wendover AFB ]
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044324/ IMDB Entry for "Above And Beyond"] - Story of Col. Paul Tibbetts.
* [http://alsos.wlu.edu/qsearch.aspx?browse=places/Wendover,+Utah Annotated bibliography for Wendover Air Force Base from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]
* [http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2005/Aug-06-Sat-2005/news/26902506.html Return to Wendover in 2005: An interview with Paul Tibbets Jr.]
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/aviation/ Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms, a National Park Service "Discover Our Shared Heritage" Travel Itinerary]

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