A Tribute to Ellsworth Air Force Base
Over the past 60 years, the Black Hills and and the United States military facility that has evolved into Ellsworth Air Force Base have established a mutually beneficial relationship that has shaped our nation's history.
Today, the home of the 28th Bomb Wing and one of the nation's largest B-1 bases in the Air Force, the base stands as testament to a dynamic and unique history that began in the 1940's.
At the beginning of World War II, the need arose for a centrally located air training base. Based on a number of factors, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base as a training location for B-17 Flying Fortress crews on January 2, 1942. From September of 1942, until July of 1945, the field's instructors trained thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators, and gunners from nine heavy bombardment groups.
After World War II, the base trained weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons. When these missions ended, Rapid City Army Air Field shut down from September 1946 until March 1947. Operations resumed in 1947, and the base had become a part of the newly formed United States Air Force. The primary unit assigned to Rapid City Air Force Base was the new 28th Bombardment Wing flying the B-29 Superfortress.
In January 1948, the Air Force renamed the Rapid City facility Weaver Air Force Base in honor of Brig. Gen. Walter R. Weaver, a pioneer in the development of the Air Force. In June of that year, however, in response to overwhelming public appeals, it returned to its previous name. The base was declared a "permanent installation" in early 1948.
In March 1953, a Rapid City AFB RB-36 crashed in Newfoundland while returning from a routine exercise in Europe. Its crew of 23 perished, among them Brig. Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth. On June 13 of that year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a personal visit to dedicate the base in memory of General Ellsworth, commander of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.
Periodic upgrades of manpower and military might met new and expanding national security requirements during the Cold War. Strategic Air Command headquarters replaced Ellsworth's B-36s with the B-52 Stratofortress in 1957, and in the 1960's, Ellsworth entered the "Space Age" with Titan I intercontinental ballistic missile placements, and later Minuteman I and Minuteman II placements under its care.
Ellsworth soon became known as "The Showplace of SAC" by maintaining two legs of America's strategic triad—strategic bombers and ICBMs, for more than 20 years with relatively little change. The 1980's brought many new challenges. In 1986 the base began to phase out the aging B-52 fleet and became the new home for the advanced B-1 Lancer in January 1987.
Changes were also a constant theme in the 1990's. In 1991, the 44th Missile Wing permanently pulled the first missile from its silo, with the wing formally inactivated on July 4, 1994. In June 1992 with the Cold War over, in the first major reorganization since the creation of USAF, the Air Force deactivated SAC and assigned Ellsworth's organizations to the newly activated Air Combat Command and renamed the base's lead entity the 28th Bomb Wing.
The base has continued to be a vital Air Force asset and crown jewel among the nation's bomber force, frequently being tasked to lead the fight in many conflicts. In December 1998, the 28th BW deployed three B-1's and 421 personnel in Operation Desert Fox. These were the first B-1's to drop bombs on an enemy target in combat. Then in April 1999, five B-1's and 279 personnel from the 28th BW joined NATO forces in Operation Allied Force and began striking military targets in Kosovo.
The 28th BW was tasked as the lead wing in America's war on terrorism, serving as the lead element of the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing in Operation Enduring Freedom. Ellsworth B-1 crews, launching out of a forward operating location in the Indian Ocean, were the workhorses among Air Force attack packages that have flown more than 48 percent of combat missions over Afghanistan.
Most recently, Ellsworth personnel have served in Iraq.
Visitors can get a real feel for the history and role played by the hundreds of thousands of military members and civilians that have served this nation at Ellsworth by visiting the South Dakota Air and Space Museum situated near the base's Main Gate. The large indoor and outdoor display and interpretive museum areas feature numerous retired aircraft including several fighter and trainer jets, a B-29, a B-52, a KC-135, and static missile displays. The museum is also the home of the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame and highlights other milestones in flight. Your visit to this free museum will be a powerful reminder of and tribute to the people and equipment that have defended our country over the decades.
The men and women of this important national and global defense base embrace the core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do"—and, as generations before them have, stand ready to provide "Global Power for America!"