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.