Strategic Air Command
SAC Bases:  26 Mile Post / Eielson Air Force Base
Location: 26 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska
Home of: 6th Bomb / Strategic Wing,  97th Bomb Wing
Status:  Active - Home of 354th Fighter Wing
Links:  Eielson AFB
Aurora Borealis over the base Flight line with mountains in the background

     Eielson AFB is located 26 miles southeast of Fairbanks in central Alaska's Fairbanks-North Star Borough. Fairbanks is Alaska's second largest city with approximately 32,000 residents; the entire Fairbanks-North Star Borough contains approximately 75,000 people. North Pole is the nearest community to the base, located nine miles away and having approximately 1,500 residents.  
    Because of its strategic location, Eielson played an important role in SAC's planning.  Over the years, tanker squadrons and other units have been assigned to the base.
97th Bomb Wing was assigned to SAC by November 30, 1946.  From Kansas, it deployed to Mile 26 Air Field (later Eielson AFB), Alaska. It's crews flew their B-29s over the Arctic Ocean on Training Missions.  In accordance with the new Air Force Wing Organization Plan, it was established as the 97th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, on December 1, 1947.  It was then assigned to 15th Air Force, attached to the Yukon Sector of the Alaskan Air Command.       On March of 1948, it joined the newly attached 8th Air Force.  The wing moved to Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas and was attached to the 301st Bomb Wing for three months additional training. 
    The next wing to call Eielson its home was the
4157th Strategic Wing.  From 1962 to 1967. It flew KC-135s and RC-135s.  It was replaced by the 6th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing which flew from KC-135s and RC-135s from 1962 to 1992. 

Ladd Field
     Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, was created in 1939 primarily as a site for cold-weather testing of aircraft and equipment. Only Interior Alaska offered the consistently cold temperatures needed.   The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, forced the temporary halt on testing at Ladd since the military needed all aircraft for the defense of Alaska.  Testing resumed less than a year later. Along with testing aircraft, the military also tested clothing, equipment and other materials. 
     By 1943 testing had become a second priority. Ladd had found itself a busy hub for fighters and bombers destined for the "Forgotten 1,000 Mile War" in the Aleutians or en route to Soviet forces as part of the Lend-Lease Program.   Ladd was the turn-over point for large numbers of aircraft and pilots who made the arduous trip from Montana through the Northwest Territories into the Interior.  In August and September 1942, the first Soviet pilots and civilians of the Soviet Purchasing Commission arrived in Fairbanks and were housed at Ladd Field. There they checked out in aircraft ranging from P-39 Air Cobras to B-25 Mitchell bombers.  The first lend-lease flight took place Sept. 3, 1942, and these flights continued through August 1945. In all nearly 8,000 aircraft passed through Alaska, were turned over to the Russians and ferried over the "air bridge."   The aircraft were completely stripped of everything except basic instrumentation and armament. With no navigational aids, flights would take off from Ladd Field and fly the first leg to Galena on the Yukon River.
Mile 26
Many of the airplanes were sometimes unable to make it to Ladd. And many of the aircraft didn't have enough fuel to make it back to an alternate base.  The military decided to build an auxiliary field somewhere close but south of Ladd Field so it could be used as a weather-alternate.  Those chose the site where Eielson sits today for good reasons. The government already owned the land and the surrounding terrain was free of approach hazards for the arriving aircraft. The nearest hills, low ones at that, were approximately six miles from base.
    The base was dubbed "Satellite" or "Mile 26" by some workers and "26-Mile Strip" by the brass. One story had it the base was named 26-Mile Strip because of its proximity to one of the 13 Army telegraph stations that linked Fairbanks with Valdez as part of the Army's Washington-Alaska Military Communications and Telegraph, system.  Another account states that the name was the result of the field being located exactly 26 miles from Fairbanks.
The Cold War
     In 1946, with the onset of the Cold War, there was need for a large bomber base.   Ladd was ruled out because its main runway had already been extended from its original 5,000 feet to 9,200 feet and now was bounded by river banks.  The army chose a site for the new base 29 miles south of Nenana.  The area was surveyed, the runway was laid out at 14,500 feet long, the railroad siding was constructed, two temporary warehouses were built and two wells were drilled.  Then there was a series of earthquakes that revealed a fault running across the center of the runway.   All the funds left from the aborted construction near Nenana were transferred to 26-Mile Strip, and the expansion began. The existing west runway was expanded to the same length of the runway south of Nenana - 14,500 feet long,  That was not the last of the site south of Nenana, though. A year later the military began awarding contracts for constructing defense early warning radar and communication installations throughout the state. Since the 16,000 acres had already been withdrawn, the military decided to go ahead with the construction of Clear Air Force Station, which remains today.
The Air Force is created
     On Sept. 18, 1947, the Air Force gained its independence from the Army as a separate branch with President Truman's signing of the National Security Act of 1947. The newly created Air Force now had two bases near Fairbanks. Ladd Field was home to fighter-interceptors providing air defense in the Interior, and in November the first Strategic Air Command bombers arrived at 26-Mile with the deployment of the 97th Bomber Group from Smokey Hill Air Force Base, Kan. Shortly afterward, on Feb. 4, 1948, the Air Force changed the name of 26-Mile Post to Eielson Air Force Base in honor of famed Arctic aviation pioneer Carl Ben Eielson. 
The transfer of Ladd Field
     The 97th Bomber Group departed Eielson in March 1948, but other Strategic Air Command units followed. Eielson played host to B-29s, B-36s and finally B-47s. In fact, the largest hangar on Eielson today, now used for the Air Force's Cope Thunder exercises, was originally built to house two B-36 "Peacekeeper" bombers, the largest bomber ever in Air Force inventory.
     During these years, the Air Force had mixed emotions about having two air bases - Ladd and Eielson - so close together.  After the Korean War, the Air Force began to look at ways to cut costs. The Air Force decided to transfer Ladd to the Army and move its operations to Eielson.  On. Jan. 1, 1961, Ladd Field was returned to the Army and became Fort Wainwright.
The future
     The Air Force has seen many changes at Eielson, and many missions and aircraft have come and gone. Since its early days, Eielson has also been home to weather reconnaissance aircraft, tactical units from Alaskan Air Command, aerial tankers and, most recently, F-16s, A-10s and OA-10s as part of the 354th Fighter Wing, flying close air support and forward air control missions for nearby ground units. Strategically, Eielson's location allows units based here to respond to hot spots in Europe faster than units at bases on the East Coast. The same is true for Korea and the Far East. Eielson units can respond quicker than many of the units based in California.
     Eielson also has an important mission thanks to its close working relationship with the Army in Alaska - specifically, the 6th Infantry Division (Light) at Forts Wainwright, Greely and Richardson. A 1940 census reported that 1,000 military people lived in Alaska that year. Today, Eielson alone has almost three times that number of military people.
      The military in Alaska has roughly 24,000 active-duty people in the state, helping to explain why its $1.5 billion in spending annually ranks second only to the oil industry. And with Alaska's strategic location, recognized in the 1920s and 1930s by Air Force pioneers like Generals Henry "Hap" Arnold and Billy Mitchell - the vision of Eielson's future certainly outshines its humble beginnings, and may someday outshine its historic past. "Alaska is the most central place in the world for aircraft, and that is true of Europe, Asia or North America. I believe in the future, he who holds Alaska will hold the world, and I think it is the most strategic place in the world." - Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell appearing before House Committee on Military Affairs in early 1935, which was holding hearings regarding the strategic needs of the fledgling U.S. Army Air Corps and the establishment of new bases for frontier defense.