Ellsworth AFB, located about 7 miles
east of Rapid City, South Dakota, is home to the B-1B Lancer.
On Jan. 2, 1942, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base
as a training location for Flying Fortress crews. From September 1942 - when
its military runways first opened - until mission needs changed in July 1945,
the field's instructors taught thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators
and gunners from nine heavy bombardment groups and numerous smaller units. All
training focused on the Allied drive to overthrow the Axis powers in Europe.
After World War II, the base briefly trained weather reconnaissance and combat
squadrons using P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25
Mitchell aircraft. Those missions soon ended, however, and Rapid City Army Air
Field temporarily shut down from September 1946 until March 1947.
When operations resumed in 1947 the base was a new United States Air Force
asset. The primary unit assigned to Rapid City Air Force Base was the new 28th
Bombardment Wing flying the B-29 Superfortress. Shortly after additional runway
improvements in July 1949, the 28th Bombardment Wing began conversion from, to
the huge B-36 Peacemaker. In April 1950 the Air Staff reassigned the base from
15th Air Force to 8th Air Force.
The base experienced one of its worst peacetime tragedies in March 1953 when
an RB-36 and its entire crew of 25, crashed in Newfoundland while returning from
an exercise in Europe. On June 13, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a
personal visit to dedicate the base in memory of Brig. Gen. Richard E.
Ellsworth, commander of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, who lost his
life in that accident. The base has been especially honored to bear the
commander's name ever since.
The Strategic Air Command set plans in motion to replace the 28th's B-36s
with the new all-jet B-52 Stratofortress, and the last B-36 left Ellsworth on
May 29, 1957 and the first B-52 arrived 16 days later.
In October 1960, Ellsworth entered the "Space Age," with the activation of
the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron, initially assigned to the 28th Bombardment
Wing. For more than a year, this squadron prepared for the emplacement of Titan
I intercontinental ballistic missiles, which finally arrived in 1962, shortly
after the activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing in January. At that time
Headquarters Strategic Air Command also named the 44th Strategic Missile Wing as
the host wing at Ellsworth.
Titan's lifespan was short in western South Dakota. In July 1962, Strategic
Air Command had effectively rendered it obsolete by activating the 66th
Strategic Missile Squadron, the first of three such units slated to operate 150
Minuteman I ICBMs under the 44th Strategic Missile Wing. The 67th Strategic
Missile Squadron joined the 44th in August, followed by the 68th Strategic
Missile Squadron in September 1962.
On June 1, 1971, Strategic Air Command inactivated the 821st Strategic
Aerospace Division. By October of that year an upgraded Minuteman II also
replaced earlier missiles.
Ellsworth soon became known as "The Showplace of Strategic Air Command" as it
continued to fight the Cold War by maintaining two legs of America's strategic
triad: strategic bombardment and land-based ICBMs.
In 1986 the base and the 28th Bombardment Wing made extensive preparations to
phase out the aging B-52 fleet and become the new home for the advanced B-1B.
Contractors gave Ellsworth's 13,497 foot runway a much-needed facelift. In
addition, they completed new aircraft maintenance facilities to accommodate the
complex new bird. The last 28th Bombardment Wing B-52H left in early 1986. In
January 1987, the wing received the first of 35 B-1B bombers.
The 12th Air Division moved to Ellsworth on July 15, 1988. This organization
was responsible for training B-1B, transient B-52, and the 28th's KC-135
Stratotanker aircrews. Headquarters Strategic Air Command activated a third
wing, the 99th Strategic Weapons Wing, at Ellsworth on Aug. 10, 1989. This wing
assumed primary responsibility for B-1B and B-52 advanced aircrew training.
On June 1, 1992, as part of the first major reorganization since the creation
of the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force inactivated Strategic Air Command and
assigned Ellsworth's organizations (including a renamed 28th Bomb Wing) to the
newly-activated Air Combat Command. After less than a year under the new command
the 28th’s mission changed from that of strategic bombardment to one of
worldwide conventional munitions delivery.
During 1994, the Air Force selected Ellsworth as the exclusive location from
which to conduct a Congressionally-mandated operational readiness assessment of
the B-1B, known locally as "Dakota Challenge." After six months of hard work,
under both peacetime and simulated wartime conditions, the 28 BW and Ellsworth
proved the B-1 to be a reliable and capable weapons system.