Eielson Air Force Base
Eielson is located 28 miles south of Fairbanks and is the primary Air Force base
in interior Alaska.
It provides arctic testing and training services for the Air Force.
There are also tours
every week through August 25, 2000.
Ladd Field - Eielson's Beginnings
Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, was created
in 1939 primarily 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 at Ladd began again less than a year later, but by 1943 had become a
second priority, as Ladd became the hub for fighters and bombers destined for the
"Forgotten 1,000 Mile War" in the Aleutians or on their way to Soviet forces as
part of the Lend-Lease program.
The airplanes were stripped of all but basic instrumentation and armament.
Flights took off with no navigational aids from Ladd Field and fly the first leg to Galena
on the Yukon River. After refueling they went on to Nome, for the short hop across to
Russia. Many many were lost because of bad weather. The weather was also a danger to the
ferrying of aircraft into Fairbanks.
Ice fog became a problem for airplanes landing at the field. The airplanes
(coming in from Great Falls, Mont.) often could not make it to Ladd. Worse, many
didnt have enough fuel to make it back to Big Delta (to use the alternate Allen
Field). It was this danger that led to the military decision to build an auxiliary field
south of Ladd Field for a weather-alternate.
The government already owned the land, having withdrawn acreage in 1939 for
use for a flood control project and channel. The terrain around the proposed site was free
of approach hazards for the arriving aircraft. There were low hills, but the nearest were
about six miles away. Eventually, part of the acreage WAS set aside for flood control, and
the rest transferred to the War Department in 1943, when surveyors began to lay out the
The original base was completed October 1944. There were about 600 acres with housing
for 108 officers and 330 enlisted. It eventually had a 10-bed dispensary, two parallel
runways 6,625 feet long by 150 feet wide and Birchwood Hangar.
Early nicknames for the base were "Satellite" or "Mile
26" by some workers and "26-Mile Strip" by the brass, probably because it
was exactly 26 miles from Fairbanks, past the runway, to the base's gate, even though the
north end of the base was only 23 miles from Fairbanks.
Russians were not allowed to go to 26-Mile Strip to pick up any planes that
landed there. American pilots based at Ladd Field were transported down to get them. Crews
would warm the aircraft, if needed, and the pilots would ferry the planes to Ladd where
they were transferred to the Russians.
When the war ended, the number of military personnel in Alaska dropped, with
many of the small airfields on the lend-lease route being shut down. 26-Mile Strip was in
limbo, until 1946.
The Cold War Takes a Hand
In 1946 the onset of the Cold War forced a decision to put a large bomber base in the
Interior. The military did not pick 26-Mile Strip - they chose a site for the new base 29
miles south of Nenana. The runway was laid out, wells drilled, temporary warehouses built,
and a railroad siding constructed, but a series of around 30 earthquakes (one rather
strong) showed a fault ran across near the center of the runway!
A long runway was needed for intercontinental bombers. Ladd's main runway had
already been extended to 9,200 feet and was bounded by river banks now. It could not be
further expanded unless it crossed the river toward the Fairbanks side, which would meant
more noise in town. Military planners were forced to look again at 26-Mile
The project funds were transferred to 26- Mile Strip, and the expansion began.
The existing west runway was expanded to the same length as the aborted Nenana runway --
14,500 feet long. It is said to be the longest runway in North America.
several different bombing units have be stationed at the base. The largest hangar there
today, now used for the Air Forces Cope Thunder exercises, was originally built to
house two B-36 "Peacekeeper" bombers, the largest bomber ever in Air Force
26-Mile was now a full-fledged Air Force installation. But the Nenana site was
not a total loss. A year later the contracts were awarded for 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 & Army Separate
President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on Sept. 18 separating the
the Air Force from the Army as its own branch of the military. The 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.
On Feb. 4, 1948, the Air Force changed the name of
26-Mile Post to Eielson Air Force Base in honor of an Arctic aviation pioneer,
Carl Ben Eielson, a famous "bush pilot" in the Interior during the 1920s. It was
he, along with Australian explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins, who, in 1928, made the first flight
over the polar ice cap from the North Slope to Spitzbergen, Greenland, a 2,200-mile route.
The flight earned Eielson the Distinguished Flying Cross and the 1928 Harmon Trophy for
the greatest American aviation feat of the year.
Sadly, he did not have very long to savor his award. Eielson and his mechanic,
Earl Boland, were killed only one year later, during a flight in a blizzard in 1929. They
were trying to rescue stranded passengers and $1 million in furs aboard a freighter caught
in the ice off the Siberian coast. Their bodies and the wreckage of their plane were found
79 days later on a small island off the coast of Siberia.
Ladd Field Transferred
In the years following the naming of the base, the Air Force was not too happy about
having two air bases -- Ladd and Eielson -- so close together. After the Korean War, when
the Air Force started to look for ways to cut costs, they 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.
Strategically, Eielsons location allows a faster response to hot spots in
Europe, Korea, and the Far East than can be made by units at bases on the East Coast.
Eielson units can respond quicker than many of the units based in California. Eielson also
has an important mission exemplified by its close working relationship with the Army in
Alaska -- specifically, the 6th Infantry Division (Light) at Forts Wainwright, Greely and
Richardson. Eielson offers tours at least in the summer months.
A 1940 census found 1,000 military people living in Alaska. Today, Eielson
alone has more than three times the number of military personnel. The military in Alaska
has over 24,000 active-duty people in the state, which helps to explain why its $1.5
billion in spending annually ranks second only to the oil industry. So, you can see that
the military are important to the economy of the state, as well as being important
strategically to both Alaska and the nation.
The 354th Fighter Wing is the host unit at Eielson AFB and is assigned to 11th Air
Force, headquartered at Elmendorf AFB near Anchorage. The 353rd Combat Training Squadron
controls and maintains Eielsons vast aerial ranges which are used to provide
air-to-ground training for Eielson pilots and visiting aircrews during Cope Thunder
exercises. The 353rd Range Division oversees scheduling, operation, and maintenance of
three impact areas covering more than 90,000 acres and approximately 60,000 square miles
of military training airspace, making it by far the nation's largest contiguous supersonic
Since the 354th Fighter Wings constitution in 1942, the
unit has seen action in every major conflict in which the United States has been involved
in, except for Korea. From the skies over Germany and Southeast Asia to the sands of Iraq
and Kuwait, the 354th FW has performed with distinction.
Today, the 354th FW equips and trains its two flying squadrons to
conduct close air support, battlefield air interdiction and wartime operations support.
The 353rd Combat Training Squadron controls and maintains Eielsons vast aerial
ranges which are used to provide air-to-ground training for Eielson pilots and visiting
aircrews during the Cope Thunder exercises.
Detachment 1, 336th Training Group, provides Arctic survival
training to members of all branches of the military and the other uniformed services. The
Cool School graduates about 650 students per year. Instructors at the Air
Education and Training Command-assigned unit also provide ground search and rescue
capability on and around Eielson. Eielson also has its own web site.
Alaska Air National Guard
The 168th Air Refueling Group of the Alaska Air National Guard provides aerial
refueling support to Eielsons aircraft as well as aircraft movements throughout the
region. The 168th ARG is the only Arctic region refueling unit for all of
Detachment 1, 210th Rescue Squadron provides maintenance and
operations support for up to two rescue helicopters deployed here from Kulis Air National
Guard Base in Anchorage. Operating helicopters from Eielson provides quicker response for
search-and-rescue operations -- both military and civilian -- locally and north of the