1950s: Hill constructs new $3.5 million runway

1950s: Hill constructs new $3.5 million runway

Editor’s note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — When the U.S. Army established Hill Field and built its four 7,500 by 150 foot runways in 1940, the installation constructed the once-impressive runway system according to known requirements at the time. These runways fulfilled mission needs during the Second World War.

As the war drew to a close, obsolescence of these four runways became increasingly pronounced. Stepped up air traffic during the Korean War strained the capacity of Hill AFB’s runway system.

Base planners conducted a feasibility study and recommended construction of a new northwest-southeast runway system (including taxiways), measuring 10,000 by 200 feet. As a result, Hill AFB extended two of its runways by 1,200 feet and added asphalt (blacktop). The converging runways provided 10,000 feet of runway. Unfortunately, this did not provide an adequate solution to the problem. Support of operations in Korea accentuated the inadequacies of the modified runway system.

With the conclusion of the Korean War, questions arose about U.S. Air Force expansion and Hill AFB’s place therein. Continuation of the installation depended in great measure on its ability to operate a runway system capable of handling the increasing needs of the growing Air Force.

The assignment of the 25th Air Depot Wing and its 2,500 personnel to Hill AFB in 1950 created a housing shortage at Hill AFB and plans for a new runway competed with a housing development in the southeast corner of the installation. Ultimately, Hill AFB moved forward with construction of both the housing development (which came to be known as the Wherry Housing Project) and the runway.

Construction of a new 13,500 by 200-foot runway, with a cost of $3.5 million, began on April 28, 1955. Hill conducted a formal, public dedication ceremony on the new runway on September 30, 1956. Final construction ended the following spring, in March 1957. As a testament to the foresight of the early-1950s base planners, Hill AFB has continued to use this runway for more than six decades to the present. The runway has received multiple upgrades since its construction, the most recent occurring in 2019.

The completion of the 13,500-foot runway enabled Hill AFB to maintain its role as an important installation, able to meet the increasing needs of a USAF transitioning to jet aircraft and developing ballistic missiles. The much-needed upgrade could not have come at a better time.

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