Hill AFB: 80 Years of Excellence

Hill AFB: 80 Years of Excellence

Editor’s note: This concludes the Hill Air Force Base 80th Anniversary Series featuring the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and highlighting mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

In early November 1940, Col. Morris Berman arrived at Hill Field to take command of the fledgling Ogden Air Depot. According to History of Hill Air Force Base, early development records indicated that planners expected the Ogden Air Depot to function as a supply and maintenance depot, “fully accountable for the receipt, storage, and disbursement of spare and repair parts and all other necessary Air Corps supplies.” They also planned for it to “have an Engineering Department for installation, service, and repair work.”

When Colonel Berman, who was promoted to brigadier general Sept. 15, 1943, began his three-and-half-year assignment as the depot’s commander, Hill Field consisted of a newly-constructed network of railroad spurs, sewage system, and radio transmitter building. Construction projects then underway included the operations hangar, runways, quartermaster gasoline station, fire and guardhouse with a communications center, family quarters (three Non Commissioned Officer, two commissioned officer, and one field grade officer), 104-person capacity barracks, post exchange building, chemical storage building, paint and oil (etc.) warehouse, and the depot’s supply warehouse buildings.

During that first winter, as the colonel’s staff began to grow, the depot’s administrative headquarters worked in a 30×50-foot, one-story, wooden, and temporary building supplied by the adjacent Ogden Arsenal. In January 1941, the headquarters functioned using six desks, one typewriter (placed on a packing crate for lack of a typewriter desk), and a pot-bellied stove. From those humble origins, Colonel Berman built a depot that by early 1943 began contributing significantly to Allied efforts in the Second World War.

For the past 80 years, Hill AFB (renamed from Hill Field on Feb. 5, 1948, following the U.S. Air Force becoming an independent defense department on Sept. 18, 1947) has remained a pillar of excellence. Built by the hard work and innovation of those who have served here throughout those decades, this excellence has far-outgrown the expectations held by the pre-WWII defense planners responsible for the establishment of Hill Field and its Ogden Air Depot. A brief overview of the mission growth Hill AFB experienced during those eight decades provides a testament to that continued excellence.

In the 1950s, following its contributions to the Korean War through modification and maintenance support of B-26 and B-29 aircraft, Hill AFB doubled in size when on April 1, 1955, it received the transfer of the real property holdings of the former Ogden Arsenal. This set a path for the installation to provide Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) support to the entire zone of the interior and also assume responsibility for the management of all airmunitions. Additionally, it led to the depot’s support of many missile weapon systems. It also set the stage for Boeing-operated Air Force Plant 77 to become part of Hill AFB. Here, Boeing assembled Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs, throughout the 1960s and ’70s — missiles that have remained on alert as part of our nation’s nuclear triad for half a century.

During the 1960s, Hill AFB provided significant support to F-84, F-89, F-101, and F-102 aircraft. Thousands of these aircraft came to the depot for modification and maintenance repair. As one example, 2,400 F-101 Voodoo aircraft went through the depot’s maintenance lines at Hill AFB during its 11-year F-101 support program. Also during the 1960s, the 28th Military Airlift Squadron (active at Hill AFB since July 1953) contributed significantly to the South East Asia Airlift mission, which delivered critically needed air munitions to Southeast Asia from Hill AFB.

Several large tenant units came to Hill AFB in the 1970s, bringing with them an array of missions. In the early part of the decade, the 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing operated at the installation. This wing, with its seven assigned squadrons, trained thousands of rotary-wing aircraft pilots during its tenure at Hill AFB. Simultaneously, the installation hosted Detachment 1 of the 456th Bomb Wing (Heavy), with its four B-52 Stratofortress bombers and two KC-15 aerial refuelers, at the satellite alert facility built here to strengthen Strategic Air Command’s defensive system.

Shortly after this detachment’s inactivation, Air Force Reserve Command activated its 508th Tactical Fighter Group at Hill AFB, flying the F-105 Thunderchief. The latter half of the decade brought the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, with its F-4 Phantom aircraft, and a series of rescue helicopter units (37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 41st Rescue and Weather Reconnaissance Wing, and 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron) following the departure of the 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing. Meanwhile, the depot continued to provide maintenance support excellence to many missile and aircraft systems, such as the F-4, while gaining new assignments, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Mission growth continued at Hill AFB during the 1980s. The depot took on C-130 and OV-10 workloads and began to repair and upgrade Ground Launched Cruise Missiles, while remaining the logistics system program manager for the U.S. Air Force’s entire ICBM deterrent force. This included support responsibility for the new Peacekeeper ICBM. On the operational side of the installation’s mission, the 508th Tactical Fighter Group inactivated and the Reserve 419th Tactical Fighter Wing activated at Hill AFB in the early 1980s, transitioning from the F-105 to the F-16 like the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing had just previously from the F-4 to the F-16.

Despite an initial outlook of possible mission shrinkage in the resource-constrained environment that followed the end of the Cold War at the beginning of the decade, Hill AFB’s mission again expanded in the 1990s. Following the results of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure process, Hill AFB remained in operation while two other installations with Air Logistics Centers (depots) began closing. The Ogden ALC competed for, and won, additional workloads as a result of those closures. For example, the A-10 Warthog workload that endures at the Ogden ALC to the present came as part of the late 1990s mission growth.

After the turn of the century, the next two decades continued without exception. In the early 2000s, the depot began work on Low Observable Composites, supporting the B-2 Spirit bomber and then the F-117 Nighthawk. This paved the way for support of the F-22 Raptor in the mid-2000s and then the F-35 Lightning II in the 2010s.

The innovative operational and support excellence displayed by those who have served in Hill AFB’s tenant units and organizations throughout its 80 years could fill volumes. Looking to the future with an understanding of the installation’s past, Hill AFB and its mission will continue to grow as it builds on its pillar of excellence into the decades on the horizon.

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