Minuteman Missle
Historic Resource Study
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Section II — Life on the South Dakota Plains: Before, During, and After Minuteman

Chapter 2:
U.S. Air Force, Strategic Air Command, and Ellsworth Air Force Base (1940s—90s) (continued)

Ellsworth Air Force Base

One Air Force Base under SAC's administration was Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota. Although Ellsworth became a significant SAC Air Force base, operating and maintaining both bombers and missiles, its history predates the atomic age. The U.S. War Department established the Rapid City Army Air Base, which eventually became Ellsworth Air Force Base, in January 1942. Shortly after the U.S. joined World War II the base served as a training location for B-17 Flying Fortress crews. Weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons briefly trained at the base after the war, until operations ceased in September 1946. When the base reopened in March 1947, the 28th Bombardment Wing (BW) with the flying B-29 Superfortress was stationed at the Rapid City Army Air Base. [183]

In January 1948 the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Carl A. Spaatz, renamed the installation Weaver Air Force Base in honor of Brigadier General Walter R. Weaver, a pioneer in Air Force development. Five months later, at the public's request, the base was returned to its original name, Rapid City Army Air Base. However, President Eisenhower traveled to South Dakota in 1953 for yet another ceremony renaming of the air base. This time, the base was named in memory of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth, commander of the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, and one of twenty-three crewmembers who perished in a plane crash over Newfoundland in March of that year. [184]

Over the years SAC continuously reassigned units to Ellsworth and upgraded facilities, manpower, and technology on the base. Ellsworth Air Force Base officially began its role in the Space Age in 1960 with the construction of Titan I ICBM facilities. The 850th SMS, originally assigned as the 28th BW, was assigned to operate and maintain the Titans. Two years later SAC activated the 44th SMW, and within that the 66th SMS was the first of three squadrons to operate 150 Minuteman I ICBMs throughout western South Dakota. The 44th SMW, whose motto was "Aggressor Beware," not only hosted two generations of ICBMs—Titan and Minuteman I—but was the only wing to have two generations at that time. Furthermore, after SAC activated Minuteman II ICBMs in the early 1970s, the base was known at the "Showplace of SAC" for their operation and maintenance of two of SAC's "triad" of nuclear deterrence, strategic bombers and Minuteman II ICBMs. [185]

With advancements in missile technology, as well as the evolution of the Cold War, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered SAC to accelerate the phase-out of the Atlas and Titan I ICBMs on 16 May 1964. By February of the following year, SAC had removed all Titan I missiles from their silos at Ellsworth, leaving only Minuteman I ICBMs. [186] To prove the ability of Minuteman crews and the missiles, McNamara then approved "Project Long Life," a series of operational tests hosted by Ellsworth Air Force Base. The program called for a realistic test of the Minuteman IB system through short-range base launches of three modified ICBMs. The first test missile, loaded with enough propellant for a seven-second flight and a range of approximately two miles, was launched from Launch Facility (LF) November-02 on 1 March 1965 at Ellsworth and was the only Minuteman missile ever launched from an operational silo. "Project Long Life" demonstrated the ability of SAC's missile crews to actually launch Minuteman ICBMs, and marked an important moment in the history of the Minuteman project. [187]

When SAC finished converting the Minuteman I missiles in South Dakota to Minuteman II ICBMs in 1973, Ellsworth Air Force Base was selected to host the "Giant Pace Test 74-01." This program administered the first Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman (SELM) exercise. During the test missileers successfully simulated the launch of eleven SELM-configured missiles on the command of both underground LCFs and the Air Force's Airborne Launch Control System. [188] This test proved the effectiveness of the Minuteman's communications systems, a key component for a weapon designed to operate in a crisis situation under the most stressful conditions.

By the mid-1980s major changes were taking place at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Air Force began deactivating the maturing fleet of B-52s and started to prepare the 28th Bombardment Missile Wing (BMW) for a fleet of B-1B Lancer bombers. In 1986 the Air Force hired contractors to construct dormitories, security police headquarters, and maintenance facilities for the supersonic craft. They also revamped the runway. By January 1987 Ellsworth accepted the first of thirty-five new bombers. [189]

Changes continued into the 1990s at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The signing of the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty) in July of 1991 significantly affected the base's operations. On 27 September 1991 President George H. W. Bush ordered the removal of all Minuteman II ICBMs from alert status. The Air Force took the missiles off alert immediately and began removing them from the underground silos. In 1991 the Air Force began deactivation procedures and later dismantlement, including imploding the empty LFs and dismantling the LCFs. [190] The START Treaty allowed for the preservation of an LCF and LF to serve as an interpretive tool. LCF Delta-01 and LF Delta-09 of Ellsworth Air Force Base, the subjects of this study, were chosen to be preserved for interpretation. Ellsworth remains an operational base to this day, home of the 28th Bomb Wing.

44th Strategic Missile Wing

One of SAC's several missile wings during the Cold War included the 44th SMW, based at Ellsworth. This wing maintained both Titan and Minuteman missiles through its thirty-year tenure in South Dakota, and a brief history of the 44th and its strategic squadrons follows.

The 44th SMW originated as the 44th Bombardment Group (BG) on 20 November 1940, a unit first activated in January of 1941 at MacDill Field in Florida. The Air Force soon thereafter moved the 44th BG to Barksdale Field in Louisiana. Known as the "Flying Eight Balls," the group was equipped with the B-24 Liberator, a four-engine long-range bomber. After serving in World War II the 44th BG was deactivated and reactivated several times. On 1 January 1962 the Air Force deactivated the 44th BG a final time, though it was redesignated that same day as the 44th SMW at Ellsworth Air Force Base under the command of the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division, headquartered at the base. [191]

SAC assigned four strategic squadrons to the 44th SMW, including three Minuteman squadrons—the 66th, 67th and 68th - and one Titan squadron, 850th. The wing received its first operational Titan missile on 22 June 1962. [192] The other squadrons originated as the 66th, 67th, and 68th Bombardment Squadrons (BS) in the fall of 1940 at MacDill Field in Florida, where they too were equipped with Liberator bombers. [193] In addition to the four SMSs, the 44th SMW also employed several support units at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Missile Wing Command Section included the 44th Missile Wing Commander and Vice Commander who oversaw missile combat crews and the support staff. The 44th Maintenance Support Squadron provided administrative support and training of maintenance groups that serviced the missiles and their facilities. The 45th Missile Security Group and the 44th Missile Security Squadron had the task of securing the missile sites and protecting them from sabotage.

On 1 July 1962 SAC activated the first of South Dakota's Minuteman squadrons near Wall. The Minuteman I ICBMs were assigned to the 66th SMS, including fifty officers and two enlisted members. [194] The Air Force only allowed officers to serve as launch crews, hence the unusual ratio of ranks. When the Air Force activated the 66th SMS they also activated SAC's first Minuteman IB squadron. Minuteman's first variant, IA, contained a flawed first stage that reduced its range by two thousand miles. Rather than stall the nation's defense effort, SAC approved the installation of the flawed 150 Minuteman IA ICBMs at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Additional Minuteman I deployments consisted of the upgraded Minuteman IB, with the first 150 missiles activated at Ellsworth Air Force Base. [195]

The Boeing Company installed Ellsworth's first Minuteman IB ICBM in February 1963 in the Bravo flight of the 66th SMS. [196] The squadron's first Minuteman missile was activated in April 1963 and the first total flight of ten missiles was activated 20 June 1963. [197] The 67th SMS was located around Union Center, northeast of Rapid City, and the 68th SMS was situated around Belle Fourche, northwest of Rapid City. The last Minuteman I ICBM flight was accepted by the 44th SMW on 23 October 1963. [198] SAC declared all three of Ellsworth's Minuteman SMSs combat ready on 1 November 1963, and ordered all of its Titan I ICBMs deactivated soon after. By February of 1965 all nine Titan missiles at Ellsworth were removed from their silos. One month later, on 25 March 1965, SAC deactivated the 850th SMS. [199]

As technology advanced, so did the need to improve training. In November 1965 the Air Force installed Ellsworth's first Missile Procedures Trainer (MPT) to help missileers of the 44th SMW meet training requirements. To simulate the later Minuteman II ICBMs, SAC installed a second MPT at Ellsworth in April 1970. The MPT assisted the crews of the 44th SMW in competing in the Olympic Arena Competition, a contest between all of SAC's missile wings at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In 1970, 1982, and 1992 Ellsworth crewmembers won the coveted Blanchard Trophy for the "Best of the Best." In the following years they frequently claimed other top awards. [200] Other ICBM bases that competed against Ellsworth's 44th SMW in the Olympic Arena knew them as the "Black Hills Bandits."

In June 1971, SAC deactivated the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division and named the 44th SMW the host wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The 44th SMW was then reassigned under the command of the 4th Air Division (AD) at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Additional organizational changes took place within the 44th SMW in 1975. In an effort to increase efficiency and improve missile maintenance, SAC deactivated the 44th Missile Maintenance Squadron on 30 September 1975 and activated the Field Missile Maintenance and Organizational Missile Maintenance Squadrons. [201]

Reorganization and deactivation continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1982 the 44th SMW transferred to the command of the 57th AD of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and then six years later was transferred to the to the 12th AD, relocated to Ellsworth and became the new host unit for the base. When President Bush signed the START Treaty, SAC ordered that all Minuteman II ICBMs be deactivated immediately. Deactivation at Ellsworth Air Force Base officially began when SAC removed the first Minuteman II ICBM from Golf-02 near Red Owl, South Dakota on 3 December 1991. Dismantlement was complete when SAC imploded LF Kilo-06 on 16 September 1996. [202] The 44th SMW formally inactivated on 4 July 1994 during a ceremony at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Colonel Roscoe Moulthrop, the final 44th SMW Commander, stated that the inactivation "marked a step back from the brink of nuclear extinction and a step forward into the sunlit world of freedom for our children and their children." [203] Today, a replica missile at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, located just outside of the main gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base, and Delta-01 and Delta-09 stand as symbols of Minuteman's thirty-year era in South Dakota.

Organizational Structure of the Air Force
(in descending order)

Headquarters U.S. Air Force

Major Command

Direct Reporting Unit

Field Operating Agency

Separate Operating Agency*

Air Forces




Squadrons and Flights

* - denotes those levels of organization that are no longer in use

Air Forces—A tactical level of command in the U.S. Air Force that is subdivided into wings, groups, squadrons, and flights. Air forces were both numbered and named originally, but only numbered air forces are still in existence.

Wing—There are three different types of wings: operational, air base, and specialized mission. Operational wings and air base wings are essentially in charge of the maintenance and basic operation of a base. A specialized mission wing has a specific task such as intelligence or training.

Groups—Groups represent an intermediate level of command to provide a level of leadership between the squadrons or flights and the wings.

Squadrons and Flights—Squadrons and flights are the basic units of the U.S. Air Force. Their purpose can either be functional, such as performing duties to maintain the base, or organized to carry out a specific mission.

Source: "Types of USAF Organizations," 12 October 2001 http://www.au.af.mil/au/afhra/wwwroot/rso/ organizations.html (25 August 2003).

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003