Lincoln Air Force Base, Nebraska
Lincoln Air Force Base began its life during the early days of manned flight
during the 1920's when the city selected a plot of land Northwest of the city
to be used as a municpal airport. It was to be named after a young Charles
Lindbergh, noted for his famous flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Lindbergh
learned flying at Lincoln during 1923. Lincoln became an air mail stop during
the 1928 and became a United Airlines stop during 1927, it continues its
service to Lincoln to this day.
With the begining of hostilities in Europe on September 1st, 1939, The United States Army soon began surveying sites for army air fields to train and equip airmen before being sent overseas. Army officers began to search the area during 1941. The Pearl Harbor attack increased the need dramatically and soon on Febuary 27th 1942 Lincoln was announced to be home of an Army Air Field. During the course of less than five months, Lincoln Army Air Field rose out of the fields and became a fully functional air field.
Lincoln AAF was a noted mechanics school but also trainned air crews in the heavy bombers of the period such as the B-17, B-24 and later the B-29. However Lincoln was only one of 12 Army Air Fields around the state of Nebraska. Alliance, Scribner, Scottsbluff, Omaha, Harvard, Fairmont, Bruning, McCook, Ainsworth, Kearney and Grand Island trained airmen during World War II.
A hospital, barracks, mess halls, hangars and an extensive air field were built very quickly. At the insistance of Elenor Roosevelt (the president's wife of the time) a Chapel was also constructed. Today this chapel is on the register of historic places and still resides Northwest of Air Park.
Soon however, the war was ending and more airmen returned home. Lincoln AAF began ending its trainning efforts and became a homecoming transfer base for crews returning from Europe. Immediately after war's end. Lincoln was closed along with most other fields in the state (With the exception of Offutt, Kearney and Grand Island) The last month of operations was December 1945 and the runways became quiet.
The silence did not last as the newly formed Nebraska Air National Guard moved into the former grounds along with a Naval Reserve unit. The 173rd Fighter Squadron was equipped with P-51 Mustang fighters in 1946 and were in fact the second air national guard unit ever created. A few years later, F-80C Shooting-Star jet fighters would replace the F-51s (Renamed from Persuit to fighter) unit the advent of the Korean War.
The former base hospital for Lincoln Army Air Field was soon converted after the war. This plot of land along with its buildings soon became Huskerville. A small town primarily consisting of University students who attended the U of N. The small area contained a grocer, theater and many apartments. Perhaps the most infamous tale of Huskerville was the Polio outbreak there in 1952 leaving 2 dead and 31 paralyized.
In 1946 also, the Strategic Air Command was formed with the task of managing American bomber forces and the nuclear detterent that the nation monopolized. Soon in 1948, SAC moved to Offutt AFB near Omaha, Nebraska to set up its official headquarters. The command, consisting of a few hundred B-29 bombers and many support types, was a skeleton of its size during World War II. If America would have a nuclear detterent, SAC forces would have to be made larger and better.
1948-49 saw the first flare-up of the Cold War with the Berlin Blockade. Only American airlift secured the city from falling into Communist hands. The next year, the Soviets detonated their first nuclear bomb and the Cold War threatened to get hot. SAC began its re-activation of old Army Air Fields and began flying new advanced bombers. The B-36 and the B-50 were perhaps the pinnicles of propellor-driven bomber designs but were simply outdated. A radical new design named the B-47 would soon dominate the American arsenal. The first jet bomber to be deployed in numbers, its swept-back wings and sleek design allowed for high-speed and manoverability. Barrel rolls and loops were achieveable by the bomber and accually could out-run contemporary fighters of the period.
June 25th 1950 saw the invasion of South Korea by North Korea and also sparked the beginings of Lincoln Air Force Base. The Lincoln chamber of commerce first proposed the idea to Nebraska senator Kenneth Wherry who in turn fought for activation. Lincoln Air Force Base was on a bill to be passed by congress until a few days before it was to be passed. Only an envoy of Lincoln residents and its mayor were between re-activation and failure. They lobbied only hours before the vote and were victorious. SAC officers would soon survey the land that would become LAFB.
The city of Lincoln wanted the base so much that they in fact re-channeled Oak Creek through the future base. They made it straighter and longer to wrap around the end of the expected long runway the base would demand. Curtis E. LeMay, commander of SAC and aviation legend, demanded that SAC control the entire field. Thus, construction began immediately across the field for new facilities needed to house the Air National Guard and Naval Reserve units. On Febuary 21st, 1952 the 4120th Air Base Group was activated at Lincoln to begin work on the base. The unit was placed under 15th Air Force control.
Construction included new barracks for the airmen, mess halls, road improvments, recreation facilities, warehouses, and expanded operations buildings. Two giant hangars were built at the cost of 1 million each and concrete bunkers were built to house the powerful weapons that would soon make Lincoln AFB home. Construction continued for many years into the late 1950's on the base.
On Febuary 1st 1954, Lincoln AFB was officially activated and so was the 98th Air Base Group, in charge of running the field. The 98th Air Refueling Squadron was its first aircraft unit, arriving from Kansas the same month. The first major aircraft, a KC-97, made its appearance in Lincoln during April. During July, the 98th Bomb Wing arrived from Davis-Monthan AFB where it had disposed of its war-warry B-29 bombers from Japan where it served during the Korean War. Later, during November 1954, the 307th Bomb Wing had also arrived from Okinawa also after the unit's action over Korea. The same month, the 98th Air Base Group was de-activated and the new 818th Air Base Group took over its operations. The 818th Air Division took over control of the base during the month and assumed responsibility over the 307th and 98th Bomb Wings, Their respective Air-Refueling Squadrons and the entirety of Lincoln Air Force Base. Jurisdiction also moved that month from the 15th to the famous 8th Air Force.
Other elements at the base that were activated during the period were the Field Maintenence Squadrons, Periodic (later Organizational) Maintenence Squadrons, Armement and Electronic Squadrons, Headquarters Squadrons, a Material (Supply) Squadron, a Motor Vehicle (Transportation) Squadron, an Air Police (Combat Defense) Squadron, an Civil Engineering (Installations) Squadron, a Food Services (Services) Squadron, a medical section, an Air Depot (Munitions Maintenence) Squadron as well as air-traffic control and air transport detachments.
On December 7th 1954, the first B-47 stratojet landed at Lincoln fresh from the factory. The 98th would become combat-ready in April of 1955 and the 307th later in June. They soon began their role in nuclear detterance. 90 B-47 bombers would soon line the flightline of Lincoln AFB.
The Air Base was a city in its own right (accually becoming later the 5th largest town in Nebraska). Everything from barber shops to a credit union to a dental clinic made the base great. Swimming pools, a gym, tennis courts, baseball fields and clubs soon made their presence felt as well. "Perry's Pond" otherwise known as Bowling Lake was constructed during the airmen and officers "free time". The lake was dug on the Northwest side of the base and was known for its fishing qualities and boating events.
Of course, a base would not operate without its housing. 1,000 units of duplex, apartment and standard houses were built West of Northwest 48th Street from 1955 through 1960. A small chapel and school made the area complete. Although it should be said that airmen also found homes inside of Lincoln, especially the Belmont neighborhood of Northwestern Lincoln.
From 1955 through 1964, a considerable number of accidents occurred at the base. Primarily with the B-47 jet bomber. Crashes occured near Ceresco and near Raymond during the time. Bowling Lake was named for Russell Bowling who crashed in England during 1956. His nuclear armed bomber skidded off the runway at Lakenheath RAF into a nuclear weapons bunker and nearly caused a major nuclear catastrophe, though not to his fault of the crew. The Major Meeks incident was also a major crash where the Major made sure his crew was out of the bomber that was then on fire and stayed long enough with it to make sure the bomber would not crash into nearby farm houses and a school. Unfortunatley, his ejection seat failed and was the only casualty on board, thanks to him there were no others.
Throughout the 1950's Lincoln became a major Strategic Air Command base and a very powerful asset to American nuclear forces. Its B-47 complement would reach 120 before 1961 and news of missile deployment assured the area that the base would be there long to come. (A welcomed sight to vendors and businesses in the city who depended on the base to provide customers to their stores) Of Course, not forgetting the KC-97 tanker who made the bomber into a strategic one, also roared above the city with a force of 30-40 aircraft. It provided much support with its dual transport/refueling role. In 1959, news that the tanker force may be re-deployed elsewhere hit Lincoln but also that the 2nd Air Force would now control jurisdicion over the base. Making Lincoln one of the few SAC bases to be under all 3 of the command's air forces. Lincoln Air Force Base would move into the 1960's strong and proud.
During 1960, the 307th Air Refueling Squadron was re-deployed from Lincoln to Michigan and the 98th ARS would be Lincoln's only tanker asset. New missions arrived however, starting with the depolyment of Nike-Hercules Surface-to-Air missiles sites around Southeastern Nebraska. One site was located near Davey and another near Crete, the other two sites defended the Offutt/Omaha defense area. The supersonic missiles were deployed in 12 at each site and were nuclear capable. The 6th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery controlled the sites and was Army controlled.
1960 also saw the start of missile silo construction at Lincoln with word that the base would operate Atlas ICBMs soon. 12 silos were placed near Eagle, Elmwood, Avoca, Nebraska City, Palmyra, Tecumseh, Cortland, Beatrice, Wilber, York, Seward and Brainard. After a difficult construction the sites were soon operational in late 1962 under the 551st Strategic Missile Squadron . The massive ICBM contained a 3 megaton warhead and had the range to strike targets in the Soviet Union. A five man crew watched over the missile for many hours at a time, waiting for the call to raise the missile out of its protective silo and to launch it at a predeterminded target.
Due to the new threat posed by Soviet ICBMs, the Air Force began to develop a rapid-response alert program aimed at sending several bombers airborne in a matter of minutes. This was realized at Lincoln AFB with the alert pad in 1960. Here, 8 stratojets sat on 24/7 alert for several years.
In October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lincoln dispersed its bombers in case of attack and raised its new missile force out of the ground on alert. The Army Nike missile sites also went on alert. Tense moments arose but the crisis ended without major confrontation. This would be the peak of Lincoln Air Force Base's time during the middle of of our 20th century.
1962 also saw the beginings of the 4362nd Support Squadron (later changed to Post-Attack Command and Control Squadron or PACCS) where B-47 bombers were converted to serve as communication relay aircraft in the event of nuclear war. The 4362nd came under 307th control.
During the two years following the Cuban crisis, Lincoln's downward continued with the last KC-97 tanker of the 98th ARS leaving the base in 1963. It was announced the next year that Lincoln would no longer be needed and be included in long list of base closings during 1965-66.
Soon during March 1965, the 307th Bomb Wing was de-activated and so was the 818th Strategic Aerospace Division (name changed after 551st SMS assigned). The sole major component of Lincoln was once again the 98th, though this time under the name 98th Strategic Aerospace Wing with the remaining 551st SMS transferred to their control.
Even the mighty Atlas missile could not escape deactivation and was pulled from its silos during June 1965. The 551st Strategic Missile Squadron was the last active Atlas unit in the U.S.
December 7th, 1965, 11 years to the day the B-47 first landed in Lincoln, the last 3 of the 98th SAW took-off into the Lincoln skies never to appear again. The 98th lingered on at a now quieter Lincoln Air Force Base until June 25th 1966 when the base offically closed. The two Nike missile batteries stood down the same day, the last major weapon systems to be stationed for Lincoln AFB. Caretaking hereafter controlled by the 4255th Air Base Squadron and the end of major Air Force involvement in Lincoln.
On any particular Sunday at Air Park, a key word is silence. The skies are no longer filled with the thunder of jets sailing gracefully through the air. No more backed up traffic at the base gates, no traffic nearly at all.
Lincoln Air Force Base during its day was once said to be one of the most crutial SAC bases in the United States. It also was home to many airmen and provided an economic powerhouse to the city of Lincoln. Though today it goes unnoticed by the passer-byer, signs of its existance are passing every day into history and so are the stories told by its veterans. The Cold War was an extremely dangerous conflict, for never before a single war threatened so many. It should not be forgotten.
And that proud SAC base in Nebraska was Lincoln, contributing so much to local and international history. SAC HQ in Omaha may of been the location of the big red button, but Lincoln was the force behind it.
History of the Atlas at Lincoln can be found here.
History of the Nike at Lincoln can be found here.