Missile Testing at Eglin Air Force Base
Established as a bombing and gunnery base in the 1930s, Eglin Field became an important armaments testing facility for the Army Air Force during World War II.
During the war, two projects at Eglin involved the German V-1 "buzz bomb." In January 1944, Eglin became an important contributor to "Operation Crossbow," which called for the destruction of German missile launching facilities. Thousands worked around the clock for 12 days to construct a duplicate German V-1 facility. Subsequent bombing runs against this copycat facility taught Army Air Forces tacticians which attack angles and weapons would prove most effective against the German launchers. Tactics learned at Eglin were effectively implemented as the Germans began launching cruise missiles against Great Britain.
Assistant Secretary of War for Air, Robert A. Lovett, returned from Britain just after commencement of the first V-1 attacks and determined that the United States should have a program similar to the German missile effort. With possession of an unexploded V-1 in the summer of 1944, American manufacturers quickly duplicated the jet-bomb and Eglin received its first "JB-2" for testing in the fall of 1944. With successful results, the missile was ordered into production and the Proving Ground formed a launching squadron to deploy the weapon against Japan. This unit was in place in the Philippines ready to launch American buzz bombs against Japan when the atomic bombings negated their mission.
With the sudden end of the war, the Army Air Force had several hundred JB-2s in its arsenal. On January 26, 1946, Army Air Forces created the First Experimental Guided Missiles Group to develop and test missiles at Eglin Field. In the immediate post-war years, this organization launched and evaluated the JB-2 and performed extensive work with drone aircraft.
The Climatic Laboratory Building, which could simulate climatic conditions from around the world, received its first customers in May 1947, as several aircraft entered the hangar for testing. In the following decades this facility would be used, modified, and expanded to test the reliability of numerous aircraft and missile systems.
On December 1, 1957, Eglin AFB became home to the newly established Air Proving Ground Center. At this time, the Air Research Development Command was proceeding with plans to move additional testing and evaluation of the BOMARC surface-to-air missile from Canaveral Air Force Station to Eglin's Hurlbert Field located across from Santa Rosa Island along the West Florida Gulf Coast. Preliminary planning for this move had started back in October 1955. Site construction at Hurlbert had been in progress since March 1957 and by 1958 the field hosted missile ground testing and personnel training facilities. Meanwhile, launchers were constructed so that BOMARCs could be fired into what became known as the Eglin Gulf Test Range. The first BOMARC launch from Santa Rosa Island occurred on January 151959. From 1959 through 1960, the BOMARC A underwent continual testing at this site, flying against various drone aircraft. In the early 1960s testing continued with the BOMARC B model. Designated the IM-99B, this missile underwent its inaugural service test on April 13, 1960. On March 3, 1961, an IM-99B demonstrated the ability to intercept a target at a range of over 400 miles at an altitude of over 80,000 feet. The test program for BOMARC A and B concluded in August 1963 after nearly 150 launches. BOMARC B launchings continued into the 1970s as each Air Defense Missile Squadron took turns conducting missile shoots.
As the home of the Air Force Proving Ground Center, other major missile and guided munitions programs underwent evaluation at Eglin. In 1960, Eglin-based B-52s launched prototype Hound Dog missiles and Quail decoy missiles. As America became actively engaged in Vietnam, technological advances on guided munitions were validated at Eglin.
Eglin's responsibilities were increased as on August 1, 1968, the Air Proving Ground Center was redesignated the Armament Development and Test Center. In addition to research, development, test, and evaluation functions, Eglin acquired procurement functions from the Aeronautical Systems Division located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
In October 1979, the Armament Development and Test Center was redesignated as the Armament Division of the Air Force Systems Command. In 1989 another name change designed to clarify organizational purpose occurred as the Armament Division became the Munitions Division.
Click here for general information on Elgin Air Force Base.