Kirtland Air Force Base is located in the southeast section of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is one of the largest installations in the Air Force Materiel Command. The base occupies 52,000 acres and employs approximately 25,468 people. It began in the late 1930s as an Army Air Corps training field.
In 1939, the year the war broke out in Europe, the little town of Albuquerque sent two representatives to Washington, D.C., to confer with the chief of the Army Air Corps -- Major General
H.H. "Hap" Arnold -- on the possibility of establishing an air base here.
Late that same year, the U.S. Army leased land east of the city's new airport to establish a flying training base which thousands of New Mexico residents, working under the WPA program, helped to build.
By early 1941, the dusty pasture land was springing up with new wooden buildings, replacing tents and Quonset huts with permanent barracks, warehouses and a chapel. Albuquerque's new Army Air Base got its first base commander in March 1941 when Colonel Frank D. Hackett arrived to assume his duties.
The following month the base got its first military aircraft. On April 1, 1941, a lone B-18 bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Sid Young, landed on the north-south runway. With the assignment of five pilots to the aircraft, the day marked the official opening of Albuquerque's Army Air Field.
The summer of 1941 saw the arrival of the first troop train, loaded with 500 base support people, as well as arrival of the 19th Bombardment Group under the command of Lt. Col. Eugene L. Eubank. Business on the new air field really began to boom with the arrival of 2,195 pilot, bombardier and navigator trainees for the new B-17 "Flying Fortress."
The 19th was moved out shortly thereafter for duty in the Philippines and South Pacific, where many crew members were decorated for bravery. Even in the absence of the 19th, activity at Kirtland began to pick up. Just a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first class for bombardiers began with the establishment of the Army's first wartime advanced flying school under the command of Colonel Hackett.
Many of Kirtland's graduates saw action during World War II in the Pacific and other theaters of operation. Many of the pilots flying heavy transports across the oceans received their training at Kirtland under Col. John P. Ryan, who was credited with rapidly organizing the nation's first permanent bombardier training school.
In February 1942, Albuquerque's Army Air Base was renamed Kirtland Army Air Field. It was named for Col. Roy C. Kirtland, one of the Army's oldest pilots who had died a year earlier. Colonel Kirtland was one of the first students to fly with the Wright Brothers and later became the first commandant of Langley Field, Virginia. Since the airfield originally opened, Kirtland's aircraft inventory had grown to 50 AT-11s and 28 B-18s.
The war years at Kirtland continued to be filled with distinguished records of training entire flight crews for the B-17 and B-24 bombers. Under the command of Col. William B. Offutt in 1943 and succeeded by Col. Lewis W. Proper in 1944, the base's three schools -- advanced flying, bombardier training and the multi-engine school -- operated at full capacity.
From 1941 through 1945 Albuquerque's flying training field turned out 5,719 bombardiers and 1,750 regular pilots for the four-engine B-24s.
In February 1945, Kirtland Field was also engaged in training combat crews for the B-29. This was the "Super fortress" which eventually brought an end to the hostilities with Japan by dropping the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Training for B-29 crews continued at Kirtland until the war's end. The base, under the command of Col. Frank Kurtz in October 1945, went on a standby basis for a short time following the war.
In February 1946, Kirtland was placed under the Air Materiel Command and its flying training activities became history. Its new job entailed flight test activities for the Manhattan Engineering District, the wartime organization which produced the atomic bomb. The commander of Kirtland Field, with its new mission, was Lt. Col. Lyle G.
The new role for Kirtland was to develop proper aircraft modifications for weapons delivery and to determine ballistic characteristics for these weapons of the future -- nuclear weapons.
In June 1943, Public Land Order #133 withdrew 7,620.11 acres of National Forest for the Department of the Navy-directed research for development and testing of the Variable Time (VT) Proximity
Fuze. Considered the second most important scientific project of World War II after the atom bomb, the top secret project was disclosed on September 21, 1945.
Under the supervision of Dr. E.J. Workman, University of New Mexico
(UNM) Physics Department chairman, a group of professor scientists, students and technicians perfected the fuze in association with Dr. James Van Allen, Dr.
Tuse, and Dr. J.S. Rhinehart, and proved it could be used successfully in combating buzz bombs and Baka rockets. The
fuze, which was developed at a cost of $800,000 to the Navy Department, contained a five tube radio set so sturdy it could remain in operation after being fired from a gun.
Most of the weapon proving was conducted on a 46,000 acre tract in the Manzano Mountains, on the southern part of Kirtland AFB, including Forest Service lands withdrawn for testing purposes. Artillery emplacements were set up; observation stations were built; fragmentation areas were prepared; and two 248’ oak towers were erected near the Starfire Optical Range.
The first Japanese plane to be shot down by a VT-fuzed projectile was destroyed by the cruiser Helena on January 5, 1943. During the siege of Okinawa, the destroyers Hadley and Evans used the fuze in standing off 156 enemy planes. The VT fuze was important in turning the Battle of the Bulge. By the end of WW II, 80,000 persons were employed making the
fuze, 85% of whom were women. "The new shell with the funny fuze is devastating. I think when all armies get this shell we will have to devise some new method of warfare." General George S. Patton, Jr.
The establishment of such activities at Kirtland was considered ideal because of its proximity to Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and to Sandia Base, where the Department of Defense had established the Armed Forces Special Weapons Command to direct military employment of the new weapons to be built.
The story of Kirtland AFB is really the story of three bases, since the merger in 1971 of Kirtland, Manzano and Sandia Bases which brought the three installations together under one command. Sandia Base was originally created in 1942 as an Air Corps training site for aircraft maintenance people. By late 1943, however, Sandia was in a caretaker status. A year and a half later, the Manhattan Engineering District created the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base to coordinate military nuclear activities.
Armed Forces Special Weapons Command also constucted two operational sites. One of these sites was known as Site Able, located in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains, just east of Sandia Base. The other base was Site Baker near
Kileen, Texas. Construction on Site Able started in 1946, with the first operational facilities activated on April 4, 1950. Although activated in 1950, construction on the major facilities wasn't finished until 1961. On February 22, 1952, Site Able was renamed Manzano Base, and operated by the Air Force, while Site Baker was renamed Kileen Base and turned over to the U.S. Army.
Kirtland's role in the testing and evaluation of these special weapons increased in 1947 as the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force. At this time, Kirtland Army Air Field, with a population of 972 military and civilian personnel, became Kirtland Air Force Base.
In 1947, the new aircraft requiring modifications to mate them with nuclear weapons included the first B-36, the world's largest land-based bomber, which arrived at Kirtland in September 1948. That airplane was followed by the first B-47 jet bomber in December of that year.
As it became evident that the Air Force's primary weapons were to be nuclear, Kirtland continued to expand as Air Force responsibilities for delivery of nuclear weapons increased.
The pioneering agencies which had occupied the base since early 1946, gaining information on nuclear weapons development and employment, now constituted the greatest body of knowledge and training capability available anywhere.
In December 1949, Kirtland became headquarters for the newly-created Special Weapons Command with Col. Howard G. Bunker as commander. The nucleus of this organization was composed of the pioneering Air Force agencies which had located here to determine future employment of nuclear weapons.
The command became the Air Force Special Weapons Center on April 1, 1952, and was a unit of the Air Research and Development Command. During the 1950s, Center people and aircraft participated in atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the far Pacific. The first Air Force scientific capabilities at the base were created during the mid 1950s. Biophysicists deliberately flew through nuclear clouds to determine radiation hazards. And engineers launched sounding rockets so physicists could study the effects of high-altitude nuclear explosions and the nature of the recently discovered Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth.
In 1958, Special Weapons Center scientists began to simulate the effects of nuclear explosions in order to strengthen our missiles, missile sites and aircraft against possible enemy attack. It was in 1958 that a nuclear effects simulator was first constructed in an abandoned dining hall at Kirtland.
In 1963, the Special Weapons Center gave up much of its research and development work to the newly created Air Force Weapons Laboratory. The Center continued with its test and evaluation mission and as Kirtland's host organization.
The Special Weapons Center took over management of Air Force Systems Command's test and evaluation facilities at Holloman AFB near Alamogordo, New Mexico, during the summer of 1970. And, just one year later on July 1, 1971, Kirtland merged with Manzano and Sandia Base, its neighbors to the east, creating a sprawling military complex known as Kirtland AFB.
Early in 1974, at the direction of the Air Force Chief of Staff, the Air Force Test and Evaluation Center was organized at Kirtland to direct and oversee operational testing of aircraft and other equipment.
Because of budget restrictions and the need to save money, the Air Force Special Weapons Center was disestablished on April 1, 1976. Its responsibilities as Kirtland's "landlord" were also transferred to the Air Force Contract Management Division on the same day.
As the Special Weapons Center was being dismantled, the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service was moving its 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing to Kirtland from Hill AFB, Utah. And, on July 1, 1977, the 1606th Air Base Wing was created when Military Airlift Command took over responsibility for operating Kirtland from Air Force Systems Command.
On October 1, 1982, the Air Force Space Technology Center was activated at Kirtland to become the Air Force focal point for space technology planning and development and for coordinating Air Force programs for space missions. The Center managed three Air Force Systems Command laboratories: Weapons, Geophysics, and Rocket Propulsion.
In June 1990, the Air Force Contract Management Division was disestablished at Kirtland. Some of its elements were transferred to the Defense Logistics Agency in Los Angeles while a small operating location remained at Kirtland.
On December 13, 1990, the Air Force Space Technology Center was combined with three Air Force laboratories to become Phillips Laboratory. It recently joined other laboratories and became part of the Air Force Research Laboratory.
On October 1, 1991, The 1606th Air Base Wing and the 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing were deactivated and their elements and functions consolidated to form the 542nd Crew Training Wing.
On January 1, 1993, the base again changed hands as the newly-formed Air Force Materiel Command acquired Kirtland from Air Mobility Command. The 542nd Crew Training Wing became a tenant unit and the 377th Air Base Wing was re-established from support elements of the 542nd to become the base's host organization.
In the summer of 1993, the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air Force Safety Agency moved to Kirtland From Norton AFB, California.
On April 1, 1994, the 542nd Crew Training Wing became the 58th Special Operations Wing under Air Education and Training Command.
The 377 ABW came under the Air Armament Center on October 1, 1998, reflecting the unique mission of the wing within
Today, there are 25,468 people working at Kirtland, including over 11,000 people who work in non-federal and civilian contractor positions.
The 377th Air Base Wing is the host organization for Kirtland AFB. The Wing supports more than 200 tenant organizations, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, 58th Special Operations Wing, New Mexico Air National Guard, Field Command Defense Special Weapons Agency, Air Force Inspection Agency, Air Force Safety Center, the Department of Energy Albuquerque Office and Sandia National Laboratories.
phone numbers: Commercial (505)846-0011 or
address: Kirtland AFB, NM 87117
3,984 active duty; 1,048 reservists; 4,441 family
members; 2,602 civilians
officer family units; 1,501 enlisted family units; wait up
to a year (505)846-8217
elementary schools on base run by Albuquerque School
Care: Two centers for 540, four-month
wait; 19 approved homes (505)846-1103/853-5508
care: 25-bed hospital. Appointments
(505)846-3400; benefits/Tricare (505)846-3335
Kirtland Air Force Base - Albuquerque, NM
large and mini size commissary - (505)846-9588,
a medium exchange, a mall, and one shoppette
(505)262-1703. Recreation at Kirtland Air Force Base - Albuquerque, NM
includes arts and crafts, bowling, library, auto hobby,
recreation center, theater, golf, gym, tennis, swimming,
outdoor activities, camping, fishing, and stables.