Plattsburgh Air Force Base

Plattsburgh Air Force Base
Plattsburgh Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png

Part of Strategic Air Command (SAC)
Town of Plattsburgh, near Plattsburgh, New York
Plattsburgh AFB NY - 4 may 1994.jpg
USGS aerial photo as of 4 May 1994
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 44°39′14″N 073°27′56″W / 44.65389°N 73.46556°W / 44.65389; -73.46556
Built 1954
Built by Joshua Raymond Lucia
In use 1954-1994
Demolished (still standing)
Joshua Raymond Lucia
Controlled by Strategic Air Command
Occupants 380th Air Refueling Wing
Plattsburgh AFB is located in New York
Plattsburgh AFB
Location of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York
KC-135 Fuselage Departs Plattsburgh AFB

Plattsburgh Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) base covering 3,447 acres (13.7 km²)[1] in the extreme northeast corner of New York, 20 miles (32 km) south of the Canadian border. It is located on the western shore of Lake Champlain[2] opposite Burlington, Vermont, in the city of Plattsburgh, New York.

The base closed on 25 September 1995, pursuant to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 (10 U.S.C. Sec. 2687 note) and the recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. It is now a civilian airport and industrial complex, operated by the Plattsburgh Air Base Development Authority. The airfield is now known as Plattsburgh International Airport.



American Military Forces at Plattsburgh

The original military reservation was purchased by the Federal Government on 30 December 1814 and consisted of only 200 acres (80 ha). Additional parcels of land were acquired and stone barracks were built to house "Plattsburgh Barracks" personnel in 1838. Many different types of units have valiantly served at Plattsburgh over the years using a great variety of weapons, from muskets and cannons to the sophisticated FB-111As and KC-135s.

Its early importance was due to its location on Lake Champlain. During the Colonial era, the lake provided the only method of transportation through the wilderness area of what is now New York State and Vermont. In 1609, Samuel de Champlain, the French founder of Quebec, discovered the lake for France and fought the Iroquois Indians near its southern end. As years passed, the lake became a military highway for both French and British expeditions that occurred regularly after the first French raid on the Iroquois nation in 1665. In 1776, Benedict Arnold commanded an American fleet that fought the British just four miles (6 km) south of the present location of Plattsburgh AFB, near Valcour Island. Upon the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, there was no military activity in the Plattsburgh area for over 30 years.

At the beginning of the War of 1812, Plattsburgh again became a center of military activity. A considerable force of regular troops was maintained at Plattsburgh throughout the War of 1812. However, no significant battles occurred until 1813 when in the summer, the British forces cleared the Lake of the few American vessels remaining. On 3 September 1814, 14,000 British troops crossed the Canadian border and started advancing south. The British met little resistance until they reached the town of Plattsburgh on 11 September 1814. At the Battle of Plattsburgh, Brigadier General Macomb with a total force of 1,500 regulars and 700 militia stopped the British land force at the Saranac River by burning the bridge in order to make any British crossing a costly one.

With the close of the War of 1812, Plattsburgh was not abandoned as it had been after the Revolutionary War. Instead, troops were stationed in the Plattsburgh area from 1814 through 1846. The barracks were again occupied from 1848 through 1861. In 1865, the Army again occupied Plattsburgh Barracks and maintained its presence until 1944. The 21st Infantry was transferred from Plattsburgh Barracks to Cuba in June 1898, to fight the Spanish military in the Spanish-American War. After the Cuban campaign was completed, the troops returned to Plattsburgh in September 1898. The 26th Infantry Regiment of the "Iron First" division was stationed at Plattsburgh Barracks during the period between World War I and II. The unit left Plattsburgh in 1942 to begin the long trek from the African sands to the vast fields of Normandy. The historic Plattsburgh Barracks buildings, known as the United States Oval Historic District, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.[3]

For a short time the Barracks became a training site for combat engineers. Then in 1957, it was turned over to the Navy and became Camp MacDonough, an indoctrination school for officers, named for Thomas MacDonough, commander of the US naval forces during the Battle of Plattsburgh. He went to Vergennes, VT and built his fleet there, floating it down the Otter River, some 10 miles (16 km) away, to Lake Champlain. After a minimal training period and a near disaster near Isle aux Noix, his fleet was victorious in totally destroying the British fleet in the Battle of Plattsburgh. The Camp was turned over to the Army Air Forces on 1 January 1945. On 15 March 1946, the AAF turned the barracks over to the Army Engineers in preparation for closing. Two weeks later, the New York State Housing Commission made the Barracks facilities available for college student housing for area colleges and extensions schools. The college continued its operations until 1953.

A B-47 with the inscription "Pride of the Adirondacks" on display in the Clyde A. Lewis Air Park
A B-47 bomber with the inscription "Pride of the Adirondacks" on display in the Clyde A. Lewis Air Park.

The Barracks then returned to the Federal government for use as a Strategic Air Command bomber base, and Plattsburgh Barracks were renamed Plattsburgh Air Force Base. The Air Force held a ground breaking ceremony for the new strategic base on 29 January 1954 and construction began immediately. The runway was completed and the first aircraft (KC-97) landed on 7 November 1955. However, operational facilities were not completed until 1956 due to several work stoppages and severe winter weather. Shortly after the operational facilities were opened, the 380th Bombardment Wing arrived. 12 Atlas ICBM sites were completed and operational by mid-1962. Major construction for FB-111A operations took place between 1968 and 1972.

The 380th Bomb Group of World War II

The distinguished and colorful history of the 380th dates back to 28 October 1942 when the unit was established. The 380th Bombardment Group (Heavy), a B-24 Liberator bomb group, was activated on 3 November 1942, at Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Arizona. Originally, the 380th BG consisted of four bombardment squadrons, the 528th, 529th, 530th, and 531st. Shortly after being activated, the group moved to Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, where it underwent extensive combat training. After completing training, the 380th BG moved to Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado, to undergo final combat training. In early May 1943, the Group arrived in the Northern Territory of Australia. The 380th BG was the only B-24 unit attached to the Royal Australian Air Force and was assigned to the Darwin area in the Northern Territory to secure Australia's safety against threatened Japanese invasion.

Upon its arrival in Australia, the 380th BG immediately began combat operations. During April and May 1944, the 380th engaged in the most intensive and sustained operations since arrival in the Southwest Pacific, neutralizing the rear bases through which the Japanese might reinforce their air force in the Wakde-Hollandia area. From the end of May 1944 until it moved to the Philippines in February 1945, the 380th BG concentrated on neutralizing enemy bases, installations and industrial compounds in the southern and central East Indies. In April 1945, Far East Air Force relieved the 380th of its ground support commitments in the Philippines. During the month, the Group flew the first heavy bomber strikes against targets in China and French Indochina. In June 1945, the 380th was placed under the operational control of the 13th Air Force for pre-invasion attacks against Labuan and Balikpapan in Borneo. For nearly two weeks, the Group's Liberators kept these targets under a state of aerial siege. After the Borneo raids, the 380th flew its last missions to Formosa.

After the cessation of hostilities, the 380th flew reconnaissance patrols over the Japanese islands and ferried released prisoners of war to Manila. On 18 October 1945, the unit was transferred to the Seventh Air Force, where it participated in the Sunset Project, the return of B-24s and their crews to the United States. The 380th Bombardment group remained inactive from 20 February 1946 until its redesignation from Heavy to Very Heavy on 13 May 1947. On 29 May 1947, the Group was activated at MacDill Field, Tampa, Florida, as a reserve unit. The group remained an inactive reserve unit until being called to active duty on 1 May 1951. Fifteen days later, after the personnel had been processed for active duty and transferred to other units for service in the Korean War, the group was again deactivated.

380th Bomb Wing - B-47 era

The 380th Bombardment Wing (Medium) was activated at Plattsburgh Air Force Base on 11 July 1955, as a B-47 Stratojet bomb wing. At the same time, the 528th, 529th, and 530th Bombardment Squadrons were again activated as part of the wing, which had the history and honors of the former group bestowed upon it. During July and August, the personnel assigned to the Wing arrived at Plattsburgh. In December 1955, the first B-47 was assigned to the Wing but instead of being flown to Plattsburgh AFB, was delivered to the 380th BMW's Detachment 1 at Pinecastle AFB, Florida because of the delays in completing the facilities at Plattsburgh. Major Harold L. Neal piloted the first flight of a B-47 by a 380th's crew on 27 January 1956 at Pinecastle. For the next several months, training continued while additional B-47s were assigned to the Wing. By the end of January 1956, 16 B-47s were assigned to the wing and increased to 30 by the end of April. The first B-47E arrived on 21 March 1956 piloted by Brigadier General Kenneth O. Sanborn, first commander of the 820th Air Division headquartered at Plattsburgh AFB. The aircraft was christened "City of Plattsburgh" the next day. In September 1956, the 380th Air Refueling Squadron, flying KC-97 Stratotankers, was transferred to Plattsburgh AFB from Sheppard AFB, Texas. The Wing was declared combat ready on 1 October 1956.

In April 1957, the 380th deployed to RAF Brize Norton, UK, for a three months' temporary duty deployment. During this deployment, it inaugurated the "Three Capitals" air race. The occasion was the Paris Air Show held at Le Bourget Field in Paris, France. On 28 May 1957, three B-47s from the 380th BW took off from Brize Norton and flew over Le Bourget to start the race. The object of the race was to fly a non-stop circuit of Paris - Madrid - Rome - Paris, with the prize being the General Electric Trophy. A B-47E from the 529th BS won the 2,346 statute miles race in 4 hours 12 minutes and 7 seconds, with an average speed of 558 miles per hour (898 km/h). The aircraft, commanded by Capt. Robert E. Sheridan was piloted by 1st Lt. J. L. Mombrea with Capt. Frank R. Beadle as Observer. The wing redeployed to Plattsburgh AFB in June 1957.

On 18 July 1957, the wing suffered its first peacetime major accident. A KC-97G from the 380th ARS with a crew of eight exploded and crashed into Lake Champlain when two of the four engines failed three minutes after take-off from Plattsburgh AFB at 9:28 p.m. On 1 October 1957, SAC commenced 24-hour alert status and the 380th BW was incorporated into the SAC alert force. During February 1959, the wing gained both the 820th Air Base Group and the 4020th USAF Hospital. Both of these units had previously been assigned to the 820th Air Division, located at Plattsburgh AFB. The 531st BS was activated and assigned to the 380th in May 1959. Later that year, on 7 August, another unit was attached to the wing from the 820th AD, the 26th Air Refueling Squadron. The 531st was deactivated on 1 January 1962.

In 1959, the 308th Bomb Wing at Forbes AFB, Kansas began its transition from B-47s to Titan I Missiles and became the 308th Strategic Missile Wing. Most of its aircraft were sent to Plattsburgh, where they were incorporated into the 380th Bomb Wing. From July 1959 to June 1960, the 380th had 70 B-47s and 40 KC-97s.

Between 20 July 1962 and 24 December 1964, the 380th BW also flew EB-47 aircraft assigned to the 4365th Post Attack Command and Control Squadron. On 15 January 1962, the wing suffered another aircraft loss when a B-47E (AF Serial No. 54-2119) assigned to the 529th BS on a routine training flight making bomb runs over Fort Drum, New York crashed on the southeast slope of Wright's Peak (a mountain top 60 miles (97 km) south of Plattsburgh AFB). The wreckage was discovered on the 21st by US Army pilots from Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Later that same year, on 22 October, the wing took part in the Cuban Missile Crisis. As at all SAC bases, every bomber on the base was prepared for war. Nuclear weapons were often seen on the flight line, but this was different. They were everywhere as all the planes were being simultaneously uploaded. One airman commented, "If they had pylons under the wings, they'd stick them on the tankers too."

The wing was ordered to deploy eight of its B-47s to an unknown dispersal base. Orders were sealed and pilots were not permitted to open them until the plane was airborne. They went out to their planes and were surprised to find the planes sitting very high on their struts. They were practically empty. Only 3,000 pounds of jet fuel had been put each of the main tanks. That's only 460 gallons. The plane used its drop tanks to taxi, but at full throttle, as when taking off, each of its jet engines consumed 35 gallons per minute. Each tank fueled two engines. The pilots quickly calculated that they had only six and half minutes of flying time. The aircrews did not know where they were going and had never heard of a low altitude refuelings. All were very apprehensive. As the planes left the ground, the pilots tore open their orders and were surprised to find that they were being ordering to Burlington Airport, just across Lake Champlain - an easy three-minute flight. Then it made sense. The planes were carrying minimum fuel to reduce weight making it easier for them to stop on the short 5,000-foot (1,500 m) runway. A good plan, at least on paper. One plane suffered the loss of two engines on final approach and slammed into the runway so hard that it snapped off its JATO collar. Six of the rockets ignited and one went through a hangar at Burlington. All of the plane's main tires blew out and the metal mesh reinforced rubber tread tore large holes on the underside of the aircraft. Maintenance crews were dispatched from the base and quickly repaired the damage. The aircraft and personnel stayed at Burlington until 25 November 1962. The wing's other aircraft and personnel remained on alert at Plattsburgh AFB.

On 15 September 1964, the 380th BW was redesignated the 380th Strategic Aerospace Wing (Heavy) composed of three B-47 squadrons (528th, 529th, and 530th), the 380th Air Refueling Squadron, the 556th Strategic Missile Squadron, the 380th Combat Support Group and the 820th Medical Group. On 18 September, the wing received its first KC-135A flown by Col Harold J. Whiteman. The aircraft was christened the same day, "Spirit of the North Country" by Mrs Gladys Ellison. Mrs. Ellison's husband was SMSgt Guin B. Ellison, Maintenance Supervisor of the Year for the 380th.

September 1965 saw one of the wing's B-47s,Pride of the Adirondacks departing Plattsburgh AFB for SAC's 14th Bombing and Navigation competition at Fairchild AFB, Washington. Six days later, that same aircraft returned to Plattsburgh being hailed as the "World's Best B-47" after having won top honors among all SAC B-47 units in 3 of 4 competition areas for the B-47s. Pride of the Adirondacks was crewed by Maj Charles W. Patrick (aircraft commander), Capt John V. Wilcox (co-pilot) and Maj Robert A. Wickland (navigator) and won 'Best B-47 Crew, Bombing', 'Best B-47 Crew, Combined' and 'Best B-47 Unit'.

Within three weeks of that triumph, the first B-47 departed for storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona as part of an accelerated phase-out of the type. On 14 December, separated by 15-minute intervals, the last three B-47s to leave the base took off: AF S/N 53-1864, Maj Francis J.Marshall, Maj Gene S. Boaz, and Capt Marion A. Meckstroth; AF S/N 53-1965, Maj Charles C. Rock, Capt Melvin L. Jackson, and Capt Charles F. Fagan; and AF S/N 53-1955, Captains Percy J. Schroeder, Ronald R. Hollenbaugh, and Anthony Perez. The serial numbers -1955 and -1965 represented the decade B-47s had been assigned at Plattsburgh AFB. Also of historic significance, Maj Marshall and Captains Jackson, Hollenbaugh, and Schroeder had been assigned there since 1955.

Atlas Missiles

Plattsburgh AFB had the only intercontinental ballistic missiles ever deployed east of the Mississippi River. During 1961 and 1962, the physical appearance of the area surrounding Plattsburgh AFB underwent changes as construction began on 12 Atlas F missile sites. The sites were built within a 50 miles (80 km) radius of the base and were completed in 1963, at an average cost of $3 million each.

The missile silos were built inside gigantic holes 174 feet (53 m) deep and 54 feet (16 m) wide into solid rock. Approximately 8,000 cubic yards (6,100 m3) of concrete and tons of structural steel were used in each hole to create a blast proof, underground silo, protected by massive overhead doors for the 81-foot (25 m) tall missiles. A single underground blockhouse containing launch consoles and personnel quarters was constructed at each site. The squadron was equipped with 13 missiles, allowing each silo to have its Atlas missile with one left for spare. When one missile in a silo was scheduled for maintenance, the spare missile kept at PAFB was sent to replace it. This allowed the 380th to maintain 12 ready to launch missiles seven days a week.

All sites were in New York state except for two located on the other side of Lake Champlain in Vermont. The 556th Strategic Missile Squadron, formerly assigned to Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine, was transferred to Plattsburgh AFB on 1 October 1961 and became completely operational on 20 December 1962. This was the last Atlas squadron to be accepted. The 556th's last operational day was 30 April 1965 with the Squadron's inactivation on 25 June 1965. The inactivation was part of a phase-out of US first-generation missiles, the Atlas series and Titan 1 models, which was announced by Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, on 19 November 1964.

B-52 Stratofortress

To replace the B-47s, the Wing was assigned the B-52G "Stratofortress" bomber and the first B-52G to arrive was christened "Champlain Lady" by Mrs. Wallace Wall Jr., wife of Col Wall Jr., 380th Strategic Aerospace Wing (380 SAW) commander, during dedication ceremonies on 19 June 1966. Transferring to Plattsburgh from Loring Air Force Base, Maine, the giant B-52s assigned to the 528th BS took positions on the base flightline next to the KC-135s of the 380th ARS. The crew selected to fly the first B-52G to Plattsburgh was composed of Maj Paul W. Maul, aircraft commander; Capt George W. Bliss, copilot; Maj Herbert H. Miller, radar navigator; Capt David L. Scearce, navigator; Maj John D. DeGraaf, electronic warfare officer; and MSgt Donald E. Brooks, gunner.

In September 1962 a B-52 crash-landed at Plattsburgh under circumstances detailed in SAC Accident Prevention Bulletin. Dated 4 December 1963, [No. SAC-F-SAC Acdt 63-14]:

The B-52 made a penetration at its home base, executed a missed approach, and subsequently landed at the weather alternate. The pilot taxied off the runway, stopped, and proceeded with his after landing checklist. Numbers 4 and 5 engines were advanced to 82% power to reset the stabilizer trim. At that time, the aircraft commander noticed that the aircraft started to roll forward. He then queried the copilot to determine if he had released the parking brakes. The copilot replied that he had not released the brakes, but he had thought the aircraft commander had done so. As indicated in their statements, neither the aircraft commander nor the copilot had released the brakes. The aircraft commander checked the braking action and found it normal and proceeded to the parallel taxiway . After reapplying the brakes he found no response and no deceleration of the aircraft. The copilot then attempted to apply the brakes, but to no avail, and he was instructed to shut down engines 1, 2, 7, and 8 and notify the tower of the difficulty. The remaining engines, with the exception of number 5, were shut down in an attempt to reduce engine thrust and maintain hydraulic pressure. During the period that lack of braking action was experienced, there were no indications on the hydraulic panel of a malfunction or failure of any of the systems. After it was determined that the aircraft could not be controlled due to lack of braking action, the tower was again notified that complete engine shut down was being performed. Number 5 engine was shut down in the belief the aircraft would roll to a stop based on the evaluation of the terrain features at that time. The left wing of the B-52 contacted the external drop tank of KC-97 153. The B-52 rolled further and collided with KC-97 185 which in turn swung around and hit KC-97 651. Immediately after the B-52 contacted the first KC-97 the aircraft commander alerted the crew to prepare to abandon the aircraft. He then left his seat and proceeded to the lower deck to prepare for egress. The copilot remained in his seat until the aircraft came to a rest. The distance traveled from the time all engines were in cut-off to the final stopping point was approximately 3,000 feet (910 m). The B-52 sustained major damage to the right wing and all engines on the ride side as well as the drop tank, left wing tip, radome, and moderate damage to the fuselage adjacent to the radome. KC-97 153 sustained damage to the drop tanks and leading edge of the right wing. KC-97 651 sustained right wing damage. KC-97 195 had major damage to the nose section, number 4 engine was torn from the nacelle, number 1 engine prop and engine were damaged and both wings were damaged.

The 529th and 530th Bombardment Squadron were inactivated on 25 June 1966. After the arrival of the new type, another new unit was assigned to the Wing on 25 January 1967, the 310th Air Refueling squadron. During the first week of April 1967, the 380th SAW flew its first 'Bar None' exercise since the coming to Plattsburgh of the B-52 and received an 'Outstanding' rating. The 'Bar None' exercise was a mean for testing the wing's capability to perform its Emergency War Order mission. On 21 January 1968, tragedy again struck the 380th Strategic Aerospace Wing when B-52G, AF Serial No. 58-0188, crashed near Thule Air Base, Greenland. The aircraft was flown by a crew from the 528th BS and was carrying four hydrogen bombs when it crashed into an ice-covered North Star Bay at the north western tip of Greenland. The crew of seven was composed of Capt John Haug (commander), Capt Leonard Svitenko (co-pilot), Maj Frank Hopkins (radar navigator), Capt Curtis Criss (navigator), Capt Richard Max (electronic warfare), SSgt Calvin Snapp (gunner) and Maj Alfred J. D'amario (safety officer from Wing HQ). Capt Svitenko, who did not have an ejection seat, was killed during the crash.

The Wing's involvement in the Vietnam War was one of temporary duty assignments. Tanker and bomber crews of the 380th were temporarily assigned to the Pacific theater in support of B-52 "Arc Light" missions and KC-135 "Young Tiger" operations. The KC-135 crews and aircraft supported Southeast Asia operations from October 1966 until 1973. The B-52 crews served from 1968 until 1970. The stay of the B-52s assigned to the 380th was destined to be short. In 1968, plans were initiated to bring the Air Force's newest strategic aircraft to Plattsburgh AFB; the FB-111A. In October 1970, the phaseout of the B-52s assigned to the 380th SAW began when the first aircraft was transferred to Fairchild AFB, Wash. The last B-52G left Plattsburgh AFB on 5 January 1971. Base personnel, dependents and civilian dignitaries attended a ceremony with an opening speech by Col G.R. Abendhoff, wing commander. Crew members for this last B-52G out of Plattsburgh were Col Abendhoff, Maj Elmer L. Bradford, aircraft commander; Capt William Peavey, copilot; Maj Herbert H.Miller, navigator; Capt Robert A. Foster, radar navigator; Capt Henry W. Goehring, electronic warfare officer; and TSgt Michael E. Picus, gunner.

FB-111 Aardvark & KC-135 Stratotankers

The 529th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was reactivated on 1 January 1971. Construction requirements for the new FB-111A were completed in 1969. Col G.R. Abendhoff, 380th BW commander, and Lt Col Eugene W. Loy, 4007th CCTS commander, piloted the first FB-111A to the base during Open House ceremonies on 17 July 1971. On 1 August 1971, Detachment 1 of the 4007th CCTS was activated to instruct the combat crews in the sophisticated systems that equipped the FB-111A. On 6 June 1972, the SAC Inspector General declared the wing totally prepared to implement its Emergency War Order mission. As part of a program to improve survivability against an increased sea-launched ballistic missile threat, SAC assigned on a temporary duty basis part of its bombers and tankers fleet to satellite bases in the early 1970s. During 1973, FB-111As from the 380th BW were on alert at Kincheloe AFB, Michigan and Grissom AFB, Indiana.

During September 1971, Detachment 18, 44th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) was activated on the base to support the FB-111 program by maintaining rescue and fire control alert. Det. 18 was assigned two HH-43 "Huskie" under the command of Lt Col Stewart Jordan. On 1 July 1972, the 380th Strategic Aerospace Wing (Heavy) was re-designated the 380th Bombardment Wing (Medium) and was declared operational with the FB-111A. As part of a SAC-wide move to give munitions maintenance squadrons the same numerical designation as the wing to which it is assigned, the 40th MMS was inactivated and the 380th MMS activated on 1 October 1972. The first mission of a wing's FB-111A equipped with the SRAM took place on 20 April 1973. On the same day, SAC Headquarters announced that 10 KC-135 tanker aircraft were to be relocated to Plattsburgh AFB from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, by September.

June 1973 saw the arrival of the HH-1H "Huey" assigned to Det. 18. The H-models were responsible for search and rescue within a radius of approx. 100 miles (160 km). With the addition of 975 pounds capacity internal auxiliary fuel tanks, the Huey could fly 100 miles (160 km) to the rescue area, hover for one hour and return to the base. This gave the HH-1H a 360-degree search area of nearly 10,000 square miles (26,000 km2) which could easily be increased since the aircraft could land nearly anywhere to take on fuel from trucks. The first HH-1H assigned to Plattsburgh was ferried from the Bell Helicopter factory at Fort Worth, Tx. by a crew from Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Headquarters at Scott AFB, Il. Ferry crew members were Maj John Flourney, aircraft commander; Maj John Hartwig, co-pilot; and SSgt George Bohl, flight engineer.

On 26 July 1973, the first of twenty KC-135Q models to arrive at Plattsburgh from the closing McCoy AFB, Florida landed at the base. The crew flying the first "Q" here was Crew S-154 from the 310th ARS, under the command of Col Norman L. Hightower, with 1st Lt James C.McLaughlin as a co-pilot and Cap. Roger A. Hedberg in the navigator position. The boom operator was TSgt Roland Adgers who had the longest time at Plattsburgh AFB and most time in the aircraft, five and a half years in the area and 3,800 hours in the tanker. On 1 September 1973, the last KC-135Q, AF S/N 58-0049, from the 306th Bomb Wing at McCoy AFB flew to Plattsburgh AFB. Aboard the last 'Q' from McCoy were Col John J. Murphy, 42nd Air Division Commander, the aircrew and several members of the 306th BW. The KC-135Q was emblazoned with "City of Orlando" with a palm tree on the left side of the nose and "City of Plattsburgh" with a pine tree on the other side. The major differences between the KC-135Q and other KC-135s were primarily related to the fuel system and rendezvous and communications systems for support of U-2 and SR-71 aircraft. The KC-135Q utilized two single-point refueling receptacles, one in each main landing gear wheel well, whereas other KC-135s have only located in the right main gear well. On the 'Q', the left system serviced the airplane's wing tanks and the right system serviced the body fuel tanks. JP-7 was normally carried only in the body fuel tanks. To account for changes in the airplane's center of gravity during SR-71 refueling operations, 850 lb (390 kg) of ballast was added to the lower nose compartment. The KC-135Q was able to carry simultaneously a maximum of 74,490 lb (33,790 kg) of JP-7 and 110,000 lb (50,000 kg) of JP-4. Rendezvous and communications equipment differences included the addition of a third UHF radio and an AN/ARN-90 TACAN, both located at the navigator's station. In the late 1980s, a satellite communication (SATCOM) antenna was installed on the upper forward fuselage.

During the 1974 Strategic Air Command's bombing and navigation competition, the FB-111 and KC-135 crews from the 380th combined their effort with the support personnel to prove to be "The best of the best" in earning the Fairchild Trophy for the highest combined bomber and tanker scores during the competition. The 380th BW was the first Wing equipped with the FB-111A to win the competition and would dominate again in the years to come. The 380th BW was recognized for exceptionally meritorious service from 1 July 1974 to 30 June 1975 and received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. In 1978, the wing won the Fairchild Trophy for the fourth consecutive time, a SAC record. In 1978, a Plattsburgh tanker crew had the honor of flying the last "in country" air refueling mission in Thailand and participate in the redeployment of F-4s from Thailand under "Coronet Climax".

1980 began with a new challenge for the Wing after being named the official military support installation for the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, NY. The 380th coordinated helicopter rescue mission conducted by Detachment 18. The Det. assisted the civilian community in the North Country area through its participation in the Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic program. The MAST program was created by the Department of Defense and allowed the use of military helicopters to respond to medical emergencies in area where support cannot be rendered by civilian agencies. The primary mission of Det. 18 was Combat Rescue. The 380th BW continued its excellent performance into the 1980s, earning its second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious service from 1 July 1979 to 30 June 1980, and Outstanding ratings on the SAC "Buy None" readiness exercise in 1982 and 1983. In 1982, the first reunion of the surviving members of the 380th Bombardment Group which formed the 380th Bombardment Group Association was held. The second reunion took place at Plattsburgh AFB in September 1983 and on this occasion, dedication of the Plattsburgh Military Museum was one of the highlights of the reunion.

1984 started with a fitting tribute to both the 380th Bombardment Wing and the 380th Bombardment Group. The 380th BG was inactivated and consolidated with the 380th BW by order of the Secretary of the Air Force on 31 January 1984. As the year progressed, the 380th once again proved itself worthy of its motto, "Best of the Best", as it received an unprecedented fifth Fairchild Trophy at the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition. In addition to winning the Fairchild, which established a record of five trophies for one unit, the Wing captured its second Saunders Trophy for the best air refueling unit and the "Best FB-111 Crew Award". The Omaha Trophy for the best overall SAC wing for the 1984 calendar year was awarded to the Wing on 11 July. In 1985, the 380th BW received the pinnacle award for SAC Wings.

In 1985, the 380th BW had more assigned aircraft than any other SAC wing. Plattsburgh AFB was the home of two FB-111A squadrons, the 528th and 529th; two KC-135As squadrons, the 310th and 380th; and the 4007th CCTS responsible for training all SAC FB-111A pilots and navigators. Other units of the wing included the 380th Organizational Maintenance Squadron, the 380th Munitions Maintenance Squadron, the 380th Field Maintenance Squadron, the 380th Transportation Squadron, the 380th Supply Squadron, the 380th Combat Support Group, the 380th Mission Support Squadron, and the USAF Hospital.

During the summer of 1988, a full complement of the 380th BW deployed for the first time since World War II. Over 300 men and women deployed to a forward operating base in support of "Mighty Warrior 88", a SAC wide exercise held to better enable the various SAC wings to carry out their respective missions under austere conditions.

In September 1990, crews from both Air Refueling Squadrons combined with personnel from other units to form the 1703rd Air Refueling Wing (Provisional) in Saudi Arabia, supporting Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During that year, Plattsburgh became the host for the Tanker Task Force previously at Pease AFB, and assumed the responsibility for planning and providing air refueling for all TAC unit movements, TTF ferry missions, Military Airlift Command (MAC) missions, European Tanker Task Force (ETTF) deployers and redeployers, and other missions directed by Headquarters SAC and 8th Air Force.

The 380th BW began retiring its FB-111As in 1990, and one-half of the SAC FB-111A force was retired by 31 December 1990. On 10 July 1991, Strategic Air Command and the 380th Bomber Wing said goodbye to the FB-111A when the last four operational aircraft left Plattsburgh AFB for their final flight to preservation in museums. The 380th BMW had been re-designated the 380th Air Refueling Wing a few days earlier on 1 July 1991. The mission of the 380th ARW was to provide worldwide air refueling with its KC-135A/Q and serve as host to the Tanker Task Force operation. The 380th ARW Tanker Task Force was responsible for supporting most of the transoceanic operations on the East Coast.

The 380th ARW participated in the 34th and final SAC Bombing and Navigation competition in April 1992. Nicknamed "Proud Shield '92", the competition demonstrated bomber and tanker capabilities, procedures, tactics, and concepts. "Proud Shield" featured 21 active-duty SAC units along with six AFRES units, nine ANG units and one Tactical Air Command unit. Team Plattsburgh placed a strong second among the 24 competing for the Saunders Trophy.

A Team Plattsburgh aircrew established itself as the finest KC-135 crew in the Air Mobility Command "Rodeo '92" at Pope AFB, N.C. in June 1992. The crew of Capt Mike Minahan, aircraft commander; Capt Mark Lane, co-pilot; Capt Gene Moty, navigator; and SrA Erik Prince, boom operator captured top honors by placing first in the tactical navigation category with a score of 342 points. The crew also received the maximum points possible (400 points) in the air-refueling competition.

During 1992, the 380th ARW converted from the KC-135A/Q to the R/T model. That process took almost a year. The most noticeable difference between the A and R model were the engines; quieter and more fuel efficient CFM-56 engines. The first R, 63-8872, arrived on 30 September and was christened "Spirit of Plattsburgh". Aircraft were scheduled to arrive at about three per month through the end of the summer of 1993. The official acceptance ceremony took place on 30 October. During the ceremony, one KC-135A and a KC-135R flew a low approach. The KC-135A departed the field following its low approach symbolizing its departure from Plattsburgh while the KC-135R landed and taxied to the Brown hangar, symbolizing its arrival at Plattsburgh. The KC-135A was flown by Capt Thomas Coppinger, aircraft commander; Capt Patrick McCormack, co-pilot; Capt Greg Jerell, navigator; A1C J.D. Harston, boom operator and Capt Scott Patnode, instructor pilot. The KC-135R was crewed by Col James E.Andrews, wing commander; Capt Chris Rinaldi, co-pilot; Maj Mike Cole, navigator; A1C David Steiner, boom operator and SSgt Tim Gemsheim, boom operator instructor.

On 24 June 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to close Plattsburgh AFB and give a new Air Mobility Wing to McGuire AFB, NJ. The 380th ARW controlled the 42nd ARS at Loring AFB, Maine, the 509th ARS from Griffiss AFB, NY and the European Tanker Task Force, which provided operational refueling to England and Saudi Arabia.

The 380th ARW deployed for the last time to participate in "Crisis Look '94" from McGuire AFB, NJ. in March 1994. More than 450 wing members from Plattsburgh AFB and Griffiss AFB deployed for the exercise testing the wing's ability to mobilize, deploy, and operate in a bare base environment. The wing deployed a total of 13 tankers, six from Plattsburgh and seven from Griffiss.

During 1994, Plattsburgh AFB and AMC continued to support NATO aircraft patrolling the skies over Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of Operation Deny Flight. Aircrews and support personnel from the 380th ARW and the 509th ARS deployed to Istres AB, France and Pisa AB, Italy to provide aerial refueling for the operation. In July, a 21-member from the 380th ARW left Plattsburgh AFB to compete in "Rodeo 94" at McChord AFB, Washington.

Plattsburgh's long relationship with the KC-135 came to an end when the 380th ARW bid farewell to its two flying squadrons. The deactivation ceremony took place on 26 September 1994 in presence of Brig Gen Thomas Pilsch, 21st Air Force Commander and Col Christopher Kelly, 380th Operations Group Commander. Both the 380th and 310th AREFS, and the 380th OG were officially deactivated that day. Shortly after, Col Robert E. Dawson, the 380th ARW's last commander, boarded the last KC-135 stationed on the base and flew the last mission of the 380th ARW. With special guests and representatives of the local media, the aircraft took Air Refueling Track 204 Southwest to Loring AFB, ME and headed back down the West coast of Maine where it hooked up with 2 B-52s. After the aircraft left, the only mission for the 380th ARW was the closure of the base set for September 1995.

Plattsburgh AFB was officially closed on 30 September 1995 as a result of the 1993 Defense Closure and Realignment actions. The closure ceremony took place on 29 September with New York Congressman John M. McHugh; Rodney A. Coleman, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and environment; Lt Gen Edwin E. Tenoso, 21st Air Force Vice Commander; and Col Robert E. Dawson, 380th Air Refueling Wing commander, as guests of honor.

The B-47 Stratojet "Pride of the Adirondacks" was preserved and put on display at the entrance of the base on 8 February 1966. The aircraft stands in memory of the crews and maintenance men who flew and supported B-47s at the base during that past decade. Dedication ceremonies for the jet took place on 21 March 1966 in front of a group numbering more than 300 persons. Interestingly, the same day marked three milestones; the 20th anniversary of the Strategic Air Command, the 10th anniversary from the date the first B-47 was received at Plattsburgh AFB, as well as the dedication of this permanent monument as a reminder of the part this aircraft played in the nation's defense in the North Country.

Plattsburgh AFB in the space age

Built during the Cold War, Plattsburgh AFB's runway is large enough to land the space shuttle. It was on a list of alternate landing sites for the space shuttle.[4] Space shuttle Columbia astronaut Michael P. Anderson, born at Plattsburgh AFB, was an Air Force pilot at Plattsburgh AFB when he got selected by NASA in 1994.

Current projects at decommissioned Plattsburgh

After the base was decommissioned, the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation (PARC) was created to manage the 5,000-acre (20 km2) property. PARC split up the base into 165 parcels for redevelopment.[5]

On August 16 and 17, 1996, PARC hosted a massive music concert on the runway of the old decommissioned airbase featuring the band Phish. 70,000 people attended this concert known as the Clifford Ball[6] which added $20 million to the local economy.[7]

Current PARC tenants on former airbase properties leased by PARC include Wood Group Pratt & Whitney Industrial Turbine Services (the first and longest continuous tenant), Bombardier,[8] Composite Factory, Inc.[9], ORC Macro,[10] Pratt & Whitney,[11], GSM Vehicles (vintage trailer restoration) and the Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO).[12]

The U.S. Air Force lists Plattsburgh among its BRAC "success stories."[13] The base's reuse and the circumstances surrounding it were chronicled in Flying High Again: PARC's Redevelopment of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, written by Marian Calabro and published by in 2008.[14] Brief video histories of PAFB and its redevelopment are available on YouTube.[15]

While digging for new PARC construction was underway low level nuclear materials (such as contaminated protective clothing) were found buried. The levels of radiation were safe and the area was decontaminated.


Plattsburgh AFB is bordered by the city of Plattsburgh and the Saranac River to the north and the Salmon River to the south. It lies on the western shore of Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border.[1]

In Non-Fiction

Earl Stevenson, TSGT USAF (Ret. dec.), the subject of the memoir, "Strictly a Loner: My Life and Times with Plattsburgh's Poorest Millionaire" learned to play the stock market from his commander at Vandenberg AFB in the late 1950's. After space-A hopping around the world, he stopped in Plattsburgh, New York in 1966 and began renting rooms in the Northern New York city. He was often seen at the Base Hospital, the NCO club (image in book) and base Thrift Shop. He also frequented the Skyway Plaza.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0912799536; 0160022614

External links

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