On June 10, 1942, an event occurred that permanently changed the face of the Tularosa Basin—Alamogordo Army Air Field was established at a site just west of Alamogordo, N.M. Initial plans called for the base to serve as the center for the British Overseas Training Program; the British hoped to train their aircrews over the open New Mexico skies. However, everything changed when the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the Hawaiian Islands on Dec. 7, 1941. The British abandoned their overseas training program and U.S. military leadership viewed the location as a prime opportunity to train its own growing military. Construction began at the airfield when Christopher Gallegos cut the first strand of barbed wire at a point about one-half mile west of the current location of Holloman’s main gate, Feb. 6, 1942.
From 1942-1945, Alamogordo Army Air Field served as the training grounds for over 20 different groups, primarily flying B-17s, B-24s and B-29s. Typically, these groups served at the airfield for six months, training their personnel before heading to combat in the Pacific or European Theater.
The 450th Bombardment Group was one of the many to cut its teeth at Alamogordo. After training, the group went on to serve in nearly every major combat operation in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans. During their combat service, the 450th garnered two distinguished unit citations and 11 campaign credits.
After World War II, the future of the base seemed uncertain. In fact, rumors abounded concerning the closure of the site, fueled by the fact that flying operations ceased. However, in 1947 a new era began when Air Materiel Command announced the airfield would be its primary site for the testing and development of pilotless aircraft, guided missiles and other research programs. On July 23, 1947, the first missile firing took place at Alamogordo Army Airfield, with the launch of a ground-to-air pilotless aircraft.
For the next 25 years the site, which became known as the Holloman Air Development Center and later the Air Force Missile Development Center, launched many missiles including Tiny Tim, the first Army rocket, Rascal, Aerobee, Falcon, Mace, Matador and Shrike.
On Jan. 13, 1948, the Alamogordo installation was renamed Holloman Air Force Base in posthumous honor of Col. George V. Holloman, a pioneer in guided missile research.
Holloman wrote its name into the annals of American history in the 1950s and 1960s. On Dec. 10, 1954, Lt. Col. (Dr.) John P. Stapp received the nickname “The Fastest Man on Earth” when he rode a rocket-propelled test sled, Sonic Wind No. 1, to a speed of 632 miles per hour. Additionally, Capt. Joseph Kittinger Jr. stepped out of an open balloon gondola at 102,800 feet on Aug. 16, 1960, in an attempt to evaluate techniques of high altitude bailout. Capt. Kittinger’s jump lasted 13 minutes, reaching a velocity of 614 miles per hour. That jump broke four world records: highest open gondola manned balloon flight, highest balloon flight of any kind, highest bailout and longest free fall. A final noteworthy event occurred on Nov. 29, 1961, when Enos, a chimpanzee trained at the Holloman Aero-Medical Laboratory, was the first American launched into orbit.
A new era began in the Tularosa Basin on July 1, 1968, when the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing arrived at Holloman. The 49th continued to write history by earning the MacKay Trophy for redeployment from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. The Wing was able to flawlessly launch 72 F-4D aircraft without a single abort and complete 504 successful air-to-air refuelings during the 5,000 mile trip from Spangdahlem to Holloman. From May 11 through Sept. 24, 1972, the 49th deployed to Takhli Royal Thai Air Base.
The 49th F-4 Phantom IIs introduced an era of fighter aircraft training and operations, which has continued for over three decades. In 1977 the 49th transitioned to the F-15 Eagle, the Air Force’s top air-to-air weapon. In 1992, Holloman again garnered national attention when the Air Force’s most technologically advanced fighter, the F-117A Nighthawk, made its new home at Holloman. Today Holloman serves at the forefront of military operations with its F-117A stealth aircraft, supports worldwide deployments through the BEAR Base team and hosts the German Air Force’s Flying Training Center.
In 1992, Holloman replaced Tonopah Test Range, Nev., as the home to the first stealth fighter, the F-117A Nighthawk. Ironically, the F-117A retired on April 21, 2008, exactly 18 years after it made its “official” public debut at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
In June 2008, Holloman got national attention when Congress chose the 49th Wing as the third location to receive the U.S.’s premier air superiority fighter, the F-22A Raptor. The F-22A is designed to counter lethal threats posed by advanced surface-to-air missile systems and nextgeneration fighters equipped with launchand- leave missile capability. The Raptor is America’s premier transformational weapon system that will secure our asymmetric advantage with enemy forces and ensure the successful execution of our National Defense Strategy. This aircraft will “kick down the door,” clearing the way for joint forces engagement. With the Raptor the Air Force is guaranteed to continue air dominance in the 21st century.
Seven Decades of History
The 49th Wing traces its history back to the activation of the 49th Pursuit Group on Jan. 15, 1941, at Selfridge Field, Mich. Following the onset of war, the 49th was one of the first units to respond to Japanese aggression. On Feb. 2, 1942, the 49th moved to Melbourne, Australia, to provide air defense across the South Pacific. Over the next three years the 49th flew the P-38, P-40 and P-47 in campaigns over China, Japan, New Guinea and the Battle of the Bismark Sea, recording 678 confirmed kills. Forty of those kills came to one man, Maj. Richard I. Bong, who set a record that still stands, earning the title “America’s Ace of Aces.” Although the majority of units inactivated in a massive post- World War II drawdown, the 49th remained active. On Sept. 12, 1945, the 49th began their service as an occupational force of Japan when the group moved to Atsugi Air Base, Japan. From there, the 49th Wing activated, serving as the headquarters unit for the 49th Fighter Group, which maintained the 7th Fighter Squadron under its operational control.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army launched an attack against South Korea. Called upon to react quickly to the invasion, the first mission of the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing was to fly cover missions for the evacuation of civilians from Kimpo and Suwon, Korea. Over the course of the Korean War, primarily flying the F-80 and F-84, the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing participated in every major air operation, destroying 27 aircraft, 239 tanks, 150 locomotives, over 3,000 railroad cars, more than 2,000 vehicles, 889 artillery positions and 125 gun positions. For their action, the 49th received eight campaign credits and two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations.
Following the Korean ceasefire, the 49th returned to Japan in 1953. In 1957, the wing ended its 15-year service in Asia, moving to Etain-Rouvers Air Base, France, and then Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. During this period, the 49th flew the F-100, F-105 and F-4.
On July 1, 1968, the “Fighting 49ers” returned to the United States for the first time in 26 years, making Holloman Air Force Base home. The 49th continued to write history by earning the MacKay Trophy for redeployment from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. The Wing was able to flawlessly launch 72 F-4D aircraft without a single abort and complete 504 successful air-to-air refuelings during the 5,000 mile trip from Spangdahlem to Holloman.
From May 11 through Sept. 24, 1972, under Operation Constant Guard III, the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed a force of 72 F-4s and 2,300 personnel to Takhli Royal Thai Air Base. During Constant Guard, the 49th flew over 10,000 combat missions for more than 22,000 combat hours, dropping more than 41 million pounds of ordnance with a 90-percent accuracy rate on targets in North and South Vietnam.
For their actions, the 49th received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with combat “V” device for valor.
In 1977, the wing traded its F-4s for the Air Force’s premier air-to-air weapon, the F-15 Eagle. Fifteen years later, the wing introduced the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter into the Air Force inventory. Today the wing uses the F-22A Raptor to ensure air dominance and enhance the success of friendly forces through improved effectiveness and situational awareness. The F-22A ensures the “Fightin 49ers” are ready to fly, fight, and win while providing combat ready Airmen—ANYWHERE… ANYTIME. All told, the 49th Wing has proudly fulfilled its motto for nearly 70 years: “I Protect and Avenge.”