Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Ellsworth AFB became home to a fleet of B-1 bombers in 1986.
Ellsworth AFB became home to a fleet of B-1 bombers in 1986.
U.S. Air Force photo
March 21, 2016

IN HISTORY: Contract Finalized To Build Rapid City Air Force Base, March 30, 1942

As World War II engulfed Europe and Asia in 1941, the United States readied its defenses by establishing new military bases in the interior of the country. 

Rapid City Air Force Base became home to the 88th Bombardment Group and the 17th Bombardment Training Wing in October of 1942. At the base, crews were trained to fly B-17 Flying Fortress airplanes.

Between 1942 and 1945, approximately 8,500 military pilots, radio operators, gunners and navigators rotated through the new facility.

As the tide of the war turned in 1944, the mission of Rapid City Air Force Base changed to train pilots to fly the new B-29 bomber on long range runs over Japan.

After World War II ended in August 1945, the base's mission shifted to peacetime training. It was temporarily deactivated until March 1947 when it became home to the 28th Bombardment Wing flying the B-29 Superfortress.

On June 13, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to Rapid City to rename and dedicate the base as Ellsworth Air Force Base. The renaming honored Brig. Gen. Richard Ellsworth, who commanded the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. Ellsworth had died along with 23 crew members earlier that year in a plane crash near Newfoundland, Canada. 

As the world moved into the Cold War, so, too, did Ellsworth AFB. The base became home to B-52 Stratofortress planes, to a Strategic Air Command mission and to intercontinental ballistic missiles under the 44th Missile Wing.

In 1986, Ellsworth AFB converted to the B-1B Lancer Bomber, which it continues to operate under the 28th Bomb Wing. In addition, Ellsworth AFB is now home to the MQ-9 drone ground control station and the U.S. Air Force Financial Services Center.

Read a more detailed history of Ellsworth AFB on the Black Hills Knowledge Network.

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