Ellsworth Air Force Base

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Ellsworth Air Force Base (1941-Active) - A United States Air Force Base first established in 1941 as Rapid City Army Air Field near Rapid City, Meade County, South Dakota. Briefly renamed Weaver Air Force Base after Brig Gen Walter R. Weaver between January and June 1948 but reverted to Rapid City Air Force Base after that. Rededicated on 13 Jun 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Cullum 5373), and renamed Ellsworth Air Force Base in memory of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth (Cullum 10240), who was killed in the crash of an RB-36 in March 1953. Active Air Force Base.

Ellsworth B-1B Lancer Bomber Landing at Ellsworth Air Force Base on 18 Oct 2018
Ellsworth Name Chronology
Name From To
Rapid City Army Air Base Dec 1941 1 Sep 1946
Rapid City Army Air Field 1 Sep 1946 28 Nov 1947
Rapid City Air Field 28 Nov 1947 13 Jan 1948
Weaver Air Force Base 13 Jan 1948 24 Jun 1948
Rapid City Air Force Base 24 Jun 1948 1 Jun 1953
Ellsworth Air Force Base 1 Jun 1953 Current

World War II

On 2 Jan 1942, the U.S. War Department established Rapid City Army Air Base to train B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber units to fight the Axis in Europe. The control tower opened on 30 Sep 1942; runways, quarters, offices, and facilities were complete on 1 Oct 1942, and five hangars were completed in late 1942. The airfield had three concrete runways. Rapid City AAF was assigned to the 17th Bombardment Training Wing, II Bomber Command. The 88th Bombardment Group was reassigned to the new base in October 1942 to be the base's Operational Training Unit.

In March 1944, the base switched from training entire units to training replacement personnel to send to units already overseas. The field's instructors taught thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators and gunners from nine heavy bombardment groups and numerous smaller units. On 15 July 1945, the training unit was deactivated and Rapid City AAB was placed on standby status.

Post World War II

B-29 at the Air & Space Museum.
B-52 at the Air & Space Museum.

Rapid City AAB was reactivated on 11 October 1945 and was assigned to Continental Air Force. It was designated a permanent facility by the Army Air Force. The base briefly trained weather reconnaissance and combat squadrons using P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25 Mitchell aircraft.

From September 1946 to March 1947, the airfield was shut down for major improvements to accommodate the B-29 Superfortress. An extension to the runway was completed in spring 1948.

Cold War

Operations resumed in 1947 with Rapid City AAF flying prop-driven B-29 bombers. In September 1947 a separate U.S. Air Force was created and bases assigned to the new Air Force became known as Air Force Bases. Rapid City AAF subsequently became Rapid City Air Force Base.

More runway improvements were completed in July 1949, allowing a switch from B-29s to the huge B-36 Peacemaker bombers. In 1953 Rapid City AFB became Ellsworth AFB. The B-36 bombers at Ellsworth AFB were phased out in 1957 for the new all-jet B-52 bombers. The last B-36 left Ellsworth on 29 May 1957 and the first B-52 arrived sixteen days later.

In 1986, Ellsworth began to transition from the B-52 to the advanced B-1B Lancer bomber. New enlisted dormitories were completed in March 1986. A new security police squadron headquarters was completed in October, and Ellsworth's 13,497-foot runway was upgraded. The last of the B-52Hs left in early 1986 and in January 1987 the first of 35 B-1B bombers arrived.

Post Cold War

On 1 Jun 1992, as part of the first major reorganization since the creation of USAF, the Air Force inactivated Strategic Air Command and assigned Ellsworth AFB to the newly activated Air Combat Command (ACC). The mission then changed from strategic bombardment to worldwide conventional munitions delivery with the B-1B bomber as the primary delivery vehicle.

Ellsworth Air Force Base circa 1990.

Air Defense

Air Defense Command (ADC) activated the 740th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron (AC&W) at Rapid City AFB on 1 Feb 1953. See a separate page for the Ellsworth Air Force Station. This site was one of the Air Force radar sites designated to be co-located with a U.S. Army Nike Army Air-Defense Command Post (AADCP). ADC deactivated the Ellsworth radar site on 15 Aug 1962.

U.S. Army Nike Missiles Batteries

Nike Ajax Missile at the Air & Space Museum.

To provide air defense of the base, the United States Army established the Ellsworth AFB Defense Area in 1957 and constructed Nike-Ajax Surface-to-air missile sites. See a separate page for the Ellsworth NIKE Sites

Headquarters facilities were located at Ellsworth. In 1958, batteries E-20, E-40, and E-70 were removed from service and E-01 was converted to fire Nike Hercules missiles. This battery remained in service until 1961.

An Army Air-Defense Command Post (AADCP) was established at Ellsworth in 1960 for Nike missile command-and-control functions. The site was equipped with the GSG-5(V) BIRDIE solid-state computer system. The AADCP was integrated with the ADC Radar Site facilities. The AADCP ceased all operations when the ADC radar site shut down in 1962.

Ellsworth Nike Batteries (edit list)
Battery Type Location Operational Deactivated GPS Notes
E-??DC Command Post Ellsworth AFB 1960 1962 44.1545,
USAF Radar M-97
E-01C Control Ellsworth AFB 1957 1961 44.22944,
E-01L Launch Ellsworth AFB 1957 1961 44.20417,
E-20C Control Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.15861,
E-20L Launch Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.15056,
E-40C Control Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.08778,
Now houses the radar for the
Dakota Air Traffic Control Facility
E-40L Launch Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.10361,
E-70C Control Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.15806,
E-70L Launch Ellsworth AFB 1957 1958 44.15306,
* Ed Thelen Site - Nike Site Locations
* Wikipedia - List of Nike Sites
* Tech Bastards - Nike Missile Locations
* Radomes - List of Nike Related Radar Sites
* Nike Historical Society
* Lonnquest, John C. and Winkler, David F., To Defend and Deter: The Legacy of the United States Cold War Missile Program, USACERL Special Report 97/01, Nov 1996, 607 pages, Pdf
* Morgan, Mark L. and Berhow, Mark A., Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979, Third Edition, Hole in the Head Press, Bodega Bay, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9761494-0-8, 358 pages

After the Army closed their facilities, the military housing at the Nike sites was transferred to control of Ellsworth AFB and was used as Air Force military family housing until about 1990.

Strategic Missile Systems

EC-135 Airborne Launch Control Center 1970-1992

From 1 Apr 1970 to 30 Sep 1992, the 4th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS) provided airborne command post capabilities with modified Boeing EC-135 airborne command post aircraft for the Strategic Air Command. The 4th ACCS was the workhorse of the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) operations. Three dedicated Airborne Launch Control Centers (ALCC), ALCC No. 1, ALCC No. 2, and ALCC No. 3 were on ground alert around-the-clock providing ALCS coverage for five of the six Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Wings.

HGM-25A Titan I Missile, 1960-1965

In October 1960, Ellsworth activated the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron in preparation for the arrival of HGM-25A Titan I intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which arrived in 1962, shortly after the activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (44 SMW) in January.

850th Strategic Missile Squadron Titan I Launch Complexes
Base Site Silos Near County State GPS Notes
Ellsworth 850-A 3 New Underwood Pennington County SD 44.13714, -102.61776
Ellsworth 850-B 3 Hermosa Custer County SD 43.77703, -103.1467
Ellsworth 850-C 3 Sturgis Meade County SD 44.39796, -103.31328

The Titan ICBMs of the 850th SMS were removed from alert status on 4 Jan 1965 and the 850th SMS was deactivated on 25 Mar 1965.

LGM-30 Minuteman Missile, 1962-1994

Minuteman Missile at the Air & Space Museum.
Delta 09 Launch Site - Practice Missile in Silo on Display.

In July 1962, SAC activated the 66th Missile Squadron, the first of three such units slated to operate 150 LGM-30B Minuteman I ICBMs under the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW). The 67th Missile Squadron joined the 44th in August, followed by the 68th Missile Squadron in September 1962.

On 1 Mar 1965, As a test, the first launch of an ICBM from an operational base was made from Ellsworth AFB. A short-range, tethered, and unarmed Minuteman I missile was launched.

On 1 June 1971, SAC inactivated the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division and by October of that year, an upgraded LGM-30F Minuteman II also replaced the Minuteman I missiles.

After the Berlin Wall fell in October 1989 a period of rapid change culminated in the President ordering all strategic nuclear alert operations to stand-down and the Cold War was over.

On 3 Dec 1991, the first Minuteman II missile was removed from its silo and on 6 Apr 1992, the first Minuteman II launch control center shut down. Inactivation of the entire Minuteman II missile complex ended in April 1994. Under conditions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, all of the 44th Missile Wing's Minuteman silos and launch control centers were slated for demolition with the exception of Sites Delta-01 and Delta-09. These two sites were turned over to the National Park Service for preservation as part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Current Status

Active Air Force Base. Home of the 28th Bomb Wing which is assigned to the 8th Air Force under Air Force Global Strike Command. The mission of the 28th Bomb Wing is to put bombs on target. The 28th Bomb Wing is home to 27 B-1B Lancer bombers, and in 2012 began flying MQ-9 Reaper missions. The 89th Attack Squadron is a tenant unit at Ellsworth Air Force Base assigned to Air Combat Command.

The 28th Bomb Wing is divided into the 28th Operations Group, the 28th Maintenance Group, the 28th Mission Support Group, and the 28th Medical Group.

Location: Rapid City, Meade County, South Dakota.

Maps & Images

Lat: 44.14304 Long: -103.10081

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 3,276'

GPS Locations:

See Also:


  • Ebeling, Pogany, Slattery & Squitieri, The Missile Plains: Frontline of America’s Cold War, Historic Resource Study, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota, National Park Service, Midwest Regional Office, 2003, page 65
  • Lonnquest, John C. and Winkler, David F., To Defend And Deter: The Legacy Of The United States Cold War Missile Program, USACERL Special Report 97/01 November 1996, U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories, Champaign, IL Defense Publishing Service, Rock Island, IL, page 86, 133, 376, 414-416, 548.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2443984


Visited: 3 Jun 2020, 28 Sep 2010

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