Tonopah Test Range Airport
Tonopah Test Range Airport (1957-Active) - A United States Air Force Base first established in 1957 as Tonopah Test Range Airport near Tonopah, Nye County, Nevada. Active military base. Designations include IATA: XSD, ICAO: KTNX, and FAA LID: TNX.
Post World War II
The Tonopah Test Range Airport first opened in 1957, supporting operations on the Test Range itself, which was used for the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, later Department of Energy or DOE) funded nuclear weapon programs. Eventually, the installation and its 6,000 ft asphalt runway were abandoned.
USAF Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War in 1965 led to the introduction of the subsonic MiG-17 (J5) and the supersonic MiG-21 aircraft by the North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) to counter the USAF B-52 bomber attacks. In the mid-1970s several nations replace their Soviet fighter aircraft with USAF aircraft and this allowed them to clandestinely transfer unneeded MiG-21 and ultra-modern MiG-23 aircraft to the United States for evaluation. Up to 25 of these Soviet aircraft made their way to Groom Lake and pilots assigned to Nellis AFB were sent to the facility for training as "Aggressor" pilots. As the fleet of Soviet aircraft grew at Groom Lake, the facilities there became overcrowded and on 1 Apr 1977, the 4477th TEF was reassigned to Tonopah to evaluate the Mig capabilities and further develop tactics.
In the summer of 1979, Tonopah Test Range Airport was selected to be the home of the Tactical Air Command 4450th Tactical Group. The mission of the 4450th at Tonopah was to guide the classified F-117A Stealth Fighter to an initial operating capability.
Starting in October 1979 the Tonopah Test Range Airport was reconstructed and expanded in three phases.
Phase I - In Phase one the base was occupied by USAF security police and the flight line was double-fenced with gate access to the runway only. The area between the fences was lighted at night and had intruder detectors. Buildings included a small mess hall and sixteen winterized trailers. The 6,000 ft runway was lengthened to 10,000 ft. Taxiways, a concrete apron, a large maintenance hangar, and a propane storage tank were added.
Phase II - An extra taxiway was constructed along with a new control tower, a 42,000-square-foot hangar, a parts warehouse, a dining hall, a water storage tank, and extensive fuel storage tanks.
Phase III - Added a 2,000 ft runway extension to a total length of 12,000 ft. Extensions were made to taxiways, the ramp, the runway gained arrester gear, and new navigation aids were installed. More fuel storage was provided, together with Liquid Oxygen (LOX) storage, a fire station, and the first 24 aircraft hangars. The cost was over $100 million.
Operations - On 17 May 1982, the move of the 4450th TG from Groom Lake to Tonopah was initiated, with the final components of the move completed in early 1983. The Tactical Air Command ("R"-Unit) remained at Groom Lake until the last production F-117 was delivered from Lockheed in July 1990. During the operational lifetime of the F-117 personnel from Tonopah and later Holloman AFB would be temporarily deployed to Groom Lake for various checkout flights of classified elements of the aircraft.
The F-117 project was highly classified and Tonopah Test Range Airport became a black project facility. Nearly all Air Force personnel and their families lived in the city of Las Vegas. Group personnel would be flown to Tonopah each Monday morning on a contract Key Airlines Boeing 727 aircraft at Nellis AFB. Personnel would live in dormitories during the work week, then fly back to Nellis AFB Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Routine F-117A operations began in late 1982 with missions flown under the cover of darkness still as a black project. In November 1988 the Air Force formally acknowledged its F-117 activities at Tonopah. In April 1990, an F-117 was placed on public display at Nellis AFB.
On 19 Aug 1990, 22 F-117A's from the 415th and a dozen tankers left Tonopah for Langley AFB. A total of 18 F-117s would continue onward to Khamis Mushait Air Base in Saudi Arabia for Operation DESERT SHIELD. The planes and a contingent of Tonopah Test Range personnel remained in Saudi Arabia until late 1991. Flying operations and staffing at Tonopah declined significantly during 1991. Some of the support facilities which had been open 24 hours a day, such as the dining halls and library, began routinely closing at night.
Plans were put in place to construct facilities for the F-117A at Holloman Air Force Base which was more suitable for an operational mission. On 9 May 1992, the F-117As arrived at Holloman AFB and on 31 Dec 1992 Tonopah was placed in caretaker status.
The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron, operating Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, was activated at Tonopah in August 2005. The squadron currently operates the USAF's RQ-170 Sentinel UAVs.
In 2008, the surviving fleet of 52 production F-117As was stored, with wings removed, in their original hangars back at Tonopah. The last operational F-117A left Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale, California, home of the Lockheed Skunk Works for Tonopah on 11 August 2008, In 2010, four F-117A aircraft plus two maintenance spares are reportedly back in use for R&D purposes at Groom Lake, the rest remain in storage at Tonopah. F-117s were seen flying in Nevada in May 2013 and F-117s have been spotted flying near Tonopah as recently as February 2019.
An active military airfield within the FAA ARTCC Los Angeles Center area of control. The owner is listed as HQ Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.