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Tonopah Test Range Airfield

The 99th Range Squadron commands two detachments: Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, which manages Nellis' Southern Ranges, and Tonopah Test Range Airfield, which manages Nellis' Northern Ranges. Detachment 2 of the 99th Range Squadron is responsible for, and directs, all ACC activities at Tonopah Test Range Airfield and the Northern Ranges. Like their southern partners, the detachment directs support of DoD, DOE research, development, and testing programs and also supports recovery of emergency/divert military aircraft involved in major testing and aircrew training exercises.

The Tonopah Test Range (TTR) is located in the northwestern portion of the Nellis Air Force Range in south-central Nevada. Tonopah Test Range (TTR) and its Facilities are located approximately 30 miles South East of the town of Tonopah, Nevada. TTR consists of a single runway airfield with associated support facilities. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) administers TTR in cooperation with Sandia National Laboratory. Presently there are approximately 250 military and civilian workers at TTR conducting aeronautical research and development.

In late 1979, the USAF began using the facility to test and evaluate aircraft. An ambitious construction program was initiated to develop the airfield's support facilities. The F-117 was initially based on the Tonopah range, also known as Mellon Strip, where the F-117 Stealth fighter became operational in 1983.

TTR was a small-scale Department of Energy (DOE) operation until 1982, when the base was modernized to accommodate the F-117. An enormous hangar complex was constructed at TTR to house the fleet of F-117s. The secret base, located in Area 30 on the Nellis range, consists of 72 specially built hangers for these secret aircraft. New military buildings, such as hangars and other constructions at Tonopah, incurred costs of 295 million dollars. The hangers are arranged in sets (Canyons), and each hangers are named 'Barns'. Each set is parallel to the very long Runway and are arranged in lines opposite to one another.

By October 1983, the F-117A program was moved to the Tonopah Test Range. The 4450th Tactical Fighter Group, officially at Nellis AFB, began to fly the "black world" airplane from Tonopah. The planes were tested in secret well into the 1980s at Tonopah, where three mysterious crashes sparked public interest. The F-117A was declared operational in 1983, but the aircraft flew only at night from its secret base at Tonopah to preserve program secrecy until late in 1989 when daytime flying began. The Air Force didn't confirm the existence of this airplane until November 1988.

Reassigned to Twelfth Air Force, the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing turned over F-4G aircraft to 35th TFW and moved to Tonopah Test Range, NV, without personnel and equipment on 5 October 1989, absorbing the manpower, equipment, and the world's first Stealth fighter, the F-117A, of the former 4450th Tactical Group. The wing trained to integrate stealth technology with more conventional methods of combat operations.

The 37th Wing had the dsitinction of dropping the first bombs to begin the invasion of Panama on 20 December 1989.

The 37th Tactical Fighter Wing began deploying to Southwest Asia in August 1990 as part of Operations Desert Shield/Storm. During Desert Storm, 36 F-117s deployed from the base at Tonopah. 17 January 1991, stealth fighters hit 26 high-value Iraqi targets in and around Baghdad, and thereafter, continued interdiction missions throughout the remainder of the air war. The Nighthawk conducted more than 1,250 sorties, dropped more than 2,000 tons of bombs and flew more than 6,900 hours. Personnel and aircraft from the 37th remained on indefinite alert in Saudi Arabia as a component member of Central Air Forces' (CENTAF) post-Desert Storm task force in Southwest Asia.

After years of operations at Tonopah, the F-117 was redeployed to Holloman AFB (New Mexico) in May/July 1992, where it is part of the 49th Fighter Wing. In January 1990, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney proposed that the stealth fighters be relocated from Tonopah, to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico's Tularosa Basin. In April 1990, the F-117 was placed on public display for the first time at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Some 150,000 people saw the aircraft that day, including families who hadn't been allowed to know what their parents and spouses were doing between the time they flew away Monday morning and returned home Friday afternoon. On May 9, 1992, four F-117 stealth fighters from Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, arrived at Holloman.

The 37th was redesignated as the 37th Fighter Wing on 1 October 1991 and inactivated on 8 July 1992 after departure of the F-117 Stealth Fighters in May-July of 1992.

After the Stealth fighters moved to Holloman Air Force, Tonopah was still active, though the focus of this activity remains obscure.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:57:28 ZULU