44th Missile Wing
In October 1960, Ellsworth AFB entered the "Space Age," with the activation of the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron, initially assigned to the 28 BMW. Throughout its history, the 44th Strategic Missile Wing competed strongly in Olympic Arena competition, frequently claiming top honors at the Vandenberg-hosted competition.
The 44 MW traced its roots back to World War II when the unit was the 44th Bombardment Group. Known as the "Flying Eight Balls," the unit was activated at MacDill Field, Florida on 15 January 1941 and trained on and was equipped with the B-24 Liberator. In 1962, the unit was reactivated at Ellsworth AFB, SD, and redesignated the 44th Strategic Missile Wing as part of the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division.
For more than a year this squadron prepared for the emplacement of Titan I intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which finally arrived in 1962, shortly after the activation of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) in January. At that time Headquarters SAC also named the 44 SMW as host wing at Ellsworth.
The wing received its first operational Titan I missile on 22 June 1962. The Titan I missile sites were located near Wicksville, Hermosa, and Sturgis SD. The 850th Strategic Missile Squadron controlled maintenance and operations of the missiles.
Titan's life span was short in western South Dakota. In July 1962, SAC had effectively rendered it obsolete by activating the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron, the first of three such units slated to operate 150 Minuteman I ICBMs under the 44 SMW. The last Titan missile had been removed in February 1965. Since the Minuteman had completely replaced the Titan's, the 850 SMS was inactivated on 25 March 1965.
During 1962, three new strategic missile squadrons-the 66th,67th, and 68th, were activated to support the new Minuteman I system. The 67th Strategic Missile Squadron joined the 44th in August, followed by the 68th Strategic Missile Squadron in September 1962. A 44th Missile Maintenance Squadron was established at the same time. Each strategic missile squadron supported five flights of Minuteman missiles with 50 missiles per squadron.
A total of 150 launch facilities were constructed to house the missiles. The first Minuteman missile was positioned near Wall, SD in April 1963. All Minuteman I missiles were in place by the end of 1963. On 1 March 1965, "Operation Long Life" took place. This was the first of three scheduled launches of the Minuteman system. A missile with seven seconds of fuel was launched. With the test proving successful, the additional two launches were canceled. This was the only test launch in US ICBM history to be fired from an operational site.
Ellsworth was slated to host a unique series of operational tests. Approved by the Secretary of Defense in November 1964, "Project Long Life" called for the short-range operational base launch of three modified Minuteman IB ICBMs to provide a realistic test for this system. Each missile would contain enough propellant for a 7-second flight and have inert upper stages and reentry vehicles. The first launch occurred on March 1, 1965, and successfully demonstrated the ability of a SAC missile crew to launch an ICBM.
The 44 SMW played a key role in establishing the Airborne Launch Control System in the late 1960's. On 1 January 1970, the 44 SMW assumed airborne launch responsibility for Minot Air Force Base, ND, and Malstrom AFB, MT. Four months later, the ALCS joined the Post Attack Command and Control System forming the 4th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, which was assigned to the 28th Bombardment Wing at Ellsworth AFB, SD.
On 30 June 1971, the 44 SMW was named host unit at Ellsworth AFB when the 821st Strategic Aerospace Division was inactivated. The wing was reassigned under the 4th Air Division headquartered at F.E. Warren AFB, WY. The wing was later assigned as part of the 57th Air Division headquartered at Minot AFB, ND.
In October 1971, the transition from Minuteman I to Minuteman II began. The transition, known as "Force Modernization", was complete in March 1973. With these new missiles in place, Ellsworth was selected to host "Giant Pace Test 74-1," the first Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman SELM) exercise. During this test, 11 SELM-configured Minuteman II ICBMs underwent successful simulated launch on command from both underground launch-control centers and the Airborne Launch Control System.
During February 1991, the Secretary of Defense announced that the Air Force would begin retirement of older weapon systems in response to a changing world environment and declining defense budget. The deactivation of the Minuteman II missile system was announced on 15 April 1991. The schedule for Ellsworth included a one squadron per year draw-down beginning with the 67 SMS, followed by the 66 SMS, and finally the 68 SMS.
Under a Strategic Air Command (SAC) wide reorganization plan, the unit was redesignated the 44th Missile Wing and assigned to the 20th Air Force.
On 28 September 1991, in response to President Bush's directive to stand down the Minuteman II, personnel of the 44 MW worked around the clock to dissipate launch codes and pin safety control switches at 15 launch control facilities. Removal of the first Minuteman II missile assigned to the 44 MW occurred at G-02, near Red Owl, South Dakota, on 3 December 1991. On 6 April 1992, the first launch control center shut down. On 1 June 1992, the 44 MW was relieved of its emergency war order mission and its primary focus was deactivation of the Minuteman II weapon system. This day also marked the end of SAC and the beginning of Air Combat Command (ACC), which the 44 MW was assigned to.
The 67th Missile Squadron (MS) was inactivated on 15 August 1992, and the 66 MS was inactivated on 1 September 1993. On 1 July 1993 the 44 MW changed hands from ACC to Air Force Space Command along with all other ICBM wings. Deactivation of the entire missile complex ended in April 1994. With its mission complete, the 44th Missile Wing formally inactivated on 4 July 1994.
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