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A Brief History of Beale AFB

Courtesy of Dr. Coy Cox, 9RW Historian

Beale AFB not only has a unique mission, it was named for a unique individual. Unlike most other bases that were named for aviators, Beale was named for Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822-1893), the nineteenth century pioneer. Beale graduated from the Naval Academy, served in the California militia, and led the experiment to replace Army mules with camels.

Camp Beale opened in October 1942 as a training site for the 13th Armored and the 81st and 96th Infantry Divisions. During World War II Camp Beale's 86,000 acres were home for more than 60,000 soldiers, a prisoner-of-war encampment, and a 1000-bed hospital. In 1948 the camp transferred from the Army to the Air Force. The Air Force conducted bombardier and navigator training at Beale and in 1951 reactivated the Beale Bombing and Gunnery Range for aviation engineer training. The base has been under several commands, including: Air Training Command, Continental Air Command, Aviation Engineer Force, the Strategic Air Command, and since 1 June 1992, Air Combat Command.

In May 1959, Colonel Paul K. Carlton assumed command of the recently activated 4126th Strategic Wing. The first two KC-135s arrived two months later on 7 July 1959. On 18 January 1960, the 31st Bombardment Squadron with its B-52s arrived at Beale to become part of the wing. The 14th Air Division moved to Beale from Travis AFB, one week later. On 1 February 1963, SAC redesignated the 4126th as the 456th Strategic Aerospace Wing. On 30 September 1975, the 456th Bombardment Wing deactivated and the 17th Bombardment Wing activated in its place. On 30 September 1976, the 17th deactivated and the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona became the 100th Air Refueling Wing and moved to Beale. Many of the people and the tankers that had been part of the 17th now became members of the 100th. The 17th Wing's B-52s moved to other bases. The 100th ARW stayed at Beale until 15 March 1983 when the Air Force deactivated the wing and consolidated its refueling mission and assets into the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. From 1959 until 1965, Beale was support base for three Titan I missile sites near Lincoln, Chico, and the Sutter Buttes. On 1 July 1979, the 7th Missile Warning Squadron brought the Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) Radar site to Beale. This 10-story structure can detect possible attack by sea-launched ballistic missiles or track a global satellite.

On 15 October 1964, the Department of Defense announced that Beale would be the home of the new, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft, the SR-71 "Blackbird". The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing activated on 1 January 1965. The new wing received its first aircraft, a T-38 Talon, on 8 July 1965. The first SR-71 did not arrive until 7 January 1966. On 25 June, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, that began as the 9th Observation Group in 1922 and its 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron activated as the 1st Aero Squadron in 1913, replaced the 4200th. The first U-2 arrived from Davis Monthan on 12 July 1976. Until 26 January 1990, when budget restrictions forced the retirement of the SR-71, Beale AFB was the home of two of the world's most unique aircraft. On 1 September 1991, the 14th Air Division deactivated and the Second Air Force, with a lineage stretching back to World War II, activated at Beale. Second Air Force inactivated at Beale on 1 July 1993.

In July 1994 the 350th Air Refueling Squadron transferred from Beale to McConnell AFB, Kansas, taking the last of the KC-135Q tankers with it. Tankers returned in 1998 when the 940th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, transferred to Beale. So today Beale AFB is again the home for the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, the T-38 jet trainer and the KC-135 tanker. Visitors enter the base through a main gate that local merchants, individuals and the Beale Military Liaison Committee donated $100,000 to construct. The base, covering nearly 23,000 acres, is home for approximately 4,000 military personnel. Beale AFB has a unique name and mission, a historic past, and a promising future.

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