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Castle Air Force Base

Castle Air Force Base

Overview
Castle Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 base located northeast of Atwater
Atwater, California
Atwater is a city on U.S. Route 99 in Merced County, California, United States. Atwater is west-northwest of Merced, at an elevation of 151 feet . The population as of the 2010 census was 28,168.-Geography:...

, northwest of Merced
Merced, California
Merced is a city in, and the county seat of, Merced County, California in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 78,958. Incorporated in 1889, Merced is a charter city that operates under a council-manager government...

 and about 123 miles (197.9 km) east southeast of San Francisco, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

.

The base, located in unincorporated
Unincorporated area
In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not a part of any municipality.To "incorporate" in this context means to form a municipal corporation, a city, town, or village with its own government. An unincorporated community is usually not subject to or taxed by a municipal government...

 Merced County
Merced County, California
Merced County , is a county located in the Central Valley of the U.S. state of California, north of Fresno and southeast of San Jose. As of the 2010 census, the population was 255,793, up from 210,554 at the 2000 census. The county seat is Merced...

, was closed after the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 in 1995. It is now known as the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.

Castle AFB was named in honor of Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 Frederick W. Castle
Frederick W. Castle
Frederick Walker Castle was a general officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was killed in action leading the bombing mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.-Background:Castle was born at Fort McKinley in Manila, the...

 (1908–1944) on 17 January 1946.
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Encyclopedia
Castle Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 base located northeast of Atwater
Atwater, California
Atwater is a city on U.S. Route 99 in Merced County, California, United States. Atwater is west-northwest of Merced, at an elevation of 151 feet . The population as of the 2010 census was 28,168.-Geography:...

, northwest of Merced
Merced, California
Merced is a city in, and the county seat of, Merced County, California in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 78,958. Incorporated in 1889, Merced is a charter city that operates under a council-manager government...

 and about 123 miles (197.9 km) east southeast of San Francisco, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

.

The base, located in unincorporated
Unincorporated area
In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not a part of any municipality.To "incorporate" in this context means to form a municipal corporation, a city, town, or village with its own government. An unincorporated community is usually not subject to or taxed by a municipal government...

 Merced County
Merced County, California
Merced County , is a county located in the Central Valley of the U.S. state of California, north of Fresno and southeast of San Jose. As of the 2010 census, the population was 255,793, up from 210,554 at the 2000 census. The county seat is Merced...

, was closed after the end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 in 1995. It is now known as the Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center.

History


Castle AFB was named in honor of Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 Frederick W. Castle
Frederick W. Castle
Frederick Walker Castle was a general officer in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was killed in action leading the bombing mission for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.-Background:Castle was born at Fort McKinley in Manila, the...

 (1908–1944) on 17 January 1946. When on Christmas Eve 1944 near Liege, Belgium, seven Messerschmitts set General Castle's B-17 Flying Fortress afire, he remained at the controls while his crew bailed out. He bravely refused to release his bombs over territory occupied by friendly forces, and died with the pilot when the aircraft exploded. General Castle received the Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her...

 posthumously.

Previous names of the facility were:
  • Army Air Corps Basic Flying School, Merced, CA, 20 September 1941 - 7 April 1942
  • Merced Army Flying School, 7 April 1942 - 8 May 1943
  • Merced Army Airfield, 8 May 1943 - 17 January 1946
  • Castle Army Airfield, 17 January 1946 - 13 January 1948


The facility was officially renamed Castle Air Force Base on 13 January 1948 as part of the establishment of the United States Air Force as a separate military service.

World War II


The airfield was opened on 20 September 1941 as the Army Air Corps Basic Flying School. The original mission of the facility was a pilot and aircrew training facility by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).

During World War II, the major host units at Merced were:
  • 89th Air Base Gp, 3 November 1941 - 13 June 1942
  • 90th Base HQ and Air Base Sq, 13 June 1942 - 1 May 1944
  • 3026th AAF Base Unit, 1 May 1944 -1 July 1945
  • 446th AAF Base Unit, 1 July 1945 - 27 July 1945
  • 482d AAF Base Unit, 27 July 1945 - 15 August 1947

Postwar years


With the end of the war 444th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy)
444th Bombardment Group
The 444th Air Expeditionary Wing was a United States Air Force provisional unit possibly allocated to Air Materiel Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom...

 arrived on 15 November 1945 from West Field, Tinian
Tinian
Tinian is one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.-Geography:Tinian is about 5 miles southwest of its sister island, Saipan, from which it is separated by the Saipan Channel. It has a land area of 39 sq.mi....

 with four squadrons (344th, 676th, 677th, and 678th) of wartime B-29s. The 444th operated from Merced for about six months with the 678th BS being redesignated as the 10th Recon Squadron and its aircraft being converted to the RB-29 configuration.

The three B-29 squadrons inactivated at Merced on 6 May 1946 with the 10th RS relocating to Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 where turned in its RB-29 aircraft. The 444th was deactivated on 16 November 1947.

93d Bombardment Wing


The 93d Bombardment Group (Very Heavy)
93d Air Control Wing
The 93d Air-Ground Operations Wing is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the Air Combat Command Ninth Air Force. It is stationed as a tenant unit at Moody AFB, Georgia....

 was activated at Merced on 21 June 1946, starting a nearly 50 year relationship with the airfield. The 93d was a former Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

 B-24 Liberator group which was assigned to Merced for Boeing B-29 Superfortress training. The 93d was one of SAC's first ten bomb groups. There were three initial operational squadrons (328th, 329th, and 330th) which absorbed the equipment and aircraft of the deactivated 444th BG.

On 1 October 1946 the base was put on "minimal operations on caretaker status", with control of the facility under Colorado Springs AAF. The 93d Bomb Group, however remained active. It, along with the 509th Composite Group
509th Operations Group
The 509th Operations Group is the flying component of the United States Air Force 509th Bomb Wing , assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. It is equipped with all 20 of the USAF's B-2 Spirit stealth bombers...

 at Roswell Army Air Field
Walker Air Force Base
Walker Air Force Base is a closed United States Air Force base located three miles south of the central business district of Roswell, a city in Chaves County, New Mexico, US...

, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, was all there was of Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 at that time. The base remained in this status until 1 May 1947 when it was reactivated.

On 1 May 1947, Castle Army Airfield was reactivated under Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

.
On 28 July 1947, the 93d Bombardment Wing, (Very Heavy) was established and took over responsibility from the group. During 1947-1948, it flew Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, but soon received the upgraded version of the B-29, the Boeing B-50A
B-50 Superfortress
The Boeing B-50 Superfortress strategic bomber was a post-World War II revision of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, fitted with more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines, stronger structure, a taller fin, and other improvements. It was the last piston-engined bomber designed by Boeing for...

. In 1948, the entire wing deployed to Kadena AB, Okinawa, becoming the first Strategic Air Command
Strategic Air Command
The Strategic Air Command was both a Major Command of the United States Air Force and a "specified command" of the United States Department of Defense. SAC was the operational establishment in charge of America's land-based strategic bomber aircraft and land-based intercontinental ballistic...

 bomb group to deploy in full strength to the Far East
Far East
The Far East is an English term mostly describing East Asia and Southeast Asia, with South Asia sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.The term came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 19th century,...

.

On 27 June 1949, the Air Force Reserve 447th Bombardment Group was activated at Castle and equipped with the B-29s formerly of the 93d Bomb Wing. The 447th remained active until 16 June 1951 when the group was activated and the aircraft and personnel sent to Far East Air Forces as replacements for combat losses during the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

. With the unit's departure, the 447th was inactivated.

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker entered SAC's inventory in 1948. The huge plane dwarfed the earlier bombers. The 93d, along with all other B-29 and B-50 bomb groups was redesignated "Medium." Only the B-36 groups were "Heavy."

The wing began aerial refueling operations in October 1950, providing aerial refueling and navigational assistance for the July 1952 movement of the 31st Fighter-Escort Wing
31st Fighter Wing
The 31st Fighter Wing is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe Third Air Force. It is stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy where it is also the host unit....

 from the United States to Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, the first jet fighter crossing of the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

, during the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

. From 1953 to 1955, the wing flew Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers. Jet propelled Boeing KC-135 tankers came on line in 1957.

The 93d Bombardment Wing, Medium, received Boeing B-47s in May 1954, but its involvement with the new Stratojet was curtailed on June 29, 1955, when the wing received the first production line Boeing B-52B Stratofortress, making it the first SAC bomb wing to receive the new aircraft. The wing became SAC’s primary B-52 aircrew training organization, incorporating KC-135 aircrew training for refueling in mid-1956. For this purpose, it set up the 4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron which was supposed to handle all B-52 crew training for the next few years. When the mission of B-52 training became too great a task for just one squadron, the Wing's other three squadrons took over the flight training role and the 4017th assumed responsibility for ground instruction in 1956. The 93d was SAC's primary B-52 training organization. The 93d retained some of its B-47s until 1956 for crew training purposes. It was one of the few wings to have both jet bombers.

Although most of the wing’s components were used for B-52 and KC-135 aircrew training between 1956 and 1995, one or more of its units sometimes participated in tactical operations, including aerial refueling.

From April 1968 to April 1974, the 93d operated a special B-52 replacement training unit to support SAC’s B-52 operation in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

. Also, the 328th and 329th Bomb Squadrons deployed to U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield
U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield
U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield is a military airfield of the Royal Thai Navy located approximately southeast of Bangkok, near Sattahip on the Gulf of Siam...

, Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 where they flew combat missions over Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, Cambodia
Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

, and Laos
Laos
Laos Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west...

 during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

.

The wing won the SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition and the Fairchild Trophy in 1949, 1952, and 1970, and the Omaha Trophy as the outstanding SAC wing in 1970.

In August 1990 the wing operated an aerial port of embarkation for personnel and equipment deploying to Southwest Asia during Desert Shield.

In addition to aerial refueling, Castle-based tankers ferried personnel and equipment, while B-52s deployed to strategic locations worldwide, including Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

. B-52s bombed the Iraqi Republican Guard and targeted Iraqi chemical weapons, nuclear, and industrial plants during Desert Storm, January–February 1991. On 1 June 1992 the wing was relieved from SAC and reassigned to the new Air Combat Command
Air Combat Command
Air Combat Command is a major command of the United States Air Force. ACC is one of ten major commands , reporting to Headquarters, United States Air Force ....

.

Notable operations

  • Non-stop B-52 flights of some 16000 nautical miles (29,632 km) around North America and to the North Pole (November 1956)
  • First jet aircraft nonstop flight around the world (January 1957)
  • Nonstop, unrefueled KC-135 flight from Yokota AB, Japan
    Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

    , to Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

     (April 1958).

Closure


The end of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 brought many changes to the Air Force, and Castle AFB was selected for closure under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990
Base Realignment and Closure
Base Realignment and Closure is a process of the United States federal government directed at the administration and operation of the Armed Forces, used by the United States Department of Defense and Congress to close excess military installations and realign the total asset inventory to reduce...

 during Round II Base Closure Commission deliberations (BRAC 91).

On 1 June 1992 the 93d was relieved from assignment to SAC and was reassigned to the newly-formed Air Combat Command
Air Combat Command
Air Combat Command is a major command of the United States Air Force. ACC is one of ten major commands , reporting to Headquarters, United States Air Force ....

 (ACC). It was then redesignated as the 93d Bomb Wing and its B-52G aircraft given the ACC tail code of "CA" and carried blue tail stripes. The 328d Bomb Squadron was inactivated 3 May 1994, and the wing was placed on non-operational status.

However, the 93d continued to supervise the closure of Castle AFB. The 93d Bomb Wing was inactivated on 30 September 1995 with the closure of Castle AFB.

Just four months later, however, it was redesignated as the 93d Air Control Wing and was reactivated at Robins AFB, Georgia on 29 January 1996. It was equipped with the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System
E-8 Joint STARS
The Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a battle management and command and control aircraft of the United States Air Force...

 (Joint STARS) and it accepted its first production aircraft on 11 June 1996.

As of 2008, local government plans to convert the dormant facility to civilian commercial use has become an active political issue. It has been identified as the preferred location for the central maintenance facility of the proposed California High-Speed Rail
California high-speed rail
The California High-Speed Rail project is a planned future high-speed rail system in the state of California and headed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority . Initial funding for the project was approved by California voters on November 4, 2008, with the passage of Proposition 1A...

 system.

Federal prison


United States Penitentiary, Atwater
United States Penitentiary, Atwater
United States Penitentiary, Atwater is a federal prison in the United States. Located in a former portion of Castle Air Force Base near the city of Atwater in unincorporated Merced County, California, it is from San Francisco....

 stands on a portion of the grounds of the former Air Force Base.

See also


  • California World War II Army Airfields
    California World War II Army Airfields
    During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces established numerous airfields in California for training pilots and aircrews of USAAF fighters and bombers.-Overview:...

  • Western Air Defense Force
    Western Air Defense Force
    The Western Air Defense Force is an inactive United States Air Force organization. Its last assignment was with Air Defense Command being stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base, California. It was inactivated on July 1, 1960.- History :...

     (Air Defense Command)
  • Bombers B-52 Starring Karl Malden. Parts of the movie were filmed at Castle.

External links