BAFB Exhibition

Operating Hours: Tuesday - Saturday from 9:30 am - 5:00 pm.
Address: Building 202, 3711 Idaho Street, Blytheville, AR 72315

Expanding the vision: The first phase of The National Cold War Center will tell the story of the war that saved the world. Come explore Blytheville AFB's history and its impact on people and community.

  • Entrance

Blytheville Air Force Base

Why Blytheville?

  • 1942

    On June 10, 1942, the U.S. Army opened an advanced pilot training school in Blytheville, Arkansas. This facility trained Army Air Cadets on Beechcraft AT-10 Wichita advanced trainer planes to learn to fly North American B-25 Mitchell bombers in all theaters of World War 2. Notable people who were stationed at the base durring this time include Carl Jr. and Frank Bailey, sons of Arkansas Governor Carl Bailey, WASP Mary Quist, and Al Feldstein, editor of Mad Magazine from 1956-1985. The airfield’s site was specifically chosen due to the high quality of soil (which was essential for a proper runway), and ease of construction thanks to its proximity to the Mississippi River (which allowed for easy shipping of construction supplies and equipment).

  • 1955

    Thanks to lobbying from Arkansas representatives in Congress and the city of Blytheville, the WW2 airfield was reactivated as Blytheville Air Force Base, a single-mission Tactical Air Command base. On June 19, the 461st Bombardment Wing, Tactical assumed control of BAFB. They brought with them the Martin B-57B Canberra jet bomber and the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star trainer jet. The B-57 was a light tactical bomber that primiarly served as an interdictor aircraft, but also had variants that served in reconnaissance roles. The 461st Wing did not see any combat during its three years at Blytheville. Instead, it participated in training exercises in Louisiana, South America, and Central Europe.

  • 1959

    In response to the 1955 congressional Killian Report and changing priorities in the Air Force, Blytheville AFB was transferred from the Tactical Air Command to the Strategic Air Command. After the transfer, the 97th Bombardment Wing, Heavy assumed control of air base on July 1. This wing brought with them a squadron of Boeing B-52G Stratofortress long range bombers, which were equipped with GAM-77 “Hound Dog” and GAM-72 “Quail” missiles. Within the next few years, the 97th Wing’s bomber squadron was joined by a squadron of Boeing KC-135A Stratotankers.

  • 1960

    That January, the 97th Wing began its primary mission, to support Operation Chrome Dome. This "Air Alert" mission saw SAC bombers and tankers flying routes to points on the border of the USSR as a check against Soviet nuclear aggression. Additionally, Blytheville AFB began its "Ground Alert" mission, which involved having 5 B-52s and 4 KC-135s setting on an "Alert Pad" on the eastern end of the airbase, ready to go 24/7. With only 15 minutes notice, these planes were able to launch with their deadly payload. Each of the four B-52s on the alert pad were equiped with 4 GAM-77 missiles. Each GAM-77 was equipped with a nuclear warhead that could be set to over three times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

  • 1962

    On October 24, following the discovery of Russian Intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba by an American spy plane, SAC ordered all of its Alert Facilities to DEFCON 2. Blytheville AFB’s 97th Wing was ordered to send two of its bombers to aerial alert, ready to strike the Soviet Union with nuclear missiles at a moment's notice. This is the closest that America and the Soviet Union ever came to nuclear war. Following the crisis, the 97th Wing was presented with the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its performance.

  • 1972

    In March, the majority of the 97th Wing’s bombers, tankers, and personnel were moved to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to support various operations in the Vietnam Conflict. The most notable operation was Linebacker II, a major bombing raid in December that targeted numerous sites in North Vietnam. On the first night of the bombing raid, Charcoal 01, a B-52G manned by a BAFB crew, was shot down. Three of the crew were killed in the crash and the other three became POWs. Following Linebacker II, the 97th Wing held the distinction of flying the final bombing operations of both Vietnam and Cambodia. The 97th Wing remained at Andersen AFB until September 1973, and upon their return, BAFB's mission was altered to include training bomber and tanker crews.

  • 1976

    In January, Blytheville's base leadership was plesantly surprised to discover that they were on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) list to be transferred B-52s and personnel from the potential closing of Beale AFB, California. They were equally shocked when, the following April, they were relisted by the BRAC commission to potentially be closed. This change in plans came from SACs resistance to reduce the capacity of Loring AFB, Maine, their largest base. Congressional representatives from Arkansas fought the base's closure for three years. While they eventually succeeded, there were a number of improvement projects scheduled for the base that were either postponed or canceled.

  • 1988

    In April 1988, the Blytheville AFB was placed on the BRAC list for the third time. This came as quite a shock to base leadership, as the 97th Wing had secured the Omaha Trophy and the Fairchild Trophy in the previous two years, denoting it as the best performing wing in the entire Strategic Air Command. That May, in response to the BRAC placement, the airbase was renamed to Eaker Air Force Base, in honor of the famed World War 2 Army Air Forces General Ira C. Eaker.

    By the time the base was renamed Eaker Air Force Base, the Cold War was winding down. The mission of SAC was beginning to wane as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union eased due to new communications and cooperation between the two countries.

  • 1990

    With the signing of the Treaty of Conventional Forces in 1990 and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty a year later, the Cold War was officially over. By September 1991, the Strategic Air Command mission would be inactivated, thus retiring the B-52 fleet and effectively ending air force activity at Blytheville/Eaker Air Force Base.

  • 1992

    As Eaker AFB prepared for closure, units were either deactivated or moved to another base and services were slowly wound down. In March, the last B-52G left the base, and the following month, the 97th Wing was moved to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Over 700 civilian jobs were lost after this move, and with the loss of the base personnel, the population of the county dropped by almost 3,500 people. On December 15, the last Air Force personnel were transferred out and Eaker Air Force Base was officially deactivated and closed.

Gallery

STEP INTO HISTORY AND VISIT

As the National Cold War Center develops, the first on-site exhibit depicts the history of the Blytheville/Eaker Air Force Base. Opened in late 2020, the BAFB Exhibition features memorabilia, video and personal stories of the base from its 1942 beginnings until closure in 1992.

  • An exploration of the base's history and its impact on the community.

  • The preservation of a powerful legacy of defense from World War II through Desert Storm.

  • The first phase of the vision for the National Cold War Center — an institution that will tell the story of the war that saved the world.