|Norton Air Force Base|
|Part of Air Mobility Command (AMC)|
|Located in San Bernardino, California|
|Type||Air Force Base|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
|In use||Open May 1942 – closed April 1994|
|Garrison||Air Mobility Command|
|Occupants||63d Airlift Wing (various designations) (1967–1994)|
For the majority of its operational lifetime, Norton was a logistics depot and heavy-lift transport facility for a variety of military aircraft, equipment and supplies as part of Air Materiel/Air Force Logistics Command (1946–1966), then as part of Military Airlift/Air Mobility Command (1966–1994).
Major secondary missions of Norton Air Force Base was as Headquarters Air Defense Command for Southern California, during the 1950s and 1960s. The Air Force Audio-Visual Center produced air force films for training and public relations. The Air Force Now film, shown at monthly commander's calls at air force bases around the world was produced at Norton. Norton hosted numerous Air Force Reserve transport units. The Office of the Inspector General was located at Norton, as was the Directorate of Aerospace Safety and the Air Force Audit Agency Headquarters.
Norton AFB was closed in 1994 as a result of Base Realignment and Closure action 1988.
Norton Air Force Base was named for San Bernardino native Captain Leland Francis Norton (1920–1944). His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Norton, of 716 Twenty-first Street, San Bernardino. He was commissioned 6 September 1942, at Columbus, Mississippi. Lieutenant Norton was sent to England in January 1944 after duty in the North Atlantic, flying from bases in Greenland. His parents received word on 5 May 1944 that he had been promoted to the rank of captain following a series of pre-invasion "softening-up" bombing missions. While attacking a marshaling yard on his 16th combat mission, Captain Norton's Douglas A-20 Havoc was struck by antiaircraft fire on 27 May 1944 near Amiens, France. After ordering his crew to bail out, Captain Norton perished with his aircraft. His portrait hung in the officers' club until base closing.
Norton Air Force Base began before World War II as Municipal Airport, San Bernardino under Army Air Corps jurisdiction. The $100,000 publicly owned 900-acre site was dedicated on Tuesday 17 December 1940. Due to inclement weather, the ceremonies were held on the grounds of the National Orange Show rather than at the site itself. During the summer of 1941 it became a training base to meet the needs of the 30,000 Pilot Training Program. In December 1941, within days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, combat-ready fighter planes arrived to protect the Los Angeles area from enemy attack.
The first commanding officer was Colonel (later Major General) Lucas Victor Beau Jr., from February 1942. He set up his initial office at the San Bernardino Chamber of Commerce.
On 1 March 1942, the airport was renamed San Bernardino Army Air Field and the San Bernardino Air Depot was established there. The first aircraft arrived at the new base on 2 June 1942. The base was under the administration of the Fourth Air Service Area Command. All runways were completed by December and night flying was initiated in March 1943. Requests to establish commercial air service by Western Air Lines in mid-late 1942 were refused.
In September 1942, the personnel and training division at the base began a training program for aircraft mechanics and maintenance men, which, by mid-1944, was the largest school of its type in the Air Service command.
The weekly newspaper for the air depot in this era was named the Areascope.
During the war, Norton's primary function was the repair and maintenance of aircraft. In mid-1944, as the Army Air Force reduced its training programs, hundreds of basic and primary training aircraft were flown to the base from all over the west for maintenance and storage.
In February 1944, the Army relocated the regulating station that had operated in the facilities of the Municipal Park in Colton since September 1943 to the Base General Depot in San Bernardino. This unique operation primarily regulated rail traffic between communications and war zones, including the evacuation of patients using hospital trains. The installation also trained personnel in the important work of transportation.
A branch post office of the San Bernardino post office was established in mid-March 1944, replacing an APO address out of Los Angeles that previously served the Base General Depot. Civilians replaced the Army personnel that previously operated the post office at the base.
An open house for the public, celebrating the thirty-seventh anniversary of U.S. Army aviation, and the first since the base was established, was held on 1 August 1944. Noted the lead editorial in the San Bernardino Daily Sun that date, "At a cost of $50,000,000, approximately 1,800 acres of farmland has been converted in a period of 28 months into a bustling military establishment. The San Bernardino Air Service command is geared to rebuild 1,000 aircraft engines monthly, to provide mountains of vital supplies for Army Air force installations at home and abroad, to overhaul gun turrets, wings and tail assemblies, repair propellors and improve landing gears. To quote its own slogan, the Air Service command 'keeps 'em flying' for victory."
On 2 August 1944, the Railroad Commission authorized the Associated Telephone Company, Ltd., to sell to the War Department for $36,138 its district telephone plant at the San Bernardino Army Air Field. The War Department already owned part of the facilities, and asked for the sale to eliminate mixed ownership.
By 1945, the base was processing hundreds of new aircraft monthly, readying them for shipment overseas. Types handled included P-51s, F-5 reconnaissance modifications of P-38s, P-47s, and P-61s. San Bernardino Air Service Technical Command also refurbished C-47s, which had seen heavy service, with the 100th C-47 refurbished at the beginning of August 1945, an overhaul process taking 16 days at a rate of one every day and a half.
An open house celebrating the Army Air Force's thirty-eighth birthday was held on 1 August 1945, with a brand new B-29 flown from the Seattle factory and a P-80 both publicly exhibited for the first time in the region. A YP-59A, 42-108771, was flown for the crowd of ~50,000.
At the end of the war, the base became a processing and separation center for the millions of servicemen being discharged. The separation center opened for business on 17 September 1945, part of an immediate program to speed up the release of a backlog of 135,000 AAF men and women, one of 32 temporary discharge bases established. San Bernardino was responsible for handling requests from qualified personnel within a 300-mile radius.
During World War II, San Bernardino Army Airfield provided administrative and logistical support for the United States Army Desert Training Center (DTC). The DTC was a massive training facility set up in the Mojave Desert; largely in Southern California and Western Arizona. Its mission was to train United States Army and Army Air Corps units and personnel to live and fight in the desert, to test and develop suitable equipment, and to develop tactical doctrines, techniques and training methods. Known sub-bases and auxiliaries set up to support DTC Army Air Force activities were:
Western Air Lines sought again in September 1945 to introduce air service at San Bernardino but the application was denied by the Army Air Force due to heavy congestion at the depot at the time.
Housing shortages affected the base in 1946. On 15 May, Lt. Paul Smith, in charge of housing for San Bernardino Army Airfield, disclosed that 125 enlisted men and officers were seeking accommodations for themselves and their families. "They either have their families in hotels or tourist camps or are unable to be with them. We are particularly interested in relieving this condition for the enlisted men, because of the expense to the men in maintaining their families in hotels," he said. He urged property owners to contact the field's personnel affairs office, by telephone or mail, when vacancies occur.
With Congress loosening purse strings and calling for a greatly strengthened Air Force in 1948, San Bernardino Air Depot began hiring the first of 3,500 civilian workers in May, as authorized by the base's reactivation program. The depot hired 450 for immediate requirements with the remainder of the 3,500 added over the next six months. In June 1948, 2,190 civilians were employed at the base representing an annual payroll of $1,539,000.
The wartime 411th Fighter Squadron was allotted to the California Air National Guard, on 24 May 1946 and redesignated as the 196th Fighter Squadron. It was organized at Norton Air Force Base, on 12 September 1946 and federally recognized on 9 November 1946. The squadron was equipped with P-51D Mustangs and assigned to the 146th Fighter Group, at Van Nuys Airport by the National Guard Bureau.
The squadron trained for tactical fighter missions and air-to-air combat under the supervision of Fourth Air Force. In June 1948, the unit received 25 F-80C Shooting Star aircraft. The 196th was one of the first Air National Guard units to receive these new jets.
The 196th was federalized on 10 October 1950 due to the Korean War and departed Norton at this time.
Bids were opened on 15 September 1953 for nearly a million dollars of work at Norton, including a 2,450-foot extension of the southwest - northeast runway bringing it to 10,000 feet, long enough for anything in the inventory. The extension requires the closing of the east end of Mill Street at Tippecanoe Avenue, and the relocation of the Pacific Electric track, both of which right-of-ways the runway will cross. The project included taxiways and drainage facilities. The widening of the runway by 50 feet to 200 feet was also proposed. Traffic to Redlands was rerouted off of Mill Street to Central Avenue.
"Directives to acquire land for the runway lengthening were signed in June by the secretary of the Air Force and sent to the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
With the air force moving into the jet age by the mid 1940s, Norton began overhauling jet engines in 1945, and the San Bernardino Air Materiel Area became one of three air force jet overhaul centers by 1953. To accommodate the largest Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers, the main runway was extended to 10,000 ft by 1954. B-45 Tornado upgrades were performed at Norton in the late 1940s and into the 1950s.
Effective 1 January 1955, the former Army Quartermaster depot at Mira Loma became the Mira Loma Air Force Annex, under the jurisdiction of the San Bernardino Air Materiel Area, announced Maj. Gen. Edward W. Anderson, SBAMA commander.
On 22 March 1956, the San Bernardino Daily Sun reported that "In compliance with stated Air Force policy directing the depots to concentrate their immediate efforts in support of weapons systems with high priority and tactical value, Headquarters AMC recently advised San Bernardino that depot shops here had been selected to service and maintain F100 fighter aircraft. Moving with justifiable speed, the first group of aircraft are already on the base and have started through the IRAN [inspect and repair as necessary - Ed.] line. Numbers to be handled the balance of fiscal 1956 and subsequently is classified information, but the volume is sufficient to occupy some hundreds of NAFB employes [sic] in both Maintenance and Supply, as well as to fill the big hanger [sic] and apron with many of the hottest operational aircraft in existence. Present plans call for locating a double production line for F100s where the B45 aircraft is currently being handled inside the big hangar on the east. The B45 operation will be moved gradually outside to apron space now under construction." The article also noted the addition of B-66s, F-102s, and J57 turbojets to SBAMA responsibility.
Construction of an 18-hole golf course on the base was announced on 29 March 1956.
On 29 November 1957, General Thomas D. White disclosed the development of an anti-missile called the Wizard, the assignment of intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missile programs to SAC, and a transfer of the 1st Missile Division to SAC. The San Bernardino Air Force Depot was to assume support for long-range ballistic missile programs. Five civilian contractors attached to the Directorate of Ballistic Missiles at Norton Air Force Base were killed on April 21, 1958 in the crash of United Airlines Flight 736. They were en route to conferences at Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of SAC.
In the 1960s, Norton expanded its depot support mission by supporting Titan and Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)s, with depot-level logistical support. Also, the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO), which managed the LGM-30 Minuteman and LGM-118 Peacekeeper programs, was located at Norton from the 1960s. "In January 1961 the new Air Force Secretary, Eugene M. Zuckert, met with top Air Force officials to consider a proposal to relocate the Ballistic Missile Division from Inglewood to San Bernardino Air Materiel Area at Norton AFB, California." As solid-fuel Minuteman missiles entered service, the more problematic liquid-fueled Atlas and Titan systems were removed from alert status. "All of the Atlas Ds were phased out between May and October 1964. From January through March 1965, SAC removed the Atlas Es and Fs, and by June 1965 had deactivated all of the Titan I missiles as well. The Atlas ICBMs were shipped to San Bernardino Air Material Area, Norton AFB, for storage; the Titans were stored at Mira Loma Air Force Station, near Vandenberg AFB." Upon base closure, the mission of SAMSO was transferred to Los Angeles Air Force Station, later, Los Angeles Air Force Base.
On 8 July 1964, the 2848th Air Base Wing was replaced by the 2848th Air Base Group.
The Air Materiel Area was disestablished in 1966.
A change of mission in 1966 from Air Force Logistics Command to Military Airlift Command (MAC) meant that Norton became one of six Military Airlift Command strategic-airlift bases, supporting US Army and Marine Corps' airlift requirements among other functions. Also, a new MAC passenger terminal was built to replace the World War II era (1944) facility to better handle passenger traffic, primarily to and from Southeast Asia. The new airline-style building was activated in 1968. The base newspaper in this era was named The Globetrotter.
Discrete C-130 Hercules modification tests were conducted out of Area II of the base in the late 1960s, with the 1198th Operational Evaluation and Training Squadron operating four highly classified C-130E(I) special operations testbeds modified at Lockheed Air Services, at near-by Ontario Airport under projects Thin Slice and Heavy Chain. Their electronics suites were developed for and identical to those of the MC-130 Combat Talon, with the addition of AN/APQ-115 Forward looking infrared, and 1198th OE&TS test missions were flown out of Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, under project "Heavy Chain", with the aircraft painted all-black.
A base railroad system interchanged with the Pacific Electric/Southern Pacific branch line on the south side of the installation. When base rail operations were discontinued in the late 1970s, the base diesel locomotive, a General Electric centercab B/B 90/90, USAF 8580, was donated to the Orange Empire Railway Museum at Perris, California.
In 1950, Air Defense Command activated the 27th Air Division (Defense) at Norton AFB, being assigned to the Western Air Defense Force. Its mission was the air defense of southern California and later southern Nevada. By 1953, its area of control included a small portion of Arizona. The 27th AD controlled both aircraft interceptor squadrons, as well as general surveillance antiaircraft radar squadrons.
In 1955, the 27th AD established a Manual Air-Defense Control Center (ADCC) (P-84) at Norton to monitor and track aircraft in Southern California. This manual site was replaced in 1959 by a Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Data Center (DC-17) . The SAGE system was an automated computer network linking Air Force (and later FAA) General Surveillance Radar stations into a centralized center for air defense, intended to provide early warning and response for a Soviet nuclear attack. It was initially under the Los Angeles Air Defense Sector (LAADS), established on 1 February 1959 by redesignation of 27th Air Division.
LAADS was inactivated on 1 April 1966 and the designation was returned as the 27th Air Division, being stationed at Luke AFB, Arizona under Fourth Air Force as part of a consolidation with the inactivating Phoenix Air Defense Sector. DC-17 at Norton was inactivated a few months later on 25 June 1966, its mission being consolidated with SAGE Data Center DC-21 at Luke AFB under the 27th AD.
The SAGE Direction Center closed in 1966 along with the other ADC facilities at Norton. It became the home of the Air Force Audiovisual Service. The windowless, temperature controlled SAGE structure was perfect for film storage. It also was the home of the Air Combat Camera Service. After Norton closed in April 1994, the facility was essentially abandoned, and remained so until 2018 when the building was demolished to make room for future development.
The closure was cited as due to environmental wastes, inadequate facilities, and air traffic congestion (due to air traffic from Ontario International Airport, twenty miles (32 km) west, and Los Angeles International Airport, 60 miles (97 km) west).
The last of the facilities on the base were closed in 1995.
The aviation facilities of the base were converted into San Bernardino International Airport, and 3 of the 4 stationed squadrons (all 4 of which were part of the 63d and 445th Military Airlift Wings) – C-141 Starlifter, C-21, and C-12 Huron aircraft – were moved to nearby March Air Force Base, while the remaining squadron – C-141 aircraft – was moved to McChord Air Force Base, Washington. Control of the airport and surrounding facilities was turned over to a consortium consisting of several nearby cities to manage and oversee its operation. In March 2018, United Parcel Service began operating five cargo flights each week out of the airport. Previously, UPS used the airport for holiday shipments to the company's hub in Louisville. FedEx Express will begin operating daily cargo flights out of San Bernardino International Airport in October 2018, under terms of a new 10-year agreement. In recent years, the airport has added more than 60 acres of concrete ramp, a new 5,000-square-foot cross-dock building with 1.6 acres of secured landside ramp, nearly 100 acres of developable land and specialized cargo equipment. Charter as well as private flights do operate from SBIA and it is also used as a base for firefighting planes when needed.
Recently, private development on the former base has helped turn the unused land into jobs and revenue for the city of San Bernardino as several companies have opened distribution centers on the property. Mattel opened a distribution center in 2004, consolidating three smaller ones in Southern California into a single location. Stater Brothers Markets built a new headquarters and a centralized warehousing facility. The completion of the project in 2007 consolidated the headquarters and a warehouse in nearby Colton and other warehouses in the Inland Empire into a single location. Industrial buildings used by Pep Boys Auto and Kohl's are located on the premises.