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Eaker Air Force Base

Eaker Air Force Base

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Location Class:
Built: 1942 | Abandoned: December, 15th 1992
Historic Designation: National Historic Landmark National Register of Historic Places (Jan, 26th 2018)
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: AAR Supporting Material

“A B52 with a full nuclear payload, is the seventh most powerful country in the world.”

Eaker Air Force Base
Photo Credit: The National Cold War Center

This Abandoned Air Force base is located three miles Northwest of Blytheville, Arkansas. Of the 3,778 acres the base is comprised of, two thirds of the land is abandoned. Currently, the main tarmac is used as Blytheville’s airport. In its prime, it housed over 3,000 service members, and a whole fleet of Strategic Air Command B52 “BUFF” Stratofortresses. Eaker Air Force Base was complete with swimming pools, tennis courts, a grocery store, a dental office, a nine hole golf course, a theater, multiple clubs, visitation centers, a gym, and on-base housing for military families. 

Today the base is mostly in a decrepit state of disrepair. Though, local organizations and legal entities constantly fight to preserve the base. The majority of the base’s housing is still in use, a few buildings are in use, and the tarmac is now the Arkansas Aeroplex. At the height of the Cold War, Eaker Air Force Base was home to the 97th Bombardment Wing, the 42nd Air Division, the 97th Air Refueling Squadron, the 97th Supply Squadron, the 97th Organizational Maintenance Squadron, the 820th Medical Group, and many more. All of these were under the Strategic Air Command.

What’s in a name?

Eaker Air Force Base was originally named Blytheville Army Airfield when it was built in 1942. In 1988, the based was renamed to honor World War II General, Ira C. Eaker. Nowadays, the base goes by a few names. Eaker Air Force Base Historic District, Arkansas International Airport, and Blytheville Municipal Airport. Though it is referred to these names, the airport officially goes by Arkansas Aeroplex.

Eaker Air Force Base

Ruth Eaker, General Eaker’s widow, signing autographs during the name change of the base in 1988.

Blytheville Army Airfield

Eaker Air Force Base
Unidentified airman controlling a radar unit. Photo credit: National Cold War Center

During the second World War, the United States needed more areas to train pilots, and launch aircraft to respond to the threat on the Eastern front. Arkansas had six Army airfields. Blytheville, Walnut Ridge, Grider, Newport, Stuttgart, and Adams Field. Blytheville was the only Advanced training base in Arkansas. 

Eaker Air Force Base
Trainer aircraft in Blytheville. Photo credit: National Cold War Center

Blytheville was the only two engine training base in Arkansas. Under the command of the 326th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, pilots would train in aircraft such as the Beechcraft AT-10, and Curtiss-Wright AT-9s. 

WASPs

Eaker Air Force Base
Patrica Kenworthy, Blytheville WASP Airwoman. Photo Credit: Texas Women’s University.

The WASP program tasked select women with many key roles on airfields across the nation. Blytheville had their own team. Airwomen were tasked with testing electronics of aircraft, testing aircraft by means of flights, and ferrying aircraft. 

The program was comprised of just over 1100 women. Though, the program and it’s members were not considered truly military nor pilots until the 1970s. In 1942, at the graduation ceremony it was believed that women could not fly as well as men. The commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry Arnold, went as far as saying that he doubted a woman could control a B17. However, two years later they proved him and everyone else wrong. These women had proved their selves capable of flying aircraft such as the B25 and the B29. 

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Eaker Air Force Base
B52H out of Barksdale AFB flown by the 20th Bomb Squadron, sitting at Eaker AFB. 1-11-22. Photo credit: Gage Fears

Since 1955, the B52 Stratofortress has been America’s go-to long-distance strategic bomber.  Since then, there have been only 744 aircraft built by Boeing. The last model 61-0040, was produced in 1962. It was rolled out of Boeing’s Wichita plant. The B52 Stratofortress was the answer to all the problems found in the Convair B36 Peacemaker and the B24. 

The B52 Stratofortress had solved every issue the Air Force ran into with earlier bombers. The Air Force needed a long-distance bomber that could travel all the way to the former U.S.S.R., drop a payload on a target and travel back without needing refueling. 

Eaker Air Force Base
B52 on the tarmac of Eaker AFB, in the mid-1980s. Photo Credit: The National Cold War Center 

 A bird without a tail

On January 10th, 1964, a B52H loaned to Boeing by the USAF was testing the structural integrity of, and new technology for the aircraft. The aircraft in question was tail number 61-0023. During its test flight, Boeing was performing tests to show the aircraft’s resilience against low-altitude turbulence.

A strong gust of wind has pushed the rear of the aircraft left then right. Unbeknownst to the crew, over seventy percent of the vertical stabilizer and rudder assembly had been sheared off. The crew started to lose control of the plane and went to bail out. But, right before the first man could bail, the pilot had realized they had marginal control over the aircraft. 

Eaker Air Force Base
Charles Fisher and the test crew of 61-0023

The aircraft was set on course to Boeing’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas. Though, due to high traffic in that area, the aircraft had to change its course and headed for  Blytheville Air Force Base instead. Serial Number 61-0023 landed safely in Blytheville. Charles Fisher would forever be known as “Mr. B52” for his quick thinking, response to a crisis, and heroic duties.

Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker

Eaker Air Force Base
Multiple KC-135s on the tarmac of Eaker AFB. Photo credit: The National Cold War Center

 

The KC135 Stratotanker, as most other notary aircraft, was born out of necessity. The US needed a long range aircraft able to refuel other long range aircraft. The KC135 replaced the KC97, as the latter could not keep up with newer, larger and faster aircraft.

A total of 820 KC135s have been produced since 1956. 732 of the aircraft were specifically aerial tankers. 88 of the aircraft built are modified versions to serve specific purposes such as reconnaissance aircraft, and cargo carriers.

The KC135, along with the B52 is one of the only fixed wing aircraft with over fifty years of service. It is the USAF’s main aerial fueling aircraft. 

The KC135 fuels other aircraft through an extendable boom on the aft of the aircraft. The boom is controlled by an operator lying prone under the cargo deck of the aircraft. Compared to hose style fueling systems, flying booms of KC135s are very unforgiving to errors. 

Base Closure – What happened to Blytheville, Arkansas?

In order to understand why Eaker Air Force Base closed, one has to dive into foreign, political, and socioeconomic issues of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Cold War had come to and end. Communism had shriveled in the world. The Iron Curtain was torn down. Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall. And the United States was about to enter war with Saddam Hussein. 

The United States no longer needed bombers and fuel-tankers to be on 24/7 alert. The Strategic Air Command had reached the end of the road. There was no need for the Global Shield. Americans did not have to fear every day of an imminent Soviet missile strike. 

In the years leading up to the reunification of Germany, the U.S. government sought out to begin a process that would eventually end in many bases like Eaker, to be closed. In the late 1980s, the government, under congress had begun inspections on Air Force Bases. This would determine if the base could go on operating in the future, or if it was deemed unnecessary to continue service. The process is called B.R.A.C..

Under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 the United States government is obligated to consider utilization, procurement and disposal of government property. After any major war, surplus equipment and property is sold to the general public and agencies. Property is disposed of, and the government cleans up after itself. 

B.R.A.C. action specifically caters to closures and revitalization of U.S. military bases. And in 1991, Eaker Air Force Base was on the top of the list. In December of 1992, the base officially closed. The Air Force packed up and left. Leaving Little Rock as Arkansas’ only active base. 

The effect on the neighboring towns of Gosnell and Blytheville the closure had on were tremendous. Gosnell reported losing over half it’s students. Thousands of jobs were lost. The local economy tankedand unemployment skyrocketed. The population suffered as well. In 1990, Blytheville’s population was 23,443. Today it is 14,011. 

Granted today, the area has stayed well populated due to industrial jobs, but Blytheville’s unemployment rate is four percent higher than the national average (pre-covid). 

Present day condition

abandoned air force base
The accounting and finance building

Since Eaker Air Force Base went under B.R.A.C. action, the base has sat mostly dormant. Businesses have come and go, but the wear and tear of Mother Nature and Father time have taken their toll on many buildings on base. The worst building on base is the hospital. Holes in the roof create entryways for birds and rain. Mold and asbestos float through the air like dust that just got kicked up. Tiling soaked in stagnant water squishes under your feet, anything that could be rusted, is rusted.

It is very possible the paint that is peeling on the walls is lead-based. The hospital has been tightly sealed up. Due to the high amount of asbestos flying around in the air, and the safety concerns. The hospital is also a very large (plan wise) building, so it is very possible to get lost inside the building without a map. 

The communication building of the 97th Bombardment Wing is in terrible condition as well. It has the exact same problems as the hospital, though both buildings trade off on extremities. 

The accounting & financing building has a large and open floor plan. It is a peculiarly shaped building, like the rest of the buildings on the base. Currently, the wet carpet has molded over and over again. The walls are riddled with holes. All the glass is shattered. 

The majority of buildings have suffered the same fate. From an extreme case of having to be boarded up like a top secret quarantine, to simply being an old tool shed that never got used. Certain buildings are worth saving. Many buildings are gone, and will continue to disappear. Whether it be by the hand of the elements, or by deconstruction due to safety issues. 

The Future of Eaker Air Force Base and the National Cold War Center/BAFB Exhibition

Eaker Air Force Base
Building 1225 in 2020 Soon to become a separate exhibit of the NCWC.
Photo credit: Aubrey Henson

After Eaker Air Force Base was “B.R.A.C.’d”, multiple buildings on the base were put up for sale, but never put to use properly.  Owners of said buildings had big ambitions to renovate and repurpose the old buildings, but either plans never took off or money was tight.

This has led to the current dilapidated state of some buildings. Though it is currently in a rough shape as an Air Force Base it doesn’t have to be that way. Currently, there is a restoration program working to rebuild and reuse buildings that aren’t disappearing.

 This has been an ongoing project for over a year. On January 23rd, 2022, it was announced that the former dorms would be demolished. Abandoned Arkansas had noticed while touring the base, the former base bank had been torn down the week prior to January 1st, 2022. During the weekend of February 21st, 2022, the former N.C.O. Club was demolished.

Eaker Air Force Base
Demolition of the N.C.O. Club, 2/21/22. Photo Credit: Robert Charles

The project mainly serves to save the best buildings and bring buildings in the worst shape down for safety purposes. On January 11th, during Agile Combat Employment training exercises performed by the U.S. Air Force at Eaker Air Force Base, work had begun on the restoration process of Building 1225. Doors and numerous truckloads of metal were being hauled off the alert pad. 

Eaker Air Force Base

On January 31st, 2022, the Arkansas Aeroplex officially announced that work had been started on restoring Building 1225. Roof repairs began on February 19, 2022. Electrical work and flood damage repair have begun. Five feet of water was pumped out of the basement of the building. The National Cold War Center is planned to be the largest collection of history and information on the decades that made up the war in the world.

Everything from a static display of a B52 Stratofortress (which the Arkansas Aeroplex hopes to someday acquire), to letters from soldiers to their families overseas. In 2020, both Arkansas senators proposed a bill to designate the museum in Blytheville.

Building 1225, will be added to the collection of buildings as part of the future National Cold War Center. It is planned to be its own exhibit within the system of buildings. The current BAFB Exhibit is housed in the former B52 crew briefing building, and will continue to be an exhibit.

The National Cold War Center will be an entirely brand new building itself.  Building 1225 is currently registered on the National Register Of Historic Places and is quoted as being the “crown jewel of the National Cold War Center campus.” Though Phase Two of the project is underway (as of February 2022), there have been no announcements of when the museum will officially open. 

Writer’s Notes

  • •This article was made possible by the help of Barrett Harrison, President of the Arkansas Aeroplex, Technical Sergeant  Robert Charles, curator of the BAFB Exhibit, many Air Force veterans and the National Cold War Center.
  • •Eaker Air Force Base in it’s entirety is a mix of private and federal property. 

 

Blytheville air force base photos

Bibliography

http://www.fi-aeroweb.com/Defense/KC-46-Tanker.html#:~:text=Compared%20to%20the%20KC%2D135,cargo%20and%20aeromedical%20evacuation%20capabilities.&text=The%20KC%2DX%20Program%2C%20the,current%20KC%2D135%20tanker%20fleet.

https://nuke.fas.org/guide/usa/bomber/kc-135.htm#:~:text=The%20KC%2D135%20can%20haul,transferable%20for%20global%20refueling%20missions.

https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Eaker_Air_Force_Base

https://www.boeing.com/history/products/b-52-stratofortress.page

https://www.boeing.com/history/products/kc-135-stratotanker.page

https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/1771/text?r=1&s=1

https://www.boozman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2020/12/bill-designating-national-cold-war-center-in-blytheville-introduced-in-senate

https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/107172/general-ira-c-eaker/

https://www.afcec.af.mil/Home/BRAC/Eaker.aspx

https://nationalcoldwarcenter.com/

https://www.npr.org/2010/03/09/123773525/female-wwii-pilots-the-original-fly-girls

“History of Eaker AFB 1942-1988” -NCWC

“Timeline of Blytheville” -NCWC

“B52G And H Assigments, 1958-1994” -NCWC

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Otis Armstrong
5 days ago

As a CAP cadet 1966-1969 the lore of this base was discussed often. Alas LRAFB was where we flew C119’s to summer camp, but always hoped foe a fly in there.

Tom O’Neill
Tom O’Neill
3 months ago

I was stationed there from 1966-69. About ten years ago a group of old 97 OMS troops made a trip to see the old place. Glad to see the alert pad will be saved. As crew chiefs we had all spent many tours in the “mole hole”.

Nun ya
Nun ya
3 months ago

If was really not abandoned til 10 year ago becuae I went to preschool on the base then I got shut down because all of us got sick becuase the heat and air went out

Michael Horton
Michael Horton
5 months ago

As a kid in nearby Jonesboro, our cub scout pack got to visit what was then Blytheville AFB. It was around 1960 and I still recall vividly sitting in the cockpit of a B-52.

Frank
Frank
5 months ago

I have been to the former base and tarmac many times in the 2010s for Sports Car Club of America events. It was always fascinating to hear stories about how papers were left on desks and furniture left abandoned. Buildings have collapsed in that time frame. Some were torn down. The airplane dismantler used most of the tarmac we were using and we haven’t been back since before covid. Hopefully the site will become available again for us. The pictures and history lesson accompanying are amazing. Thank you!

Pat Goff
Pat Goff
5 months ago

I grew up on Army bases overseas. I was an army brat and a military wife along with an army civilian off and on over the years. Best years of my life. Loved it. I thanked my dad for my upbringing. Yes we grew up overseas and only went to Department of Defense Schools but it was amazing. At 14 I was hopping buses and trains and hanging out with friends in surrounding towns. It was amazing. School trips were to other countries LOL. I hope they can save this base so that it doesn’t get destroyed. It is a… Read more »

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