Norton Air Force Base (1942-1994) is a former front-line United States Air Force facility located 2 miles (3.2 km) east of downtown San Bernardino, California in San Bernardino County.
For the vast majority of its operational lifetime, Norton was a logistics depot and heavy-lift transport facility for a wide 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 a wide variety of Air Force films for training and public relations. The "Air Force Now" film, shown at all monthly Commander's Calls at Air Force Bases around the world was produced at Norton. Norton also hosted numerous Air Force Reserve transport units. The Office of the Inspector General was also located at Norton.
Norton AFB was closed as a result of BRAC 1988 in 1994.
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 63rd 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.
Leland Francis Norton
Norton Air Force Base was named for San Bernardino native Capt. Leland Francis Norton (1920-1944). While attacking a marshaling yard on his 16th combat mission, Captain Norton's 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 Havoc. His portrait hung in the Officers' Club until base closing.
Major Commands to which assigned
Major Units Assigned to Norton AFB
- 1st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, 1 December 1951 - 6 February 1952 (Air Defense Command)
- 27th Air Division, 1 February 1952 - 1 October 1959 (Air Defense Command)
- HQ, Los Angeles Air Defense Sector, 1 February 1959 - 25 June 1966 (Air Defense Command)
- 63rd Military Airlift Wing, 1 April 1967 - 30 March 1994
- 944th Military Airlift Group, 25 March 1968 - 1 July 1993 (AFRES)
- 445th Military Airlift Wing, 1 July 1973 - 30 March 1994 (AFRES)
Norton Air Force Base began before World War II as Municipal Airport, San Bernardino under Army Air Corps jurisdiction. 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
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. All runways were completed by December and night flying was initiated in March 1943. During the war, Norton's primary function was the repair and maintenance of aircraft. At the end of the war, the base became a processing and separation center for the millions of servicemen being discharged. On April 7 1947, George G. Lundberg was named base commander.
With the Air Force moving into the jet age in the late 1940s, Norton began overhauling jet engines in 1951, 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 bombers, the main runway was extended to 10,000 ft by 1954.
In 1957, while flying aboard a C-124 Globemaster II, the WAF Band was invited by General James L. Jackson, Deputy Commander of the San Bernardino Air Materiel Area, Air Materiel Command, to move to his headquarters at Norton AFB. The move took place in January, 1958. The band retained its training and chain-of-command connection with the USAF band school at Bolling AFB. At Norton, the band found it easier to schedule C-124 planes and pilots to keep up their touring schedule. Upon arriving, the 55 female airmen discovered that their new housing facilities were tiny cubicles for rooms and that the shared bathroom had no doors on the toilet stalls, a disappointing change from their former quarters at Lackland AFB and at Bolling. The women worked to transform the barracks into a more homey atmosphere. The WAF Band was deactivated in 1961. Because of the warm climate and welcoming environment, some of the women airmen settled permanently in the San Bernardino area after their tour of duty.
Brand new 63d MAW C-141As on the ramp at Norton AFB, 1967. Serial 66-0177 is in forground. This aircraft will become the famous "Hanoi Taxi" which flew Bob Hope to USO shows in South Vietnam and in 1973, during the final days of the Vietnam War, repatriated American POWs from North Vietnam. Arizona Senator John McCain was one of the POWs who flew home on the Hanoi Taxi. 66-0177 was the last C-141 to be withdrawn from Air Force service after a career of almost 40 years, as the last of the fleet was retired in 2006. 66-0177 today is on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
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 SAMSO, the Space and Missile Systems Organization, which managed the Minuteman and Peacekeeper programs, was located at Norton from the 1960s. Upon base closure, the mission was transferred to Los Angeles Air Force Station, later, Los Angeles Air Force Base.
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 & 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/Heavy Chain.  Their electronics suites were developed for and identical to those of the MC-130 Combat Talon, with the addition of 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 Railroad Museum at Perris, California.
Norton was placed on the Department of Defense's base closure list in 1989 (the same year that the DoD signed the Federal Facilities Agreement with the EPA).
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.
Updated 8 March 2009
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