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News | April 6, 2020

1960s: Minuteman ICBM mission arrives at Hill AFB

By Jonathan Bingham 75th Air Base Wing Historian

Editor's note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The year 1960 opened a decade of unprecedented technological competition. This is no light statement considering the advancements made in the previous decade, during which the U.S. Air Force transitioned to jet engines and began the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).

The Soviet Union’s launch of the 23-inch-diameter satellite Sputnik 1 Oct. 4, 1957, triggered a crisis in the United States that initiated a decade-long space race and culminated in the first moon landing July 20, 1969. The impact of this crisis on Hill AFB moved the trajectory of the installation in a way that would have long-lasting affects.

During the latter half of the 1950s, an Col. Edward N. Hall led an effort in support of the viability of solid rocket fuel in ballistic missiles and then the development of a new solid fuel missile weapon system. Ultimately, his dedication led to the acquisition of the Minuteman ICBM. Had it not been for the crisis initiated by the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik 1 the Air Staff may never have approved the Minuteman’s development and acquisition.

Once approved, the new weapon system needed an assembly point and depot support. In 1959, the Air Force’s Ballistic Missiles Division and Headquarters, Air Materiel Command, asked Maj. Gen. Kenneth B. Hobson, the then-commander of the Ogden Air Materiel Area, to conduct a feasibility study into Hill AFB’s ability to support the mission. The study concluded that the Air Force would realize a cost savings of $21 million over the first five years of operation by assigning the mission to Hill AFB rather than the Hastings Naval Ammunition Depot, Nebraska, then under consideration.

By the end of 1959, Hill AFB had received the mission to support the Minuteman ICBM. The facilities gained in 1955 through the addition of the Ogden Arsenal to Hill AFB played a key role in the installation’s readiness to take on support of the new weapon system. By mid-1960, Hill AFB began construction of the Missile Assembly and Maintenance Shop (MAMS) facilities wherein the Boeing Company, prime contractor for the LGM-30 Minuteman, would assemble the ICBMs from the components independently shipped to the installation from the sources of manufacture. Much of Hill AFB’s west area became part of the Boeing-operated Air Force Plant 77, which continued at the installation until 1978.

Hill AFB shipped the first operational Minuteman ICBM to Malmstrom AFB, Montana, via a C-133B on July 20, 1962. More quickly followed and due, in part, to the dedicated efforts of personnel at Hill AFB, the first ten-missile flight of Minuteman ICBMs became operational at Malmstrom AFB Oct. 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This began a mission that has endured at Hill AFB for nearly six decades through which the installation has contributed immeasurably to the strategic defense of the United States.