Lowry Air Force Base
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Lowry Air Force Base
Part of Air Training Command (ATC)
Location: Aurora and Denver, Colorado
Type: Air Force Base
In use: Open 1938 - closed 30 September 1994, Runway closed June 1966
Demolished: selected buildings throughout campus
Current condition: Lowry Campus, managed by Lowry Redevelopment Authority.
Current owner: Land: City & County of Denver, and City of Aurora
Controlled by: United States Air Force
Lowry Technical Training Center,
3415th TTW (1951-1994),
451st SMW Titan I (1961-1965),
703rd SMW Titan I (1958-1961)
Lowry Air Force Base (1938 - 1994) is a former United States Air Force base located in the cities of Aurora and Denver, Colorado. Its primary mission throughout its existence was Air Force technical training and was heavily involved with the training of United States Army Air Forces bomber crews during World War II. It was also the home of the United States Air Force Academy from 1954 to 1958, until the Academy's permanent site in Colorado Springs was completed.
Lowry was permanently closed by actions of the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC II) commission in 1994. The land is now being used for commercial and residential development, though many of the old military buildings are still in use.
Lowry AFB's two massive hangars currently house the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum (Hangar 1 and 2, Building 401 and 402, respectively). Another hangar, formerly Building 1499, has been converted to the Big Bear Ice Rink. One of the former dormitories is currently owned and used by the Logan School for Creative Learning and was remodeled beginning 2004 and ending in late 2006. Also, some of the base housing is currently owned and used by Stanley British Primary School and other buildings are occupied by the Aurora Community College at Lowry. Other outbuildings and facilities have been demolished or are in the process of being demolished to make room for new development, while other buildings such as the former steam power plant and headquarters building are being renovated for new usage in the form of modern lofts and housing. Few abandoned, original buildings remain, although one dormitory facility and a former medical building on the east end of the base are owned by the state as part of the Higher Education and Technology campus and have not yet been renovated and are off limits. Two remaining military facilities are the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) or Finance Center and the Air Reserve Personnel Center.
Lowry Air Force Base was named on 11 March 1938 in honor of Second Lieutenant Francis Lowry whose plane was shot down by German antiaircraft fire in World War I in which he flew as a forward artillery observer. Despite bad weather Lieutenant Lowry and his pilot had attempted a photo reconnaissance mission important to the Meuse Argonne Offensive. Lowry, who came from a prominent Denver family, was the first Denver aviator killed in wartime. He is buried in a cemetery adjacent to the former Air Force Base.
In 1934 the Army Air Corps realized it was outgrowing its facilities at Chanute Field, Illinois and began looking for a new facility where it could consolidate all of its Air Service Technical training schools. After looking at more than 80 sites across the nation, a military committee submitted a list to Congress with the names of six cities that would meet their needs. Denver ranked first, and Congress approved the Air Corps project in 1937, but Chanute remained the headquarters of the Air Corps Technical School and home to the aircraft mechanics school.
The Army formed a new branch for armament and photography training in Denver, and on October 4, 1937 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began work to convert the grounds of the former Agnes Memorial Sanatorium into a modern airfield. In February 1938 Lowry Field came under the jurisdiction of the Air Corps Technical School, still headquartered at Chanute. The Departments of Photography and Armament moved to Lowry, followed in September by the Department of Clerical Instruction. Classes in aerial photography began at Lowry in 1938 and aircraft arrived in June of that year. The first aircraft to land on the new paved runway was a B-18 Bolo. The sanatorium's main building became the base headquarters. In addition, the largest single barracks, housing 3,200 men, was completed in mid 1940.
World War II
Initially assigned to the Air Corps (Later Army Air Forces) Technical Training Command, the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command redesignated as the Army Air Forces Training Command on 7 July 1943, assumed responsibility for both flying and technical training. Lowry Field became the headquarters of the Western Technical Training Command. Lowry specialized in technical training of aerial photography image interpreters at the beginning of the war, later expanding to armament, and clerical schools during Jul 1943 - Jan 1944. Lowry changed from a technical school to a predominantly flying installation when flight engineering, B-29 pilot transition, and B-29 crew training began in 1943. In 1944, the flying training increased with the addition of B-29 Flight Engineer training.
With the end of the war, Lowry became a separation station for the Armed Forces. By the end of the 1945, Lowry was processing an average of 300 discharges a day. In mid October 1945, AAF Training Command delegated all stations and activities of the Headquarters Western Technical Training Command from Lowry to the new Technical Training Command at Scott Field, Illinois as part of the initial draw down of the AAF after the end of World War II. On 1 July 1946, Lowry was assigned to the Army Air Forces new Air Training Command, which it would be a part of for almost the next 50 years.
The postwar mission of Lowry again turned to Intelligence Training, as by mid 1946 most of these people had left the service, returning to their civilian occupations. As a result, HQ AAF directed Air Training Command and Air University to establish formal courses, which were established at Lowry in July 1947. Courses taught were focused on basic training in intelligence techniques needed for combat reporting, photographic intelligence, prisoner of war interrogation, and briefing and interrogation of combat crews. On 24 June 1948, Lowry Field was renamed Lowry Air Force Base as a result of the United States Air Force becoming a separate branch of the Armed Forces of the United States. On 26 August 1948, the 3415th Technical Training Wing was established at Lowry to command and control all training organizations at the base.
Operation Hayride (also Haylift and Snowbound)
Location: Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah. From January 3 - March 15, 1949, Operation Hayride, responded to eighteen snowstorms in 27 days that hit the Rocky Mountain and upper Great Plains states during December 1948 and January 1949, dropping temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero, blocking roads and railways, and covering ranges and ranches with so much snow that hundreds of thousands of sheep and cattle were threatened with starvation. The 2151st Rscu Un at Lowry AFB, Colorado, began to airdrop food and medicine to stranded travelers and isolated residents on January 3. For the next 10 days, the unit flew C–47, C–82, L–5, and H–5 aircraft over snow covered portions of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. For example, on January 4, a 2151st Rscu Un C–47 delivered 115 blankets and 30 cases of C rations to 482 people stranded at Rockport, Colorado. The next day, the unit air dropped food to passengers stranded in trains at Hillsdale and Egbort, Wyoming, and at Dix, Nebraska.
With the beginning of the Korean War, Lowry Air Force Base expanded its training program. Courses taught, in addition to photography and armament, included rocket propulsion, missile guidance, electronics, radar operated fire control systems, computer specialties, gun and rocket sights, and electronically operated turret systems. Also during the 1950s, Lowry functioned as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Summer White House from 1952 - 1955.
In July 1954 U.S.A.F. officials named Lowry as the interim site for the new United States Air Force Academy. At the same time, Strategic Air Command also wanted to use Lowry to support missile units. According to the USAF, Lowry had to support the new academy, and if necessary, training could be relocated so that facilities were available for the academy. In fact Lowry did have to transfer training. Beginning in September, the 3415th TTW moved intelligence, comptroller, and transportation training programs to Sheppard AFB. Lowry was the interim home for the USAF Academy until construction was completed in Colorado Springs in 1959.
On June 7, 1951, Lowry's 3415th Technical Training Wing formed a Guided Missiles Department. It taught courses in guidance, control, and propulsion for such systems as Matador, Falcon, Rascal, Snark, and Navaho. In late 1955, President Eisenhower approved recommendations of the National Security Council to research and develop an intercontinental ballistic missile program. At the same time, all of the services were preparing plans for their individual missile programs. In the Air Force, training responsibility was assigned to Lowry, which developed the first general courses in 1956, and plans called for other courses to open at Chanute AFB in 1957, Amarillo AFB in 1958, and Sheppard AFB in 1959. In 1958, Nuclear Weapons Training began at Lowry. By 1962, the Department of Missile Training was providing the Air Force with over 1,000 trained missile specialists per year.
On March 13, 1958, the Air Force Ballistic Committee approved the selection of Lowry to be the first Titan I ICBM base. No doubt the close proximity of the Martin Company Titan missile production plant influenced the site selection. Construction of launchers and support facilities began on May 1, 1959. Deployment of the missiles entailed a 3 x 3 configuration, meaning that each of the three complexes had three silos grouped in close proximity to a manned launch control facility. A reorganization in ATC in 1959 led to the 3415th TTW at Lowry be redesignated as the Lowry Technical Training Center.
The activation of the 848th SMS on February 1, 1960, marked the first stand up of a Titan I Squadron. Construction on all nine silos at the three launch complexes for the former 848th, redesignated the 724th, was completed by August 4, 1961. On April 18, 1962, Headquarters SAC declared the 724th SMS operational, and 2 days later the first Titan Is went on alert status. A month later, the sister 725th SMS (initially designated the 849th SMS) declared it had placed all nine of its Titan Is on alert status, which marked a SAC first. Both the 724th and 725th Strategic Missile Squadrons formed components of the Lowry headquartered 451st Strategic Missile Wing. On November 19, 1964, Defense Secretary McNamara announced the phase out of remaining first generation Atlas and Titan I missiles by the end of June 1965. This objective was met; on June 25, 1965, the 724th SMS and 725th SMS were inactivated. SAC removed the last missile from Lowry on April 14, 1965.
In 1962, all DoD intelligence programs were consolidated at Lowry. Effective 1 July 1963, Air Training Command established the Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center as a named activity at Lowry, and its first students entered training on 17 July. By establishing the training center, the DoD consolidated all intelligence training at a single facility.
Flying activities had begun at Lowry in 1938, and through the years, many different aircraft had operated from the airfield, but by the mid 1960s airspace in the Denver area had become so crowded that in 1966 the Air Force directed Lowry to shift all of its flying activities to nearby Buckley Air National Guard Base. The 1967 closure of Amarillo AFB led to the relocation of the 3320th Retraining Group from Amarillo to Lowry. The retraining group, with its mission to rehabilitate and return to duty airmen convicted of criminal offenses, started the move on 1 July and completed it on 1 September 1967. As the Vietnam War wound down, the number of airmen with psychiatric and behavioral reorientation for airmen with drug problems reduced, and the Special Treatment Center at Lackland AFB's workload declined. Therefore in 1974, ATC suggested and the Air Staff approved the transfer of those services to the 3415th Special Training Group at Lowry AFB.
A vast construction program began in 1970 for enlisted and officer billeting facilities, which replaced many of the World War II vintage barracks. Five large (1,000 man) dormitories were constructed and a 187 space mobile home park were completed by 1974. Other facilities included a youth center, a child care center, a chapel, and a new Airmen’s Open Mess. In 1976, the Air Force Accounting & Finance Center & the Air Reserve Personnel Center opened in the Gilchrist Building (Building 444). In 1972, the 3415th Technical Wing became the USAF School of Applied Aerospace Sciences with missile training continuing within the Department of Aerospace Munitions Training. In 1978, this department would be redesignated the 3460th Training Group.
Lowry first faced the base closure issue in 1978. Ultimately, the Air Force recommended keeping Lowry open at that time. With the base closure issue settled (for the time being), Lowry Technical Training Center introduced new & improved courses for the 1980s. With the introduction of the LGM-118 Peacekeeper ICBM in the mid 1980s, technical training was provided at Lowry, beginning in 1985. The base became the primary training center for USAF space operations courses and began Undergraduate Space Training for officers, as well as basic and advanced training in various intelligence disciplines for officers. In 1987, Air Training Command graduated its first undergraduate space training (UST) class in February at Lowry. Lowry also handled ground & armament training for the F-106, F-4, F-15, F-16, F-111, A-10,B-52 and B-1 bomber. Lowry was also instrumental in training munitions handling for modified B-52 bomber. In 1980, Lowry Technical Training Center acquired a B-52D from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, and stabilized another B-52 on base for use in training crews to load Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) and Short Range Air Missiles (SRAMs).
The 1990s saw the beginning of the end at Lowry. The end of the Cold War, along with the resultant budget cuts and downsizing made base closure a reality. In 1993, Lowry prepared to end 56 years of technical training. While training continued, Lowry’s command structure planned to implement the closure in an efficient manner. The Air Force deactivated the 3400th Technical Training Group on April 27, 1994. A parade & pass in review was planned, but the death of former President Richard Nixon caused the ceremonies to be postponed to the 28th. The official deactivation date, however, remained the 27th. On 30 September 1994, the base officially closed.