2007 marks the 65th anniversary
of the establishment of Peterson Air Force Base. This is the first of a series of Space Observer articles which will tell the story of the
base and other Air Force activities in Colorado Springs from World War II to the present.
jack rabbits, and rattlesnakes…” That’s
how retired Air Force Chief Warrant Officer James Chastain described a patch of
Colorado prairie when he arrived
here in June 1942. Chastain was a member
of the newly-formed 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd
Photographic Group, Army Air Forces, the first flying unit to arrive at the new
Colorado Springs Army Air Base. There was
a frenzy of activity and new construction, with more troops arriving every day.
April 28, 1942, Army Air
Forces officers in downtown Colorado Springs
issued General Order Number 1, creating the base and the Photographic
Reconnaissance Operational Training Unit.
Officials selected the Colorado Springs
established in the mid 1920’s, as the site for the new air base. The base’s first commanding officer, Lt Col
David W. Hutchison, arrived on May 6. He and his staff immediately went to work
supervising base construction and organizing the new photo reconnaissance training
school. The school’s mission was to organize
and prepare new reconnaissance and aerial mapping squadrons for combat
service. Reconnaissance was a fairly new
military capability and it was needed overseas quickly.
began at a furious pace within a week of base activation. The first troops arrived on May 13. First living in tents on the base, they were
later placed in and around Colorado Springs
until barracks were built. Mr. Chastain
explained, “Some of my squadron mates lived in the Kaufmann
Building (a Colorado
Springs landmark) and took baths at the City
Auditorium. I lived first at a youth
camp near the present-day Air Force Academy before being sent up to Lowry Field
in Denver. Since we didn’t have any suitable
runways yet, our airplanes were flown and maintained at Lowry.” Construction crews completed new runways in August
1942, and skies over Colorado Springs
soon buzzed with reconnaissance versions of P-38 fighters and larger B-25 and B-17
bombers. Base construction continued on
until summer of 1943 and cost nearly $30 million.
Most buildings and
facilities were temporary, or in the words of the time, “built for the duration
of the war”. Many of these buildings
still survive today, such as Building 391 (currently occupied by the HQ AFSPC
Inspector General), Building 615 (the
Peterson Thrift Shop), and the warehouses and office buildings currently used
by Base Supply. Most of the original aircraft
hangars and maintenance shops exist today along the Peterson flight line.
December 1942, officials changed the base name to Peterson Army Air Base, in
honor of Lieutenant Edward J. Peterson, the Operations Officer of the 14th
Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. A Colorado
native, he died as a result of a plane crash at the base the previous
August. The base was commonly called
Peterson Field, or “Pete Field” for short.
training continued into late 1943, when the first of several base mission
changes took place during the war. In
November 1943, Peterson Field transformed into a combat crew training school,
turning out 10-man B-24 “Liberator” bomber crews for assignment to overseas combat
units. The 383rd Bombardment
Group relocated here from Geiger Field, Washington
to form the nucleus for this training school.
Before the school disbanded in summer of 1944, hundreds of B-24 crew
members passed through Peterson Field for two to three months training in
Field then took on fighter pilot training, with the 268th Army Air Forces Base
Unit using P-40 “Warhawks”. The 72nd
Fighter Wing, headquartered here during this time, oversaw operations at six
other fighter training bases in the Southwest US. Fighter training took place until Apr 1945,
when the base transitioned again into an Army Air Forces instructor school
World War II drew to a close in August 1945, so did the need for Peterson
Field. The base closed in December 1945 and
the property returned to Colorado Springs while the US
demobilized from war. Apart from two
brief reactivations between 1947 and 1949, the base belonged once again to jackrabbits
and rattlesnakes. But as the 1950’s
approached, a new threat emerged. A new
conflict of ideologies known as “the Cold War” was about to begin. Along with the new US Air Force, Peterson AFB
would play a large role in that conflict.