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.

“Just sagebrush, 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.

            On 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 Municipal Airport, 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.

            Construction 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.

            In 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. 

            Reconnaissance 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 strategic bombing.

            Peterson 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 

            As 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.