Westover History & Present Mission

Westover Field was created by a war-readiness appropriation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 and opened on April 6, 1940. It was assigned to the United States Army Corps Northeast Air District. Later, as part of the First Air Force I Bomber Command and later Army Air Forces Anti-submarine Command, Westover was a base for anti-submarine operations against German U-Boats in the early years of World War II. Westover served as a bomber training base and port of embarkation/debarkation during World War II.

During the course of the war, it became the largest military air facility in the Northeast. In the early years of the Cold War, Westover became a major support base during the Berlin Airlift.

It was named Westover Air Force Base in June 1948, after the Air Force’s creation as a separate service and became instrumental in waging the Cold War. As a Military Air Transport Service base, Westover was home to the Atlantic Division and a large air transport wing of C-124 and C-54 transports.

On April 1, 1955, the 4050th Air Refueling Wing, flying KC-97 tankers, took over operations of the base from the Military Air Transport Service. The next year, SAC’s 99th Bombardment Wing, Heavy took up residence at Westover, operating the B-52C and D Stratofortress bombers. In August 1957, the first of 20 KC-135A Stratotankers joined the Westover flight line. The 99th BMW would continue as the host wing at Westover until its inactivation on March 31, 1974.

The 8th Air Force was headquartered at Westover from June 13, 1955, until March 31, 1970, when it relocated to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, replacing Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) Second Air Force.

As a former SAC B-52 and KC-135 base and former home to Headquarters, 8th Air Force, Westover was one of the Soviet Union’s top targets during the Cold War. SAC constructed a secret underground bunker several miles away in Amherst, Massachusetts, to support 8th AF and coordinate Westover’s operations during a nuclear war. The command post was linked to the main base by buried cables and microwave antennae. U-2 spy plane film used during the Cuban Missile Crisis was developed at Westover.

While SAC operations were the primary Air Force operation, the Air Defense Command had a large presence on the base throughout the 1950s and early ’60s. As many as three fighter interceptor squadrons were housed at the base in 1958. The last fighter unit left Westover in 1963.

Westover was a base of operations for the Air Force during the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War and Cold War. An armada of bombers and tankers stood ready in the “Christmas Tree” formation at the base’s alert facility to scramble if a conflict broke out with the Soviet Union. In 1973, the last Vietnam War veterans stepped onto Westover’s tarmac. The base was turned over to the Air Force Reserve on May 19, 1974. From that time until October 1987, the 439th Tactical Airlift Wing operated C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider aircraft. The wing converted to C-5As in 1987 and the unit eventually became designated as the 439th Airlift Wing.

When Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi troops to invade the neighboring country of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, C-5A aircrews from Westover immediately volunteered to rush troops and supplies to the region. On Aug. 22, the 337th Military Airlift Squadron was officially activated and proceeded to fly hundreds of missions in support of Operations Desert Shield and Storm.

Following Desert Storm, the Patriot Wing flew relief missions to Bosnia in support of Operation Provide Comfort.

In 1992, aircraft from the 439th were used to fly food, medical supplies and clothing to the new Commonwealth of Independent States in the former Soviet Union.

In August 1992, Westover C-5s ferried supplies, vehicles and personnel to Homestead AFB, Florida, to assist in the relief efforts following Hurricane Andrew.

Westover crews also came to the aid of civil war-plagued Croatia when they brought humanitarian supplies there in the late fall of 1992. They also assisted Pakistani citizens when floodwaters tore through the Southwest Asian nation.

On Dec. 6, 1992, an eight-member C-5 crew from Westover left to play a role in Operation Restore Hope, a United Nations effort in Somalia. The crew became part of the stage operation flying relief missions into the war-torn nation. Another 337th crew joined the stage on Dec. 29, 1992. In late March 1993, Westover aircrews began flying relief missions from Cairo into Mogadishu, Somalia. In April, 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron medics flew there to provide medical assistance.

In October 1993, tension in Somalia heightened and the U.S. sent more troops and equipment to Mogadishu. Westover sent three aircraft and three crews, for a total of six missions, to respond to the crisis in Somalia.

During the civil war in Yugoslavia, Patriot Wing aircrews delivered 260 tons of food to Croatia in April 1994 to keep the U.N. lifeline flowing to the besieged Bosnian city of Sarajevo. As they had in Somalia, Westover reservists responded to the call for help from Rwandan famine and civil war victims during Operation Support Hope. In the summer and fall of 1994, they flew many missions to aid the effort in Rwanda, as well as missions to support Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the nation’s effort to deter Iraqi aggression on the Arabian Peninsula. Starting in January 1995, Westover also began serving as a refueling and maintenance stopover point for the U-2 and the later version TR-1 high altitude reconnaissance planes flying to and from Europe.

Westover celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift in May 1998. More than 700 Chicopee schoolchildren from Bowie and Selser schools greeted retired Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen and a C-54 dubbed the “Spirit of Freedom” which took part in the historic airlift. The plane and crew were en route to Berlin for the anniversary. Westover was their first stop on the journey.

In November 1998, Westover’s 337th Airlift Squadron launched eight missions in support of the nation’s military buildup in the Persian Gulf.
Between April 16 and May 16, 1999, Westover C-5 aircrews from the 337th Airlift Squadron completed five missions in support of Operation Allied Force — the air war in Kosovo — to various sites in Europe. Members of the 439th Airlift Wing participated in Aerospace Expeditionary Force missions during the final quarter of 1999. In October, 15 reservists deployed to Southwest Asia while five more went to sites in Europe. In November, 11 went to Southwest Asia and three to Europe while in December, 13 were dispatched to Southwest Asia. The dawn of the new millennium saw Westover’s aircrews flying all over the globe.

In June 2000, a Westover C-5 provided Missile Defense System support by carrying a 65-foot submarine designated the Advanced SEAL Delivery System, from Andrews AFB, Maryland, to Hawaii. The sub weighed 55 tons. It was the first time the sub had been carried by air transportation. One of the more unusual payloads carried across the globe occurred in August, when a 337th AS aircrew stored eight single-engine stunt planes inside a C-5 and flew them to America following the 2000 World Aerobatic Championships in Muret, France.

Since 2001, thousands of Airmen from Westover have deployed to support the Global War on Terror. At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the base had more than 1,200 people deployed in the theater.

In September 2001, a Westover C-5A aircrew that originally flew a routine mission to Travis AFB, California, found itself heading suddenly eastward with emergency supplies following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The C-5 aircrew was on the first leg of a mission to Australia when it was tasked to transport a rescue team and equipment to New York. The aircrew delivered about 72 members of an urban search and rescue team, their vehicles and nine pallets of equipment to McGuire AFB, New Jersey, early on Sept. 11. The team included medical people, firefighters, chaplains and rescue dogs.

Throughout the fall of 2001, Westover’s C-5 aircrews responded to the nation’s call once again. In October, Operation Enduring Freedom called up more than 1,000 Air Force reservists to fight the war on terrorism. The Air Force recognized the 439th AW for its hard work in January 2002, when the wing earned its third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. The award honored the wing’s accomplishments from Oct. 1, 1999, to Sept. 30, 2001.

By February, the number of activated Westover men and women had reached 1,150. Members of the 439th Air Wing found themselves deployed to more than 20 countries around the globe. While most of the members of the 439th Air Wing were demobilized by October 2002, the 439th Security Forces Squadron entered its second year of activation, tasked with around-the-clock security of Westover. When Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off in early February 2003, nearly 1,000 members of the 439th were again called to active duty. This time, it was a “home game” for the Patriot Wing as the base was turned into a major C-5 staging operation that ran through May 2003. In fact, Westover became the busiest C-5 operating center in the world, with 1,103 launches from February through May.

From Feb. 2 through early July, about 8,500 passengers had transited the base along with 31 million pounds of cargo, while about 18 million gallons of JP-8 fuel had been pumped. In addition to supporting the C-5 stage operations, 439th reservists did their share of overseas deployments as security forces and many others found themselves serving in several sites around the Gulf area. As the heavy fighting in Iraq ended, the 439th Airlift Control Flight worked controlling military operations at Baghdad International Airport. For hundreds of Westover reservists, two years of activations and deployments drew to a close in February 2004. Reservists, primarily in the maintenance career field, processed through demobilization lines — the first step back into their civilian lives.

At the end of 2004, the wing was called upon to provide relief missions for the tsunami disaster in Southwest Asia. Aircrew members left Westover on Dec. 31, 2004. The first C-5 and crew left Westover to help haul needed relief supplies and food to the devastated areas. In early January 2005, a second C-5 with two crews left bound for Asia. During the relief missions, C-5s delivered helicopters to Thailand, which were then used in the search and recovery operations. Westover crews hauled 686 tons of cargo during the three tsunami missions.

Seven months later, the Patriot Wing supported America’s massive humanitarian relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina and Rita and for the Pakistan earthquake. Westover C-5s were among the first military cargo jets to fly into Lafayette, Louisiana, on Aug. 30 with FEMA supplies. Between August and September 2005, aircrews flew 10 missions that hauled more than 400 tons of cargo.

The Pakistan earthquake resulted in another round of humanitarian missions from Westover in October 2005. The 439th flew four missions for the victims of the earthquake. Crews airlifted more than 270 tons of cargo, which included huge U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The missions often spanned from Westover to Army posts in Oklahoma and Texas, followed by air refueling from Air Force tankers on the way to Spain.

As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decisions, Westover expanded significantly over the past decade. The expansion included approximately 1,000 Soldiers assigned to an Army Reserve Training Battalion made up of Army units scattered across Massachusetts as well as approximately 450 Navy Seabees. The addition of these two tenant units increased base population 40 percent.

In June 2006, the 439th AW began its conversion to the newer C-5B models. The 439th was the first and only all-reserve unit to be equipped with the B-models. In December 2006, the Air Force selected Westover as one of three military bases to operate a regional isochronal maintenance inspection area for the C-5s. The inspection involves an extensive nose-to-tail review.

At the end of 2009, the Patriot Wing had more than 20 reservists deployed worldwide. Westover’s aerial port squadrons processed more than 2,100 passengers and more than 1.2 million pounds of cargo. Aircrews flew more than 4,600 hours and hauled more than 16,200 tons of cargo.

As 2010 opened, the Patriot Wing responded to the plight of the citizens of Haiti, after that country suffered a major earthquake Jan. 12. Aircrews flew three humanitarian missions from Westover through Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and Dobbins ARB, Georgia. Forklifts, a fire engine and 15 aerial port reservists arrived at Homestead ARB, Florida, by Jan. 18 to assist in the earthquake relief effort. Westover aircrews participated in humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy and military airlift placing Patriot missiles in Turkey.

In the summer of 2010, the wing took part in surge of C-5 operations in support of Afghanistan operations and Operation New Dawn in Iraq. The following year brought natural disaster devastation to Japan as a tsunami killed thousands of people. C-5s aircrews flew humanitarian support missions in 2011 as part of the relief effort to that country. The wing’s aircrews also supported Operation Unified Protector missions in Libya in 2011.

Operation Enduring Freedom staging operations kept 337th Airlift Squadron crews busy in 2012, and in the late fall, humanitarian operations again made headlines following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

The 439th Airlift Wing’s deployment commitments sent about 10 percent of its Airmen to Southwest Asia throughout 2016. More than 250 Airmen suited to go “out the door” in more than a dozen career fields including security forces, logistics readiness, force support, intelligence, civil engineering, public affairs, chaplain, and maintenance.

Back at home, the wing continued to fly humanitarian missions to Guatemala and Honduras.

In response to hurricane damage to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, in 2017, Westover Airmen deployed in a C-5M to that base in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

In short, Westover has been involved in every major humanitarian and military operation since 1974.

Current military operations at Westover are centered on its exceptionally long runways. The Air Force Reserve Command uses Westover for its largest cargo aircraft. It maintains a fleet of eight assigned C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft operated by the 439th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit that is operationally gained by the Air Mobility Command.

Today, Westover Airmen continue to be deployed throughout the world as part of the Air Force’s Total Force, defending the nation’s interests.

Jan. 1, 1975 – Dec. 31, 1976
June 15, 1989 – June 15, 1991
Oct. 1, 1997 – Sept. 30, 1999
Oct. 1, 2001 – Sept. 30, 2003
July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2009