Ellsworth Air Force Base is located 10 miles north east of Rapid City, South Dakota. The history of the 44th Missile Wing at Ellsworth spans back 2 years prior to the 44th Missile Wing (Minuteman) being activated. Ellsworth AFB was responsible for the 850th Strategic Missile Squadron, consisting of the first generation HGM-25A Titan I ICBM, located at three sites near Hermosa, Sturgis and Wicksville, South Dakota.
The Titan I missile had a short life span, beginning with the emplacement of the Titan I missiles at the 850th in 1962, and stayed on alert until Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced the phasing out of the Titan I missiles by the end of June 1965. The Titan I missiles at Ellsworth AFB were removed from alert status on January 4, 1965 and by February 12, 1965 the last Titan missile had been removed from its Launch Facility and shipped out.
Much like Malmstrom AFB and their ground breaking ceremony for the Minuteman I missile, Ellsworth had an official ground breaking ceremony to mark the beginning of construction at the 44th Missile Wing, with the intention of bringing in the Minuteman I ICBM missile. Construction for the 44th began on August 21, 1961, followed by an official ground breaking ceremony on September 11, 1961 commemorating the Minuteman I missile coming to Wing II, Ellsworth AFB.
With construction on the Minuteman I missile Launch Facilities and Launch Control Facilities fully underway, January 1, 1962 marked the date when the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) at Ellsworth was activated. In July 1962 the first Minuteman missile squadron was activated, the 66th SMS. The 67th Strategic Missile Squadron was close behind, being activated in August 1962, followed by the 68th SMS in September of 1962.
When construction of the Minuteman wing was completed, a total of 150 Launch Facilities were prepared to house the missiles, with 15 Launch Control Facilities set in place to establish command and control of the Minuteman I missile. Ellsworth AFB received its first Minuteman IB missile, and had it emplaced in a Launch Facility near Wall, South Dakota in April, 1963. By the end of that year, all 150 Minuteman missiles had been emplaced and placed on strategic alert.
The 44th Strategic Missile Wing at Ellsworth has some fascinating historical features attached to it, based on the Minuteman missile and the role this ICBM played in the establishment of 1000 Minuteman ICBM missiles placed on alert throughout the United States. The Air Force and Secretary of Defense chose Ellsworth AFB to host a unique number of operational tests, to establish the viability and reliability of the Minuteman I missile weapon system.
In November 1964 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved the test, designated "Project Long Life", which consisted of a short-range operational base launch of a total of 3 modified Minuteman IB missiles, for the purpose of establishing a realistic test of this missile. Each missile would contain enough solid rocket propellant that would make it possible for a 7 second flight, consisting of inert upper stages of rocket boosters, including an inert Reentry vehicle. This test would occur from an operational Launch Facility at the 44th SMW.
The first of three scheduled launches took place on March 1, 1965. The first launch, "Operation Long Life", occurred and a Minuteman IB missile successfully launched from its Launch Facility, and was able to rocket into the South Dakota sky for a brief 7 seconds. Based on the success of this first launch, the remaining two launches were canceled. The historical richness of this event was that this was the only test launch of an ICBM at an operational site ever conducted in the United States. The outcome of this test made it clear that a Strategic Air Command missile crew was fully capable of launching an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
The transition from the Minuteman I missile to the Minuteman II missile began in October 1971 for Ellsworth AFB. The "Force Modernization" program responsible for upgrading the Minuteman missile to the Minuteman II was completed by March 1973.
Once the Minuteman II missile was fully operational at the 44th SMW, Ellsworth Air Force Base was once again chosen to establish that the Airborne Launch Control system could function in the precise manner that it was designed for. On February 1, 1974, the first SELM, Simulated Electronic Launch-Minuteman, code name "Giant Pace 74-1" was successfully completed. Following this first initial simulated launch, 11 additional Minuteman II missiles were configured with the SELM feature at Ellsworth Air Force Base, all of which completed successful simulated "launch on command" by two Launch Control Centers as well as the Airborne Launch Control Center.
One of the significant changes at Ellsworth Air Force Base saw the 28th BW phasing out the B-52H bomber, starting in early 1986. The B-52H bomber had served for 30 years at Ellsworth AFB and the Air Force prepared the 28th BW (Ellsworth) for the first of 35 B-1B bombers. In January 1987, the 28th received its first B-1B Lancer. Starting in 1987 and moving forward through the years, the B-1B bomber has proven itself a valuable asset to the Air Force throughout its multitude of key successful operations.
Honoring agreements made in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, President George H. W. Bush called for all of the Minuteman II missiles to be withdrawn from alert within 72 hours. Starting on September 27, 1991, a flurry of activity commenced at the 44th SMW and within 47 hours the personnel were able to dissipate launch codes in all 15 Launch Control Centers, as well as installing safety control switches in all of the 150 Launch Facilities.
Two short months later, on December 3, 1991 the first Minuteman II missile was removed from the G-02 Launch Facility near Red Owl, South Dakota. On April 6, 1992 the first Launch Control Center attached to the 44th SMW was shut down.
June 1, 1992 marked the day that the 44th Missile Wing was relieved of its emergency war order mission and its primary focus became the deactivation of the Minuteman II weapon system at Ellsworth AFB. This date was also significant in that it marked the end of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the start of the Air Combat Command (ACC).
The 67th Strategic Missile Squadron was inactivated on August 15, 1992 and the 66th SMS was inactivated September 1, 1993. Deactivation of the entire missile complex at Ellsworth ended in April 1994. The 44th Missile wing was formally inactivated July 4, 1994.
For further information regarding Ellsworth Air Force Base, follow the link below to their website.
In preserving the rich history attributed to the 44th Missile Wing, the National Park Service has stepped forward in establishing and maintaining tours of both the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, as well as the Delta-09 Launch Facility, in South Dakota. In 1999 steps began in assuring that a Launch Control Facility and a Launch Facility that was a part of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron were kept intact, allowing for the National Park Service to step in and keep a piece of history connected to the 44th Missile Wing alive.
The Delta-01 Launch Control Facility is a guided tour only, and requires that you purchase your tickets at the Visitor Center, just off of Exit 131 on Interstate 90. The Delta-09 Launch Facility can be viewed as a guided tour, but you can also view this as a self-guided tour as well. To get the full perspective of what both sites offer, it is recommended that you get the guided tour. The women and men that offer these tours are extremely knowledgeable people, who not only know the technical and historical information attributed to the sites themselves, but they also have an excellent knowledge of the history and the stories that are associated with the Launch Control Facilities, the Launch Facility and the Minuteman weapon system overall.
The National Park Service has just finished construction of a brand new Visitor Center devoted to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It is located off of Interstate 90 at Exit 131, which is approximately 21 miles south of Wall, South Dakota. The center is well designed, and the staff that are available at the center will make your visit more than worth it. Below you will find a link to the National Historic Site itself, as well as a link to their Visitor Center.
Lastly, a document authored as a result of the National Park Service establishing the Delta-01 LCF and Delta-09 LF sites, was put together describing the D-01 LCF and D-09 LF and all of the technical and descriptive details associated with the LCF and LF. This document is highly recommended as its contains a wealth of information on the Minuteman missile. It is well written and one of the more informative documents on the Minuteman missile. Click on the link below to access the document.