- Wurtsmith Air Museum
- WAFB's B-52s today
- Early Base History
- Boneyard Gallery
- Tuskegee Airmen in Oscoda
- Base Maps
- 920th ARS on TV
Since the early part of the 20th century, the military base outside of the small town of Oscoda Michigan, had gone by many names; Loud-Reames Aviation Field, Camp Skeel, Oscoda Army Airfield, Oscoda Air Force Base and Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Regardless of its name, the base always played an important part in the ever-evolving National defense.
From the early days of bi-planes practicing bombing runs and landing on a frozen lake, training Tuskegee airmen, Air Defense Command fighter jets on alert, B-52s with Hound dog missile and in the end, KC-135 and B-52s with air launched cruise missiles on alert.
Today, the Wurtsmith Air Museum works to preserve the history of the men and women that served, so their stories and the history of aviation in northeastern Michigan can be shared with future generations.
A Synopsis of Wurtsmith History
P-47 fighters were assigned to Oscoda during World War II. Members of the famous "Tuskegee Airmen," an all-black fighter squadron, trained at Oscoda for a number of weeks and stayed at the now demolished Welcome Hotel (image on right).
1942 -- Camp Skeel is renamed Oscoda Army Air Field and becomes a P-47 fighter base.
1944 -- Maj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith, born in Detroit in 1906, led U. S. Army Air Corps training flights to Camp Skeel near Oscoda prior to World War II. Wurtsmith earned recognition during the war as the leader of the group of pilots using P-40 and P-38 fighter aircraft to defend Australian cities against enemy attacks. General Douglas MacArthur wrote that "Much of our success in the Pacific was due to his brilliant attainments and leadership." At age 36, Army officials named him a two-star major general. Ironically, Wurtsmith died in 1946 in an airplane crash on a routine flight of a B-25 bomber.
1945 - 1947 -- The base is closed for two years, but re-opened due to heavy use by fighters flying from Selfridge Army Air Field near Detroit.
1948 -- Oscoda Army Air Field renamed Oscoda Air Force Base.
July 1960 -- The 920th Air Refueling Squadron with their KC-135 Stratotankers arrive from Carswell AFB, Texas.
1960 -- The base becomes part of Strategic Air Command, set up to respond to nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
Jan 1961 -- The 379th Bombardment Wing (H) takes over control of the base, personnel, & equipment from the 4026th Air Base Squadron.
9 May 1961 -- The first B-52H Stratofortress, 60-001 christened the "State of Michigan" arrives at Wurtsmith.
1965 -- KC-135 tankers from the 920th AREFS begin flying "Young Tiger" missions in support of combat operations in Southeast Asia.
1965 -- Flight crews from the 520th BMS cross-train in B-52Ds and begin flying "Arc Light" missions in Southeast Asia.
1 January 1980 -- The 379th receives the first Gen George C. Kenny Award for the best Operational Readiness Inspection/BUY NONE performance of a SAC bombardment wing.
14 January 1980 -- The wing receives its third Air force Outstanding Unit Award.
February 1980 -- The 379th wins the 40th Air Division Commander's Trophy.
2 October 1980 -- the 379th captures first place in the William Tell Weapons Meet, winning the Lt. Gen Gerald Johnson Top Bomber Crew Award.
1980 -- Wurtsmith is chosen for nuclear-armed cruise missiles to equip B-52 bombers.
January 1981 -- The 379th is named the Best Bombardment Wing in the 8th Air Force
18 March 1982 -- The 524th receives the 1981 Gen John D. Ryan Outstanding Bombardment Squadron in SAC.
20 April 1983 -- The last modified B-52G with the OAS arrives.
17 June 1982 -- The Integrated Maintenance Facility is officially dedicated as the wing receives its first two AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs)
18 January 1983 -- Wurtsmith receives its first B-52G modified with the new Offensive Avionics System (OAS).
1 August 1983 -- The wing wins the Gen George C. Kenny Trophy
8 November 1983 -- The wing is awarded the Doughtery Trophy for best SRAM scores during the year's bombing and navigation competition.
1984 -- B-52 Bombing and Navigation Trophy
1984 -- B-52 Superior Bombing Award
1984 -- Wurtsmith is passed over as a home for B-1 bomber to replace the aging B-52s.
1984 -- The 379th receives the William J. Crumm Linebacker Memorial Trophy during the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
1984 -- B-52 Superior SRAM Performance Award
1985 -- The Wing wins the Best B-52 Bombardment Wing Award and the 524th wins the Best B-52 Bombardment Crew Award during the 1985 "Busy Leader" competition.
May 1987 -- Gen. Curtis E. LeMay visits WAFB with SAC IG team.
26 May - 13 Jul 1987 -- The wing deploys to March AFB, California as part of a RED FLAG exercise.
20-26 Sep 1987 -- The wing deploys to Eielson AFB, Alaska as part of the RAPID SHOT exercise.
November 1987 -- The 379th wins the coveted Fairchild Trophy, recognizing the best B-52 and KC-135 unit in the SAC Bombing and Navigation competition. The wing beat out 23 other SAC wings and various Air National Guard and Reserve units to take top honors in the competition that became known as Proud Shield. The 524th ran away with four of the major trophies for excellence in high and low-level bombing; the Curtis E. LeMay Bombing Trophy, the Mathis Trophy, the John D. Ryan B-52 Trophy, and the William J. Crumm Linebacker Memorial Trophy. The 920th finished in 10th place for the best tanker unit overall.
30 Jan - 5 Feb 1988 -- The wing sent seven B-52s to Clinton-Sherman, Oklahoma as part of the MIGHTY FORCE 88-4 exercise.
1-11 April 1988 -- Moron AB, Spain. Three aircraft, crews and wing staffs were taken in support of operations. Lt Col Larry Hinton was the deployed wing commander and Lt Col James Dean was the deployed Deputy of Operation.
28 Jul - 12 Aug 1988 -- The wing deployed seven bombers to Biggs Army Airfield (AAF), El Paso, Texas as part of the GALLANT EAGLE/MIGHT WARRIOR 88-4.
15 Sep - 1 Oct. 1988 -- The wing deployed seven bombers to Moron AB, Spain at part of the BUSY BREWER exercise in support of MIGHTY WARRIOR, DISPLAY DETERMINATION, and DAMSEL FAIR operations.
11 Oct 1988 -- Tragedy strikes the 379th when a 920th KC-135 crashed while making an approach to land at Wurtsmith. All six-flight crewmembers lost their lives while the 8AF Staff Assistance Visit Team, managed to escape from the back-end of the burning wreckage.
11-23 March 1989 -- Two bombers were sent to Andersen AFB, Guam as part of the RAPID WARRIOR/RAPID SHOT GOLF exercise.
16 April - 5 May 1989 -- Four bombers were sent to Moron AB, Spain as part of BUSY WARRIOR supporting MIGHTY WARRIOR/DISPLAY DETERMINATION operations.
9-22 July 1989 -- Then seven bombers were sent to Biggs AAF, Texas as part of MIGHTY WARRIOR/GREEN FLAG exercises.
18 July 1989 -- A B-52G dropped two B-83 weapons on the hard target located on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR). Unfortunately this was a mishap because the bomber was to drop three weapons on three separate bomb runs. After determining the cause, the back-up date (20 July) was used to drop the third weapon on the hard target.
July 1989 -- The wing is chosen for a BUSY LUGGAGE mission to aimed at testing of gravity nuclear weapons.
7-22 September 1989 -- The 379th went back to Moron AB with four aircraft and five aircrews to participate in MIGHTY WARRIOR/DISPLAY DETERMINATION operations.
9-17 November 1989 -- The wing deploys to Cairo West, Egypt in support of BRIGHT STAR '90.
10 November 1989 -- The 379th won the Snuffy Smith Trophy for the best B-52 Gunner scores during the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
November 1989 -- 379th Bombardment Gunners win the Maynard H. Smith Award for best gunners at the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
November 1989 -- Wurtsmith is picked as one of seven bases to receive part of the rail-based MX missile system.
MEANING OF THE TRIANGLE K
During World War II, Eighth Air Force consisted of 3 air divisions and was comprised of 47 bombardment groups. One group was equivalent to what is now a wing. Each bombardment group generally had 120 aircraft assigned. Assembling massive aerial formations was chaotic, so the Eighth Air Force leaders developed a shape and letter system for easy identification of its planes in the air. The triangle represented the first air division; the circle, the second; and the square, the third. The groups under each division were given letter designations. The 379th was assigned to Kimbolton, England and the selection of the letter K to designate the 379th was coincidental, as the groups were issued letter designations when they entered combat.
In this way, the group was recognized by its triangle K.
U.S. Army Air Corps lands biplanes on Iosco County's Van Ettan Lake and opens Camp Skeel.
Residents of the Oscoda area raised $600 to clear 40 acres of land next to the lake as a spot for a training camp and target range.
1953 -- The base is renamed Paul B. Wurtsmith Air Force Base after Michigan World War II hero Maj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith.
April 1974 -- The wing develops an operational AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) capability.
2 May 1977 -- The first B-52G, 58-0197, arrived from Ellsworth AFB, SD and completes the transition from B-52H to the B-52G in July.
October 1977 -- The Accellerated Co-Pilot Enrichment Program begins following the assignment of five T37 aircraft to the base.
1977 -- The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award is presented to the Supply Squadron as well as the Avionics and Munitions Maintenance Squadrons.
1977 -- Munitions, Avionics, Operational Maintenance Squadrons, along with the 920th AREFS and the 524th BMS arch chosen as the best in the 40th AD.
1977 -- The 379ths participation in the annual "GIANT VOICE" Bombing and Navigation competitions captures the Doolittle Trophy in the low-level bombing category.
1977 -- Equally impressive was the wing's showing during "GIANT SWORD 77" SAC's annual Weapons Loading and Security Police competition which resulted in a first place finish as well as being bestowed "Best in SAC".
June 1978 -- The 379th finishes first among SAC units and third overall in the Royal Air Force Bombing and Navigation Competition.
October 1978 -- The 524th takes first place in the Best B-52 portion of "GIANT SWORD 78".
December 1978 -- The 524th received the best score yet achieved during the live launch of a SRAM tests consisting of live-launch and captive-carry missions conducted on the various missile ranges; Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, or the Naval Air Warfare Center at Point Mugu California.
1978 -- The 920th AREFS flys over 800 refueling missions and a total of 54 special missions supporting seven major commands in every theater of operations.
1978 -- SAC selects the 379th Civil Engineering Squadron as the "Best in SAC" with a nomination for US Air Force honors.
1978 -- The 40th AD selects the 379th AMS and 524th BMS, for the second year running, as the divisions best squadron awards.
April 1990 -- The wing is chosen for another BUSY LUGGAGE test mission.
16 July 1990 -- A B-52G dropped one B-83 weapon from high altitude onto the dry lakebed located on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR).
October 1990 -- The wing sends staff personnel to Jeddah New, Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield in preparation for B-52 operations with Desert Storm.
October 1990 -- Congress cancels the $1.3 billion MX rail program due to the Cold War's end and mounting national budget problems.
18 January 1991 -- 0425 zulu, the 379th went to war by flying the longest employ-deploy strike mission in history, up to this time. 10 bombers participated in the mission which recovered in Jeddah New, Saudi Arabia, where they joined the 1708th Bombardment Wing (Provisional) and flew more missions.
April 12, 1991 -- Wurtsmith is among more than 30 military bases named for closure. President George Bush and Congress approve the closure several months later.
27 Sep 1991 -- After 34 years of pulling nuclear alert, President George H.W. Bush announced the end of the "Cold War."
With that decision, America's strategic bombers and Minuteman II ICBMs were pulled off alert status in the single biggest change in nearly four decades of fielding nuclear weapons.
28 September 1991 -- order went out on the taking planes off alert, turned over to maintenance, and the weapons were remove and placed in storage.
October 1991 -- The 379th was chosen to participate in a GLOBAL CRUISE test mission of an AGM-86B ALCM.
July 1, 1992 -- The USAF Thunderbirds flew the final military air show at Wurtsmith AFB.
11 May 1992 -- The 379th would place second overall during the final SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
1 June 1992 -- All of SAC's assets would transfer over ACC.
June 1992 -- The 920th AREFS was placed on the inactive status with the departure of the last KC-135A tanker aircraft.
2 December 1992 -- The 379th Operations Group, 379th Operations Support Group, and the 524th BMS would be inactivated
15 December 1992 -- The final B-52G, #57-6492 Old Crow Express, departed for the AMARC.
April 8, 1993 -- Oscoda Plastics Inc. becomes the first private industry to lease a building at Wurtsmith
June 30, 1993 -- The Air Force formally closes its operations at the base.
1992 -- The "Old Crow Express," the last B-52 bomber to leave Wurtsmith Air Force Base, bids goodbye on December 15. The plane, piloted by 379th Bombardment Wing Commander Col. William H. Campbell, Jr., joined Wurtsmith's other B-52s at the Arizona boneyard.
Photos of Old Crow Express after the flight to Davis Monthan AFB, Tucson AZ.
(click to ENLARGE)
Col. William H. Campbell, Jr., the last commander of the U.S. Air Force's 379th Bombardment Wing at Wurtsmith. The 379th operated at the base from 1961 to 1992. Campbell, as the base's top officer, was in charge of both B-52 bombers and KC-135 refueling tankers.
Wurtsmith AFB Base Map
If interested, Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority has several Air Force Buildings available for purchase/lease:
And the there are development options available:
On December 8, 1993, twenty people, including the National President of the Yankee Air Force and the membership chairman participated in the first formal meeting. A motion was passed to petition the National Headquarters for approval of a Yankee Air Force Division in Oscoda.
Those who paid their dues within a week of that meeting, were Founders and those who paid by December 1994, were Charter members. Many of the original members were pilots at the recently closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base and all the members had an interest an aviation and preserving the history of Wurtsmith Air Force Base. John Pegg was elected as the first Chairman and the search to find a location that provided runway access, space for the museum building, a library, and room for expansion began.
They rented an old Fighter hangar on base (the current home of the gift shop and static exhibits), began submitting requests for planes and scheduled the first Fly-in for July 30 & 31, 1994, to coincide with Oscoda River Days.
The first plane in the museum’s collection, which is still at the museum, was a damaged L-19, retrieved from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Work was also begun on a CG4 “WACO” combat glider, which is also still in the museum. A model aircraft club was started. There were dinners, dances, raffles, and rummage sales held and members were involved in community events.
By Dec. 1994 the Wurtsmith Division of the Yankee Air Force had 112 members.
* * * THIS SECTION IS BEING UPDATED * * *
After a trip to the Boneyard in September 2019, hundreds of current and vintage photos are being sorted, scanned and uploaded.
This is a very time consuming process so please check back and
if you have any photos or content to add, please send an email.
* * * (November 2019) * * *
Before the Base closure in 1993, the majority of Wurtsmith’s planes were transferred to AMARG, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson AZ. a.k.a ‘the BoneYard’. After nearly 30 years, 14 WAFB B-52s are still in the desert, being used for parts to support the fleet of active B-52s.
Once these airframes are no longer able to provide parts, they will be shredded and sold for scrap.
The images below are are from the Boneyard in September 2019.
The B-52s with red markers are Wurtsmith’s.
Place your mouse pointer on a marker to reveal the aircraft number and nose art (if available).
Miscellaneous Photos of Wurtsmith B-52s and KC-135s in the mid 1990s
All information listed in this section, was provide to the museum by Facebook user Dave Trojan a.k.a. Aloha Dave Aviation Archaeologist. Check out his posts on the Wurtsmith Air Museum Group on Facebook.
From Dave Trojan “To all who are interested in the Camp Skeel/Oscoda AAF/Wurtsmith AFB History. I’m using a combination of several source materials to tell the history of the area. I like combining historical photographs with the stories behind them. The sources I’m using include The Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFRA); Photo collections from Wurtsmith Museum; Photo collections from Selfridge Museum, Selfridge AFB Historical files; and Aircraft Accident Reports. I’m slowly working my way up from 1924 to the present. There are a lot of stories to tell. If you are interested in any particular aircraft of time period please let me know. The history of Oscoda Military Aviation is the same as the History of the Air Force. Most Air Corps/Force types used Oscoda at one time or another. I will try and highlight some of the most interesting aircraft and their stories!”
Oscoda AAF building photos were taken between 30 April, 1944 – 31 July, 1944.
The last two photos are the dedication of the base chapel November 1944 & January 1945
The Bell P-39 Airacobra Aircraft, operated from Oscoda Army Airfield during the late 1943 time period.
After flying the P-40 Warhawk, the 332nd (Tuskegee Airmen) began training with the P-39 Airacobra in September 1943. It was a dramatic change for the 332nd since the P-39 had many novel features. There were at least 10 Major P-39 accidents at Oscoda, mostly during late 1943.The P-39 was an all-metal, low-wing, single-engine fighter, with a tricycle undercarriage and an Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled V-12 engine mounted in the central fuselage, directly behind the cockpit. The Airacobra was one of the first production fighters to be conceived as a weapons system. The whole aircraft was designed around 37mm cannon that was mounted in the nose and fired though the prop spinner. The plane also had Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the nose and wings.The Bell P-39 Airacobra was not the best fighter aircraft of WWII, but it was the only fighter available in quantity during the first six months of the war. It was criticized for its low service ceiling, its slow rate of climb, and its generally poor high-altitude performance. It excelled in low-altitude ground support as a well-built and reliable aircraft capable of absorbing quite a bit of battle damage.The Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12 engine behind the pilot’s seat drove the propeller by means of a driveshaft mounted under the pilot’s seat. Its poor high-altitude performance was a result of a critical decision to remove the turbo-supercharger. There were also problems with the complex nose-mounted reduction gear, which caused reliability problems and resulted in fairly low serviceability rates as compared with other fighters. On the other hand, the rear-mounted engine offered increased maneuverability since the weight of the plane would be near its center of gravity. In addition, it would facilitate the installation of nose cannon since the armament could be mounted near the centerline, minimizing the effects of recoil forces. The cockpit canopy offered exceptional all-round visibility for the pilot. An unusual feature of the P-39 Airacobra was the automobile-type doors that had roll-down windows on each side of the cockpit. The cockpit was fairly easy to enter and exit, but the doors had a tendency to fly open in midair at high speed if improperly secured.
The Airacobra reached its peak usage in the USAAF in early 1944, with over 2100 in service. However, the drawdown was fairly rapid after that and they were quickly replaced by P-38s, P-47s and P-51s. A total 9589 Airacobras were built before production finally ended on July 25, 1944. At Oscoda Army Air Field, from the Group Historian: “ Over the sandy pine shores of Lake Huron, pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group polished up their flight and gunnery tactics for threat inevitable test of their skill and courage which will eventually lead them to pursuit and battle in the skies of Europe and Asia.” By the end of November 1943 all training for the 332nd had been completed at Oscoda and the Group departed for overseas. There are many good photos of P-39s at Selfridge Field (Posted below), but none of P-39s at Oscoda.
P-39Q General characteristics:
Length: 30 ft 2 in (9.2 m)
Wingspan: 34 ft 0 in (10.4 m)
Height: 12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
Empty weight: 5,347 lb (2,425 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12, 1,200 hp (895 kW)
Maximum speed: 376 mph (605 km/h) (Redline dive speed was 525 mph)
Range: 525 miles on internal fuel (840 km)
Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,700 m)
Rate of climb: 3,750 ft/min (19 m/s)
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Aircraft operated from Oscoda Army Airfield, 1944-1945
Beginning in July 1944, the P-47 Thunderbolt was used extensively to train Free French Air Force pilots at Oscoda Army Air Field (AAF). At least thirty French piloted P-47 aircraft accidents were reported at Oscoda AAF during the time period 1944-1945 and resulted in at least four pilots killed. The P-47 Thunderbolt fighter and fighter-bomber was used by the Allied air forces during World War II. A single-seat low-wing fighter developed for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) by Republic Aviation, it was the largest single-engined piston fighter ever produced. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were produced by war’s end, more than any other U.S. fighter. The P-47D, in general service by the spring of 1944, had a maximum speed of 440 miles (700 km) per hour and a ceiling of 40,000 feet (12,200 meters). Heavily armed with eight wing-mounted 0.50-inch (12.7-mm) machine guns, it could carry a bomb load of as much as 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) and could carry ten 5-inch (127-mm) rockets beneath the wings. The P-47’s radial engine proved remarkably resistant to battle damage and, with its heavy armament and well-armored cockpit, the Thunderbolt established a reputation as one of the most effective fighter-bombers of the war.
Photos of P-47s flown by French Pilots at Oscoda.
Strike up the Band, Lets Dance!
The Oscoda Air Force Band and Dance at Oscoda AAF Aug -Oct 1944.
Local Girls dancing, anybody recognize anyone?From the files of the Air Force Historical Research Agency
P-6 crash in Oscoda
World War Two Training Experiences of Tuskegee Airmen at Oscoda Army Air Field
AirPower History Article
plus a rare photo of Tuskegee P-40sPlease read the article here (pages 25-40): https://www.afhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/APH-Winter2016.pdf
article from July 2014