For 70 years spanning many major conflicts, contingencies, and deployments, Eglin has played a prominent role in air power history. In 1931, personnel of the Army Air Corps Tactical School (Maxwell Field, Ala.) while looking for a bombing and gunnery range, saw the potential of the sparsely populated forested areas surrounding Valparaiso and the vast expanse of the adjacent Gulf of Mexico.
Local businessman and airplane buff James E. Plew saw the potential of a military payroll to boost the local area’s depression-stricken economy. He leased the City of Valparaiso, the 137 acres on which an airport was established in 1933, and in 1934, Plew offered the U.S. government a donation of 1,460 contiguous acres for the bombing and gunnery base. This leasehold became the headquarters for the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base activated on June 14, 1935, under the command of Captain Arnold H. Rich. On August 4, 1937, the base was redesignated Eglin Field in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick I. Eglin, U.S. Air Corps, killed on January 1, 1937, in an aircraft accident.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and President Roosevelt’s call for an expansion of the Army Air Corps, Gen Henry H. “Hap” Arnold ordered the establishment of a proving ground for aircraft armament. Eglin was selected for the testing mission, and on June 27, 1940, the U.S. Forestry Service ceded to the War Department the Choctawhatchee National Forest, consisting of some 384,000 acres. In 1941, the Air Corps Proving Ground was activated, and Eglin became the site for Army Air Forces fighter pilot gunnery training, as well as a major aircraft-testing center (equipment, and tactics). In March 1942, the base served as one of the sites for Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to prepare his B-25 crews for their raid against Tokyo. In addition to testing all new aircraft and their serial modifications, the Proving Ground Command, established at Eglin in April 1942, found the isolation and immensity of the ranges especially well suited for special tasks. For example, in 1944, personnel developed the tactics and techniques to destroy German missile installations being built to support V-1 buzz-bomb attacks on England. Two testing sites, JB-2 and CROSSBOW, were included on the National Register of Historic Places.
By the end of the war, Eglin had made a recognizable contribution to the effectiveness of the American air operations in Europe and the Pacific and continued to maintain a role in the research, development, and testing of air armament. Eglin also became a pioneer in missile development when, in early 1946, the First Experimental Guided Missiles Group was activated to develop the techniques for missile launching and handling; establish training programs; and monitor the development of a drone or pilotless aircraft capability to support the Atomic Energy Commission tests, Operation CROSSROADS, at Eniwetok. On January 13, 1947, the Guided Missiles Group received nationwide publicity by conducting a successful drone flight from Eglin to Washington, D.C., in a simulated bombing mission.
Both as a reaction to the Soviet atomic explosion in 1949 and in recognition that research and development had lagged in the years of lower priority to operational concerns, the Air Force, in early 1950, established the Air Research and Development Command (later Air Force Systems Command). The following year, the Air Research and Development Command established the Air Force Armament Center at Eglin, which, for the first time, brought development and testing together. After the start of the Korean War in 1950, test teams moved to the combat theater for testing in actual combat. Among other accomplishments, this included improved air-to-air tactics and techniques for close air support.
On December 1, 1957, the Air Force combined the Air Proving Ground Command and the Air Force Armament Center to form the Air Proving Ground Center. The Center built the highly instrumented Eglin Gulf Test Range and, for the next few years, served as a major missile test center for weapons such as the BOMARC, Matador, GAM-72 “Quail,” and GAM-77 “Hound Dog.”
As the Southeast Asia conflict increased emphasis on conventional weapons, the responsibilities at Eglin grew. On August 1, 1968, the Air Proving Ground Center was redesignated the Armament Development and Test Center to centralize responsibility for research, development, test and evaluation, and initial acquisition of non-nuclear munitions for the Air Force. On October 1,1979, the Center was given division status. The Armament Division, redesignated Munitions Systems Division on March 15 1989, placed into production the precision-guided munitions for the laser, television, and infrared-guided bombs; two anti-armor weapon systems; and an improved hard target weapon used in Operation DESERT STORM during the Persian Gulf War. The division was also responsible for developing the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, an Air Force-led joint project with the U.S. Navy.
In addition to its development and testing mission, Eglin also served as the training site for the Son Tay Raiders in 1970, the group that made the daring attempt to rescue American POWs from a North Vietnamese prison camp. In 1975, the installation served as one of four main U.S. Vietnamese Refugee Processing Centers, where base personnel housed and processed more than 10,000 Southeast Asian refugees at the Auxiliary Field Two “Tent City.” Eglin again became an Air Force refugee resettlement center processing over 10,000 Cubans who fled to the U.S. between April and May of 1980.
On July 11,1990, the Munitions Systems Division was redesignated the Air Force Development Test Center. During the 1990s, the center supported test and evaluation for the development of non-nuclear Air Force armament including next generation precision-guided weapons; operational training for armament systems; and test and evaluation of command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) aerospace navigation and guidance systems.
As part of the Air Force’s strategic plan to guide the service into the 21st Century, on October 1, 1998, the Air Force Development Test Center became the Air Force Materiel Command’s center for air armament. As one of AFMC’s product centers, AFDTC was renamed the Air Armament Center. The center is responsible for development, acquisition, testing, deployment, and sustainment of all air-delivered weapons. The AAC applies advanced technology, engineering, and programming efficiencies across the entire product life cycle to provide superior combat capability. The center plans, directs, and conducts test and evaluation of U.S. and allied air armament, navigation/guidance systems, and command and control systems.