Grand Forks Air Force Base
Near Grand Forks, North Dakota in United States of America
Arrival of the first Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk at Grand Forks AFB in May 2011
Arrival of the first Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk at Grand Forks AFB in May 2011
Grand Forks AFB is located in North Dakota
Grand Forks AFB
Grand Forks AFB
Shown in North Dakota
Grand Forks AFB is located in the United States
Grand Forks AFB
Grand Forks AFB
Grand Forks AFB (the United States)
Coordinates47°57′50″N 097°24′04″W / 47.96389°N 97.40111°W / 47.96389; -97.40111
TypeUS Air Force Base
Site information
OwnerDepartment of Defense
OperatorUS Air Force
Controlled byAir Combat Command (ACC)
Site history
Built1955 (1955) – 1957
In use1957 – present
Garrison information
Garrison319th Reconnaissance Wing
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: RDR, ICAO: KRDR, FAA LID: RDR, WMO: 727575
Elevation277.6 metres (911 ft) AMSL
Direction Length and surface
17/35 3,764.5 metres (12,351 ft) asphalt
Source: Federal Aviation Administration[1]

Grand Forks Air Force Base (AFB) (IATA: RDR, ICAO: KRDR, FAA LID: RDR) is a United States Air Force installation in northeastern North Dakota, located north of Emerado and 16 miles (26 km) west of Grand Forks.

The host unit is the 319th Reconnaissance Wing (319 RW) assigned to the Air Combat Command (ACC) operating E/RQ-4B Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role. During the Cold War, GFAFB was a major installation of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), with B-52 bombers, KC-135 tankers, and Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles.[2]


Grand Forks Air Force Base was established on 1 December 1955, with construction beginning in the fall of that year. It was occupied for use on 28 January 1957, and was named after the neighboring city of Grand Forks.

Air Defense Command

Due to the continuance of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, GFAFB was originally an Air Defense Command (ADC) fighter-interceptor air base. The site was chosen in 1954 and the land was paid for by the citizens of Grand Forks, the site was located 15 miles (24 km) west of the city. The beginning of the 5,400-acre (22 km2) air base started in 1956 with the construction of a 12,300-foot (3,750 m) runway.

On 18 February 1957, the 478th Fighter Group (Defense) was activated at Grand Forks. The 18th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was moved from Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan on 1 May 1960, and flew the F-101B Voodoo until 15 April 1971, when it was inactivated and the Voodoos were retired. It was replaced by the 460th FIS, moved from Kingsley Field at Klamath Falls, Oregon. The 460th FIS flew F-106 Delta Darts until it also was inactivated on 15 July 1974.

Main gate at Grand Forks AFB

In addition to the interceptor squadrons, a Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Data Center (DC-11) was established at Grand Forks in 1958. The SAGE system was a network linking Air Force (and later FAA) General Surveillance Radar stations into a centralized center for Air Defense, intended to provide early warning and response for a Soviet nuclear attack. DC-11 was operated by the Grand Forks Air Defense Sector (GFADS), activated on 8 December 1957 under the 31st Air Division at Snelling AFS, Minnesota. On 1 January 1959, GFADS was transferred to the operational control of the 29th Air Division at Malmstrom AFB at Great Falls, Montana.

SAGE operations were extremely expansive and GFADS was inactivated on 1 December 1963, when it was merged with the Minot Air Defense Sector at Minot AFB to the west. With the inactivation of DC-11, Grand Forks AFB was reassigned from the Air Defense mission to Strategic Air Command (SAC).

In 1971, the 18th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron was inactivated and the 460th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron replaced the unit. Although the 460th FIS won first place at the William Tell air-to-air competition at Tyndall AFB, Florida, it was inactivated in 1974 due to the restructuring of the air defense system, and ended the activities of ADCOM at Grand Forks.

The DC-11 SAGE blockhouse was later the headquarters of the SAC 321st Strategic Missile Wing. Following the end of Minuteman III missile operations in 1998, the large SAGE blockhouse was torn down five years later, in June 2003.

Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile

On 3 November 1967, the Department of Defense revealed that GFAFB was one of 10 initial locations to host a Sentinel Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) site. With president Richard Nixon's announcement of 14 March 1969, constructing a "Safeguard" installation at Grand Forks became a top priority. Construction was stalled throughout mid-1969, as Congress debated the merits of BMD. After the Senate defeated amendments to kill Safeguard deployment, the U.S. Army proceeded under the assumption that appropriations would be forthcoming.

Survey teams selected sites in flat wheatlands close to the Canada-Minnesota border, north-northwest of Grand Forks. Twenty-five miles (40 km) separated the 113-hectare (279-acre) Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) and the 175-hectare (433-acre) Missile Site Radar (MSR) sites. Four remote launch sites of 36 to 45 acres (15 to 18 ha) each were to be situated in a circle with a 20-mile (32 km) radius surrounding the MSR. Groundbreaking occurred at the PAR and MSR sites on 6 April 1970. Excavation proceeded rapidly, and the foundation holes for the PAR and MSR were in place by mid-May.

On 26 May 1972, President Nixon and Soviet general secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty, which limited each nation to one site to protect strategic forces and one site to protect the "National Command Authority." With work about 85% complete at Grand Forks, the US chose to finish construction at the North Dakota site. On 21 August 1972, the Army Corps of Engineers turned over the PAR to the Safeguard Systems Command (SAFSCOM) Site Activation Team. The transfer of the MSR occurred on 3 January 1973. Work on the four remote launch sites fell behind schedule, with the last completed on 5 November 1972. Testing of the PAR commenced during the summer of 1973.

On 3 September 1974, the SAFSCOM Site Activation Team was relieved by the U.S. Army Safeguard Command. Named the "Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex" 48°35′21″N 098°21′24″W / 48.58917°N 98.35667°W / 48.58917; -98.35667 (Stanley R. Mickelson Complex) (62.3 miles (100 km) northwest of the base), the North Dakota ABM site received its complement of nuclear-tipped LIM-49 Spartan and Sprint Missiles during the following spring. The site was declared operational on 1 April 1975. Due to Congressional action, the Army operated the site for less than a year. With the exception of the PAR, the complex was abandoned in February 1976.

In October 1977, the PAR came under operational control of the USAF, which operated it as part of its early warning system. It was designated as Cavalier AFS 48°43′29″N 097°53′58″W / 48.72472°N 97.89944°W / 48.72472; -97.89944 (Cavalier AFS) (57.8 miles (93 km) north-northwest of the base), and remains active. It is operated by the Air Force Space Command 10th Space Warning Squadron (10th SWS).

Strategic Air Command

Minuteman III missile at GFAFB entrance

On 1 September 1958, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) established the 4133d Strategic Wing at Grand Forks as part of its plan to disperse its B-52 heavy bombers over a larger number of bases, thus making it more difficult for the Soviet Union to knock out the entire fleet with a surprise first strike. Many of these bases were near the U.S. border with Canada; those close to GFAFB in the north central U.S. were Minot and Glasgow to the west, and three in Michigan to the east (Sawyer, Kinchloe, and Wurtsmith).

The 4133d SW was redesignated as the 319th Bombardment Wing (319th BW) on 1 February 1963 in a name-only redesignation and was assigned to SAC's Second Air Force, 810th Strategic Aerospace Division. Upon redesignation, the wing placed aircraft on peacetime quick reaction alert duty, and conducted global bombardment training for Emergency War Order operations and air refueling operations to meet SAC commitments. The aircraft in the 1960s at GFAFB were the latest models: B-52H bombers and KC-135A tankers.[2]

In 1973, the 319th Bomb Wing acquired the AGM-69 Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM), replacing the older AGM-28 Hound Dog air-to-ground missile aboard its B-52H aircraft. As the activities in Southeast Asia decreased, the 319th BW focused its full efforts on training crews to fly strategic strike missions.

On 1 November 1964, 321st Strategic Missile Wing was organized as the Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) wing at GFAFB, the first in SAC.

During 1965, the wing's three missile squadrons were activated and crew training and certification began at Vandenberg AFB in southern California. In August 1965, the base received its first Minuteman II missile, shipped by train from Assembly Plant 77 at Hill AFB at Ogden, Utah. During the following March, the base received the first Minuteman II to be shipped via aircraft, an Air Force first. The Minuteman III replaced the former in the 1970s.

The 319th transitioned from B-52H to B-52G aircraft in 1983 adding the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) in 1984.[2][3] In December 1986, the last B-52G permanently departed GFAFB, replaced by the B-1B Lancer in 1987. The tanker aircraft were also changed, from KC-135A to KC-135R. A change in the host unit occurred again in 1988, when the 42d Air Division was assigned for base support in place of the 321st SMW.[2]

Cold War aircraft incidents

The 1990s

With the restructuring of the Air Force and the disestablishment of SAC in 1992, the wing transferred to Air Combat Command (ACC), then came under Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) in 1993.

On 1 February 1993, ACC dropped the 319th Bomb Wing's primary nuclear mission and gave the wing the primary mission of B-1B conventional bombardment operations. The 319th BW began planning and training to support such a mission to counter worldwide regional threats.

Following the departure of the last B-1B aircraft in 1994, the base transferred to the new Air Mobility Command (AMC) and the 319th Bomb Wing was redesignated as the 319th Air Refueling Wing (319 ARW). The KC-135R aircraft assets were transferred to AMC, and the strategic ICBM assets went to Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).

In March 1995, the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) selected the 321st Strategic Missile Wing for inactivation; it was first downgraded to group status, then inactivated on 30 September 1998. GFAFB's Minuteman ICBM silos were imploded in accordance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), commencing in 1999 and completed in 2001.[13] The Minuteman III missiles were transferred to Malmstrom AFB in at Great Falls, Montana, to replace retired Minuteman II models. Minuteman III ICBMs remain at three USAF bases: Malmstrom, Minot, and F.E. Warren at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Twenty-first century

In May 2005, DoD's 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that Grand Forks be realigned. The base's KC-135 tanker mission was lost, with a significant reduction of personnel, but it was not closed.

The unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk was assigned to Grand Forks, and on 1 March 2011, the wing was redesignated as the 319th Air Base Wing (319 ABW). The first RQ-4 arrived in May 2011 and were assigned to the 69th Reconnaissance Group, Air Combat Command. Starting in 2012, the base received several new Block 40 Global Hawks.[14] On 13 June 2017, the 319 ABW transferred from the Air Mobility Command to the Air Combat Command.[15]

On 11 May 2019 Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced that the 319th Air Base Wing would be re-designated the 319th Reconnaissance Wing in a ceremony on 28 June 2019.[16]

On 28 June 2019 the 319th Air Base Wing was re-designated the 319th Reconnaissance Wing and the 69th Reconnaissance Group inactivated transferring the RQ-4 mission.

Major commands to which assigned

Major units assigned

69th Reconnaissance Group – September 2011 – Current (RQ-4)

References for history introduction, major commands and major units[18]

Based units

Flying and notable non-flying units based at Grand Forks Air Force Base:[19][20][21][22][23]


Main article: Grand Forks Air Force Base (CDP)

Grand Forks is also a United States Census Bureau designated place.


See also


  1. ^ "Airport Diagram – Grand Forks AFB (KRDR)" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. 18 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "History of Grand Forks AFB" (PDF). U.S. Air Force. 21 February 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
  3. ^ "Canadian judge refuses to block test flight of U.S. cruise missiles". The Hour. Norwalk, CT. 6 March 1984. p. 2.
  4. ^ "1961 USAF serial numbers". Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  5. ^ "61-0030". Aviation Safety. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 48280. 2 November 1967. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  6. ^ "B52 crashes at Griffiss, 6 crewman dead, 2 hurt". Schenectady Gazette. Associated Press. 3 November 1967. p. 1.
  7. ^ Karaim, Reed (13 August 1991). "A Brush With Nuclear Catastrophe". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  8. ^ "1957 USAF serial numbers". Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  9. ^ "Five killed as bomber explodes at air base; $38 million damage". Spokane Chronicle. Associated Press. 27 January 1983. p. 1.
  10. ^ "B-52 fire brings call for safety probe". Free Lance-Star. Fredericksburg, VA. Associated Press. 28 January 1983. p. 3.
  11. ^ "Explosion, fire rip AF bomber; kill 5 injure 8". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. 28 September 1983. p. 1.
  12. ^ "57-6507". Aviation Safety. ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 48377. 27 January 1983. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
  13. ^ 321st Air Expeditionary Wing
  14. ^ Associated Press, "First Global Hawk arrives at Grand Forks base", Military Times, 1 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Air Force realigns Grand Forks AFB under ACC". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  16. ^ Allen, Emily (11 May 2019). "It's official: Air Force intends to redesignate Grand Forks Air..." Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  17. ^ No byline, staff author (13 June 2017). "Air Force realigns Grand Forks AFB under ACC". Air Combat Command Public Affairs. Retrieved 14 June 2017. ((cite web)): |author= has generic name (help)
  18. ^ Mueller, Robert (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0-912799-53-6, ISBN 0-16-002261-4
  19. ^ "319th Reconnaissance Wing". Sixteenth Air Force. US Air Force. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Air and Marine Operations Operating Locations | U.S. Customs and Border Protection". U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  21. ^ "319th Air Base Wing re-designates as 319th Reconnaissance Wing". Sixteenth Air Force (Air Forces Cyber). US Air Force. 28 June 2019. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  22. ^ "Grand Forks Composite Squadron". Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol North Dakota Wing. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  23. ^ "372nd TRS, Det 27: making great maintainers and communicators even better". Sheppard AFB. US Air Force. 18 July 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  24. ^ "First Global Hawk Arrives at Its New Home in Grand Forks". Retrieved 27 March 2020.

Other sources