704th/96th Test Group History

Alamogordo Army Air Field was established at a site six miles west of Alamogordo, New Mexico, on June 10, 1942. Initial plans called for the base to serve as the center for the British Overseas Training program; the British hoped to be able to train their aircrews over the open New Mexico skies. However, everything changed when the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941. The British decided to no longer pursue its overseas training program, and the United States military saw the location as an opportunity to train its own growing military. Construction began at the airfield on February 6, 1942, and forces began to move in on May 14, 1942.

From 1942-1945, Alamogordo Army Air Field served as the training ground for over 20 different groups, flying primarily B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s. Typically, these groups served at the airfield for about six months, training their personnel before heading to combat in either the Pacific or European Theater. The 450th Bombardment Group was one of the many to cut its teeth at Alamogordo. After training, the group went on to serve in nearly every major combat operation in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans. During their combat service, the 450th garnered two distinguished unit citations and 11 campaign credits.

After World War II, the future of the base was uncertain. In fact, rumors spread concerning the closure of the site, fueled by the fact that most operations had ceased. The Air Materiel Command took control of the Alamogordo Army Air Field and transferred its testing and development of pilotless aircraft, guided missiles, and other research programs to New Mexico from Wendover Field, Utah. Although movement of the missile program began on this date, it continued until September 1947. Movement of the program from Wendover resulted in the transfer for 1,200 personnel to Holloman. On January 13, 1948, Alamogordo Army Air Field was renamed Holloman Air Force Base in honor of guided missile research and development pioneer, Colonel George V. Holloman.

For the next 25 years the site, which became known as the Holloman Air Development Center, and later the Air Force Missile Development Center, launched many missiles including Tiny Tim (the first Army rocket), Rascal, V-2, XQ-2 Drone, Falcon, MACE, Matador and Shrike.

Resulting from a major reorganization, the 2754th Experimental Wing was activated on September 20, 1949 at Holloman AFB overseeing all research and development projects. On October 10, 1952, the Holloman Air Development Center opened, under the command of Colonel Don R. Ostrander. Holloman Air Force Base wrote its name into the annals of American history in the 1950s and 1960s. On December 10, 1954, Lt Colonel (Dr.) John P. Stapp received the nickname "The Fastest Man Alive" when he rode a rocket propelled test sled, Sonic Wind No. 1, to a speed of 632 miles per hour. Then on September 1, 1957 the Holloman Air Development Center was renamed the Air Force Missile Development Center and deactivated on August 1, 1970. Additionally, Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., stepped out of an open balloon gondola at 102,800 feet on August 16,1960, in an attempt to evaluate techniques of high altitude bailout. Capt Kittinger's jump lasted 13 minutes, reaching a velocity of 614 miles per hour. That jump broke four world records: highest open gondola manned balloon flight, highest balloon flight of any kind, highest bailout, and longest free fall.

On January 31, 1961, HAM, a three-year-old chimpanzee, blasted off from Cape Canaveral to an altitude of 157 miles inside a Mercury-Redstone capsule as a final check to man-rate a capsule and launch vehicle. HAM thus became the first chimpanzee to go into space. A final noteworthy event occurred on November 29, 1961, when ENOS, a chimpanzee trained at Holloman's Aero-Medical (HAM) laboratory, was the first US specimen launched into orbit. ENOS was launched in a Mercury-Atlas capsule that completed two orbits around the earth and was safely recovered three hours, 21 minutes later.

The basic capabilities of the 6585th Test Group have existed since the 1950s when the facilities were part of the Air Force Systems Command's Air Force Missile Development Center (AFMDC). On August 1, 1970, per Air Force Systems Command Special Order G-94, the AFMDC was deactivated and the Tactical Air Command assumed host responsibilities for Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Associate units and programs transferred to other locations within Air Force Systems Command. The deactivation resulted in the loss of more than 450 military and 570 civilian positions. The Test & Evaluation activities that remained were the Central Inertial Guidance Test Facility (CIGTF), the High Speed Test Track, the Radar Target Scatter Facility (RATSCAT), and the Target Drone Facility. These organizations were combined to form the nucleus of a Holloman AFB tenant organization, the 6585th Test Group, with the Air Force Special Weapons Center (AFSWC) at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, designated as the headquarters for the Test Group.

In 1975, AFSWC was disestablished, and the 6585th Test Group at Holloman became part of the Armament Development and Test Center (ADTC) at Eglin AFB, FL. They were later renamed the Armament Division (AD). From October 1, 1993 to the present, under the objective wing reorganization, the Air Division at Eglin AFB became the Air Armament Center (AAC), and the 3246th Test Wing, the 6585th Test Group's parent organization, was designated the 46th Test Wing and the 46th Test Group respectively. The 6586th Test Squadron became the 586th Flight Test Squadron, the Guidance Test Division, formerly the Central Inertial Guidance Test Facility, became the 746th Test Squadron; the Test Track Division became the 846th Test Squadron. The RATSCAT became the National Radar-cross section Test Facility on July 7, 2000. 

The Air Force Test Center (AFTC) started an organizational change process in 2015 to move some units within the AFTC from the 96th and 412th Test Wings over to Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC). The largest change will be the renumbering of the 96th Test Group as the 704th Test Group at Holloman AFB, NM. AEDC will also gain the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin AFB, FL. and the Hypersonic CTF at Edwards AFB, CA. The realignment and reflagging is effective 1 December 2016 and will result in alignment of most of the Air Force’s developmental ground test facilities under one commander, better fiscal synergy, especially in restoration and modernization funds, better balance in the span of control, and finally results in developmental opportunities for AFTC officers.

Today the 704th/96th Test Group consists of 90 authorized military, 239 authorized civilians, and 161 authorized contractor personnel with two-thirds of these being scientists, engineers, and technicians. The present day facility investments are estimated at $614 million. They include three AT-38B aircraft and a C-12J aircraft. Annual budget averages about $50 million with about 50% earned through test programs and the remaining 50% is direct budget authority that comes through Air Force Materiel Command to pay salaries and "keep the doors open for business."