Fightin’ 49ers celebrate 55 years at Holloman Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Ferrari
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

Holloman Air Force Base stands as a statement to the legacy of American air power. Since its establishment in 1942, the base has played a pivotal role in advancing aviation technology, training pilots, and supporting various military operations. This year, the 49th Wing celebrated 55 years of operations in the Tularosa Basin.

Both the wing’s and installation’s histories start in World War II and converge in 1968, when the 49th Wing arrived at Holloman.

HAFB was established in 1942 as an Army Air Corps training facility known as Alamogordo Army Air Field during World War II. Initially, its primary purpose was to train B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bomber crews, but its mission jump started after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Toward the end of the war, the base hosted Boeing B-29s Superfortresses, the same type of aircraft which would be used to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

“In the course of its history, the base went from bomber training, to test and development, to fighter pilot training, to RPA training,” said Martha Whipple, 49th Wing historian. “In an ever-changing world, this base has seen the evolution of airpower from first-generation bombers to the modern-day cyber-age weapons system.”

The roar of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing’s F-4 Phantom II fighter engines filled the New Mexico skies on 15 July 1968, bringing change to Holloman Air Force Base and the Alamogordo community by transitioning from predominantly a research site to introducing a new era of tactical fighter aircraft operations and training. The Fightin’ 49ers would go on to call Holloman home for the next 55 years, a well-deserved rest after 27 other home station changes throughout their valorous service in World War II, the Korean War, and other Cold War conflicts.

In 1992, the 49th Wing transitioned to the F-117 Nighthawk, and in 1999 deployed aircraft in support of Operation Allied Force, a NATO campaign in Yugoslavia to halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and in later operations in the Middle East.

In 2009, the wing added the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper aircrew training to its mission, providing the Air Force with RPA pilots and sensor operators.

The mid-2000s decision to retire the F-117 from the Air Force fleet put Holloman and the 49th Fighter Wing in the perfect position to receive the F-22 Raptor. The first Raptors arrived to base in 2008 and kept the Fightin’ 49ers at the forefront of fighter aircraft technological innovations and warfighting capabilities for the next 6 years before the F-22s were transitioned to Tyndall AFB, Florida in 2014.

The familiar sight of F-16 Vipers first graced Holloman Air Force Base in 2014, rounding out the wing’s current arsenal of aircraft and mission set.
“The one thing that remains constant is the dedication of Team Holloman members who make the mission happen,” said Whipple. “History will remember the generations of Airmen and civilians who served at Holloman Air Force Base. The spirit of the Fightin’ 49ers never changes. We are ready to take on any mission anywhere in the world when America calls on us. This is our 49er legacy.”

One of the most significant changes this century for the 49th Wing was in 2018, when it transitioned from Air Combat Command to Air Education and Training Command, becoming the Air Force’s largest producer of F-16 pilots and MQ-9 aircrew.

In most recent events, the 49th Wing was instrumental to the execution of Operation Allies Welcome, which temporarily housed about 7,100 Afghan refugees on base while they were being settled in the United States after withdrawal from their home country.

The Fightin’ 49ers who call Holloman home are proud to build combat air power and lead and develop Airmen who are skilled, prepared, and capable of answering the nation’s call in any future conflicts.

“The 49th Wing stands as a symbol of the United States Air Force’s commitment to innovation, training, and national defense,” said Col. Justin Spears, 49th Wing commander. “As we continue to evolve, Holloman remains a vital institution in the pursuit of air power excellence.”