Spanning five wars, modern-day Eglin evolved from a distant and honorable past. Currently the 96th Test Wing tests and evaluates non-nuclear munitions, electronic combat systems and navigation/guidance systems.
Spanning six wars, Eglin has played a prominent role in airpower history. In 1931, personnel of the Army Air Corps Tactical School (Maxwell Field, Alabama) looking for a site for a bombing and gunnery range, saw the potential of the sparsely populated forested areas surrounding Valparaiso, Florida, and the vast expanse of the adjacent Gulf of Mexico.
A local businessman and airplane buff, James E. Plew, saw the potential of a military payroll to boost the depression-stricken economy in the local area. He leased to the City of Valparaiso 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 14 June 1935 under the command of Captain Arnold H. Rich. On 4 August 1937, the base was redesignated Eglin Field in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick I. Eglin, U.S. Air Corps, killed on 1 January 1937 in an aircraft crash.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and President Roosevelt's call for an expansion of the Army Air Corps, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold ordered the establishment of a proving ground for aircraft armament. Eglin was selected for the testing mission, and on 27 June 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 gunnery training for Army Air Forces fighter pilots, as well as a major testing center for aircraft, 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 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.
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 13 January 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. They numbered among their accomplishments improved air-to-air tactics and improved techniques for close air support. On 1 December 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 1 August 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 nonnuclear munitions for the Air Force. On 1 October 1979, the Center was given division status. The Armament Division, redesignated Munitions Systems Division on 15 March 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 (AMRAAM), 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 11 July 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 nonnuclear 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.
On 1 October 1998, as part of the Air Forces' strategic plan to guide the service into the 21st Century, the Air Force Development Test Center became the Air Force Materiel Command's Air Armament Center (AAC). As one of AFMC's product centers, AAC is responsible for development, acquisition, testing, and fielding all air-delivered weapons. 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 (C2) systems and supports the largest single base mobility commitment in the Air Force.
AAC accomplished its mission through three components: the Air Force Program Executive Office for Weapons with two systems wings and a systems group, the 46th Test Wing, and the 96th Air Base Wing. Recently the AAC provided our warfighters with the munitions and expeditionary combat support to dominate the enemy in Operations ALLIED FORCE, ENDURING FREEDOM, and IRAQI FREEDOM. During this time Deparment of Defense, the Air Force, and AFMC presented the Air Armament Center with awards in acquisition, test, and combat support.
On July 18, 2012, the Air Armament Center was deactivated as part of a consolidation effort to reduce Air Force Materiel Command's number of centers from 12 to five. On the same day, the 46th Test Wing and 96th Air Base Wing were merged to create the 96th Test Wing. Now, the Air Force's largest wing houses all of Eglin's test and support functions.
FIELD ONE: Named after Maj. Walter J. Wagner, who died in an aircraft crash Oct. 10, 1943. He was a former commanding officer for the 1st Proving Ground at Eglin. Today, the area is northeast of Eglin main and identified on many maps as area C-5.
FIELD TWO: Named for Lt. Col. George E. Pierce, who died in an aircraft crash Oct. 19, 1942. He was a former commanding officer of the 1st Proving Ground Torpedo Squadron (Composite) at Eglin. Today, the area is 10 miles north at the East Gate on Highway 285 and is identified on maps as Site C-3. This field was the site of one of the Vietnamese Resettlement Camps in 1975.
FIELD THREE: Named for 1st Lt. Robert L. Duke, who died in an aircraft crash Dec. 29, 1943. He was assigned as an assistant to the Proving Ground of the Army Air Forces Proving Ground Command at Eglin. It was one of the first auxiliary fields built. Today, the area, which is about 12 miles north of the East Gate on Highway 85, is better known as Duke Field. The 919th Special Operations Wing (AFRES) and the 728th Tactical Control Squadron are there.
FIELD FOUR: Named for 2nd Lt. Garland O. Peel Jr., who died in an air crash Jan. 2, 1942. He was a gunnery school instructor at Eglin. Today, the area is just a few miles off Lewis Turner Boulevard on Eglin Road 326, and is the home for a variety of civil engineering and services mobility training programs.
FIELD FIVE: Named for Capt. Anthony D. Piccolo, who died in an aircraft accident Oct. 6, 1942. Piccolo was the commanding officer of the 386th Single Engine Gunnery Training Squadron at Eglin. Today, the area is due north of Field Four and serves as a microwave station. On most base maps, it is identified as Site C-4.
FIELD SIX: Named for 1st Lt. Andrew Biancur, who died in an aircraft accident Jan.8, 1944. He was a test pilot with the Medium Bombardment Section of the 1st Proving Ground Group at Eglin. Today, the area is the site of the U.S. Army 6th Ranger Training Battalion and referred by them as Camp Rudder. It is 23 miles from Eglin Main and was the home of the Federal Prison at one time. It is identified on most base maps at Tab 6, and located just north of area B-12.
FIELD SEVEN: Named for Col. Robin B. Epler, who died in an aircraft crash Jan. 28, 1944. He was a deputy commander (Technical) of the Army Air Forces Proving Ground at Eglin.
FIELD EIGHT: Named for 2nd Lt. Richard E. Baldsiefen, who died in an aircraft crash March 4, 1942. He was a gunnery school instructor at Eglin. Today, the area is in the southeastern portion of the base in a region called Range 52.
FIELD NINE: Named for 1st Lt. Donald W. Hurlburt, who died in an aircraft crash Oct. 1, 1943. He was a member of a fighter section in the 1st Proving Ground at Eglin. This was the largest of the original gunnery ranges. Today, the area is 24 miles from the West Gate on Highway 98. Of the 10 fields, it is one of the two to originally have hangars built. The Air Force Special Operations Command and the 1st Special Operations Wing are here.
FIELD TEN: Named for Capt. Barclay H. Dillon, who died in an aircraft crash Oct.2,1943. Dillon was a member of a fighter section of the 1st Proving Ground Group at Eglin. Today, the area near Field Ten serves primarily as a landing strip for the Navy's basic flight training programs. The Navy calls the field "Choctaw OLF" (Out Lying Field).