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BMGR MILITARY HISTORY|
Printable Fact Sheet
Military History of the Barry M. Goldwater Range: 1941 - Present
World War II exploded Phoenix into a military encampment. The mild climate and vast tracts of uninhabited and undeveloped lands were tailor-made for many types of military training. Almost overnight, Phoenix became a center for military activities and the agricultural and resort town of 65,000 residents shuddered under the onslaught of tens of thousands of soldiers sent to Arizona for training.
In addition to the soldiers stationed at desert training camps,, thousands of fliers trained in the clear, desert skies of central and southern Arizona. Private contract flying schools began primary flight training at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport in 1939, Thunderbird Field in Glendale in 1940, Falcon Field in Mesa in 1941, and Thunderbird Field II north of Scottsdale in 1942. The Army Air Force contracted with Del Webb to build Luke Field in 1941, and Williams Field in 1942.
In 1941, when Lieutenant Colonel Ennis Whitehead first surveyed the land for Luke Field, he also saw that the public lands south and west of Gila Bend could be used as an aerial gunnery and bombing range. The range was initially established in September 1941 and divided into eastern and western segments comprising 1.1 million acres. The western segment was identified as the Yuma Aerial and Gunnery and Bombing Range, while the eastern segment became the Gila Bend Gunnery Range, later known as the Ajo-Gila Bend Gunnery Ranges. The entire range was expanded during World War II by the progressive additions of six separate parcels until it totaled nearly 2.1 million acres by 1943. Executive orders and public land orders issued during President Franklin Roosevelt's administration were used to create the range by administratively withdrawing public lands and reserving them for use by the War Department as an aviation training area.
Cadets came to Williams Field for basic flight training, and then to Luke for advanced flight training in single engine aircraft. During the years of World War II, more than 17,000 pilots trained at Luke Field, making it the largest single engine advanced flying training school in the U.S. More than a million hours of flying were logged, primarily in the AT-6 Texan, along with some transitioning to P-40 fighters and later the P-51 Mustang and other aircraft.
Although continually modified during the war years, the course of advanced flight training at Luke averaged about 10 weeks and included both flight training and ground school. Approximately 60 hours of flying instruction covered formation flying, navigation, and instrument flying, as well as a bit of aerial acrobatics. About 20 additional hours of flight practice concentrated on aerial and gunnery training.
Ground school, or classroom training for the advanced flying course, varied from about 100 to 130 hours and was intermingled with flight time in the aircraft. Cadets flew in the morning and attended ground school in the afternoons, or flew training missions in the afternoon after a morning of ground school. At the peak of the training program at Luke, some students were required to attend night classes. Ground school included instruction in navigation, flight planing, radio equipment, maintenance, and weather. The emphasis on gunnery training increased over time, as described by Jean Provence, historian of the 3600th Flying Training Wing in her 1954 history of Luke AFB:
At the beginning, gunnery planes operated from Luke Field going to and from the Gila Bend Gunnery Range daily, leaving forty-five minutes after daylight and returning thirty minutes before dark. The first gunnery training was completed in one day, and consisted of no more than giving the student an opportunity to fire his machine guns while his aircraft was airborne. Gradually the period of training was lengthened to three days, then six days and finally two weeks.
A veteran British Royal Air Force pilot, Wing Commander E.M. Donaldson, used his combat experience at the Battle of Britain to improve gunnery training during the spring and summer of 1942. In his 1942 report, Donaldson enthused about the range, saying, "No other school in the states can boast such a setup." Donaldson initiated the:
construction of dummy ranges for dry runs, the employment of the gun camera, the supervision of aerial gunnery missions by an instructor from an extra aircraft, and the allotment of permanent and specialized gunnery instructors.... On 24 September 1942 two weeks of gunnery was made part of the Advanced Flying Training given at Luke Field and was conducted at the Gila Bend Gunnery Range from either Ajo or the Gila Bend Army Air Fields (Provence, 1954).
Six auxiliary air fields were constructed in 1941-1942, each to a standard triangular configuration of three runways approximately 150 feet wide and 3,700 feet long. This configuration allowed the fields to be used under almost all wind conditions. Aprons were appended to one side of the runway triangles for parking aircraft.
By 1944 student pilots from bases at Yuma and Kingman, as well as Las Vegas and Victorville, California, were being sent to Ajo and Gila Bend for gunnery training. The Chinese government also sent pilots to the United States for training, and some of them went through the advance flying school and gunnery training at Luke.
After several administrative deletions and additions to the range following World War II, the Goldwater Range reached its present size of 2,664,423 acres in 1962. These additions were required because the old World War II ranges were too small and close together to accommodate jet fighter aircraft. From 1946 - 1951 when Luke was closed, it was renamed the Williams Bombing and Gunnery Range. After Luke was reactivated and took over management of both the east and west components, the range was redesignated in 1963 as Luke Air Force Range, although the Marine Corps and Navy used the western side of the range for their training operations.
Significant improvements were made to the range over the years. From 1952 to 1956, five air-to-ground gunnery ranges were improved, a tactical range was developed, and airspace above the complex was reserved for an air-to-air range. US Army ground liaison officers contributed to the improvement of tactical target scenarios. The Coronet Real project of 1975-1976 modified the tactical ranges for theater-specific scenarios: Europe, Middle east, and Asia. Improvements included acquiring realistic targets, such as obsolete tanks and trucks. The completed tactical improvements significantly enhanced realism for pilots in air-to-ground ordnance delivery.
Various types of jet fighters trained on the range over the years. The supersonic F-100 replaced the subsonic F-84; the F-4 and A-7 later replaced the F-100, while the F-5 and F-104 were introduced for foreign pilot training. The F-15 was used from 1974 to 1993, and the F-16 replaced the F-4 in 1983.
All F-15E and A-10 aircrews and half of the F-16 pilots that flew during the Gulf War trained at the Range. During the same period, most Navy F-18 and Marine Corps AV-8 pilots trained at the Range as well.
Public Law 99-606, passed by Congress in 1986, renewed the range for a 15-year period by withdrawing and reserving all of the various parcels of the range in one legal instrument. It also renamed the range in honor of Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who had served as director of ground training at Luke during part of World War II.
About one-third of the land area included in the Goldwater Range (822,000 acres) was set aside in 1939 by President Roosevelt as part of the 861,000-acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (formerly known as the Cabeza Prieta Game Range). Although more than 95 percent of the wildlife refuge is within the Goldwater Range, military activities in the Cabeza Prieta portion are limited to four remotely located radio transmitters and flight training operations in the overlying airspace. Jurisdiction for all lands within the Refuge is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service.
Luke Air Force Range Natural Resources Management Plan, University of Arizona, 1986.
Between Ajo and Gila Bend: Cultural Resource Survey in the Vicinity of Four Auxiliary Airfields on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, Dames & Moore, 1995.
Range Renewal Project Record, Geraghty & Miller, 1997.