HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Since before World War II, Hill Air Force Base has played an integral role in the nation’s defense and Utah’s economy.
This year, Hill is celebrating its 80th anniversary, with a series of events and activities scheduled to honor the history of Northern Utah’s military monolith.
“Hill Air Force Base’s rich heritage over the past 80 years was founded on hard work, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, and excellence,” said Col. Jon Eberlan, 75th Air Base Wing commander, in a press release. “As we have done from the beginning, we continue to generate world-class readiness and provide combat air power anytime, anywhere.”
According to Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing History Office, the base traces its beginnings to 1934, when representatives from the Ogden Chamber of Commerce teamed with Utah’s congressional delegation to promote the Northern Utah region as a potential site for a national air depot. A good climate for flying, aircraft maintenance and material storage, an established rail center and the area’s inland location (to protect against coastal attacks) were among the selling points presented by the committee.
In July 1934, the military’s Air Corps Materiel Division recommended its “Rocky Mountain Air Depot” be located in Northern Utah. Congress authorized the selection in 1935 and the OCC began buying thousands of acres of land, eventually donating much of it to the U.S. military. By April 1939, the federal government had acquired nearly 3,000 acres of ground to build the base upon.
That same year, the U.S. War Department named what had been known as the Ogden Air Depot “Hill Field” in honor of Ployer Hill. On Oct. 30, 1935, Hill died after he crashed flying the Boeing experimental aircraft Model 299, a plane that served as the prototype for what would eventually become the famous B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II.
During the war, Hill’s personnel total surpassed 20,000 — a workforce that included 15,780 civilians and about 6,000 military. Hill’s depot repaired aircraft like the B-17, B-24 and P-47, as well as several widely used engines. Base personnel also contributed to the war effort at the Wendover Range, the precursor to today’s Utah Test and Training Range. At the range, crews performed practice bombing runs for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions that helped end WWII.
In 1948, the installation was renamed Hill Air Force Base. Activity at the base slowed some after the war, but in 1959, the depot was assigned to manage the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The base took over responsibility for the F-4 Phantom fighter in 1962 and the F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1974. Directly or indirectly, all three programs continue to drive the base today.
In August, Northrop Grumman broke ground on the Roy Innovation Center at Hill, which will serve as future headquarters for the company’s work supporting the Department of Defense’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program. The center will be located just south of the Hill Aerospace Museum, near Hill’s border with Roy.
The United States’ current land-based ballistic missile force is currently made up of some 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Air Force is upgrading the missiles, their rocket motors and other components, but plans to replace them through the GBSD program by about 2030.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the new program will cost more than $80 billion and run for 30 years. The total cost includes the acquisition of missiles, new command and control systems, and large-scale renovations of launch control centers. Hill officials and members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation have said the program will bring as many as 2,500 jobs to the area.
Hill’s reputation as a fighter site, with the F-4 and F-16 helped solidify its selection as the Department of Defense’s first F-35 combat unit. After more than four years (and more than 10 years, if you include the environmental review process) the base now has its full arsenal of F-35 fighter aircraft. In December, the 388th Fighter Wing received an F-35A Lightning II from defense contractor Lockheed Martin — a jet that marked the final F-35 delivery at Hill and brings the total number of aircraft on base to 78.
The first two operational F-35s arrived at Hill in September 2015. Since then, the base has received approximately one to two jets every month. During that time, the two fighter wings have flown more than 17,500 sorties and more than 33,000 flying hours.
The wing’s three squadrons — the 4th, 34th and 421st — each have 24 F-35As, with another six back-up aircraft stored at the base. According to 388th FW spokesman Micah Garbarino, the F-35 mission at Hill added more than 400 personnel and generates an estimated $47 million to the Northern Utah economy every year. According to the 75th Air Base Wing, Hill had a $3.6 billion impact on the Utah economy in 2018. The base had an annual federal payroll of $1.43 billion and annual expenditures of approximately $760 million in 2018.
As part of the base’s anniversary, celebratory activities will take place throughout the year and carry the theme “80 Years of Excellence,” according to base spokesman Donovan Potter. On June 27-28, the public will be invited to Hill’s “Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show.”
The free event is open to the public and will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron, the F-35A demonstration team, and dozens of other military and civilian aerial performances and static displays.