Ladd Army Airfield (IATA: FBK, ICAO: PAFB, FAALID: FBK) is the military airfield located at Fort Jonathan Wainwright, located in Fairbank Alaska. It was originally called Fairbanks Air Base, but was renamed Ladd Field on 1 December 1939, in honor of Major Arthur K. Ladd, a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps who died in a plane crash near Dale, South Carolina on 13 December 1935
The U.S. government began, for the first time, serious infrastructure expenditures in Alaska during the 1930s. Most prominent was an increase in the military presence. For most of the early 20th century, the only Army post in Alaska was Chilkoot Barracks/Fort Seward, located just outside Haines. With the threat of war looming as the 1930s ended, the need was established to develop multiple facilities as a means of defending Alaska against possible enemy attack.
The U.S. government acquired homesteads southeast of the town of Fairbanks beginning in 1938. From this land, totalling about 6 square miles (16 km2), was created Ladd Field. The first aircraft to land at Ladd was Douglas O-38F, 33-324, c/n 1177, in October 1940, which is now preserved in the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Major construction of facilities began in 1941 and 1942, after the U.S. entered World War II. The initial construction occurred several miles from Fairbanks along a bend of the Chena River, consisting of an airfield, hangars, housing and support buildings. Many of these buildings still stand today.
Alaska's transportation infrastructure at the time was so limited and the problem of military supply so acute, it also made sense to concentrate the bases along existing supply lines near Anchorage and Fairbanks. Ladd's location near Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway and the Alaska Railroad, its access to fuel from the CANOL pipeline, and its position at the time as one of the United States' northernmost developed airbases were important factors in securing its early Cold War prominence.
The major use of Ladd Field was primarily cold-weather testing of aircraft and equipment. Only Interior Alaska offered the consistently cold temperatures needed. However, the Attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 forced the temporary halt on testing at Ladd since the military needed all aircraft for the defense of Alaska.
World War II
Testing at Ladd Field began again in 1942, but by 1943 aircraft cold-weather testing had become a second priority, as Ladd became the hub for fighters and bombers destined for the "Forgotten 1,000 Mile War" in the Aleutians against the Japanese or on their way to Soviet forces as part of the Lend-Lease program.
Reflecting the need to insure aircraft bound for the Soviet Union were prepared for the flight to Galena and Nome, prior to flying across the Bering Straits to Siberia, Ladd AAF the Alaska Air Depot of XI AF Service Command was activated on 8 July 1942. The depot moved to Elmendorf Field in 1943, although some of its subordinate units remained until 1944.
The airplanes arrived at Ladd were stripped of all but basic instrumentation and armament. Flights took off with no navigational aids from Ladd Field and fly the first leg to Galena, Alaska on the Yukon River. After refueling they went on to Nome, for the short hop across the Bering Strait to Siberia. Many were lost because of bad weather. The weather was also a danger to the ferrying of aircraft into Fairbanks.
Ice fog became a problem for airplanes landing at the field. The airplanes coming in from Great Falls AAB, Montana often could not make it to Ladd. Worse, many didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to Big Delta (to use the alternate Allen Field). It was this danger that led to the military decision to build an auxiliary field south of Ladd Field for a weather-alternate which eventually became "26 Mile Field", and later, Eielson Air Force Base.
By the end of the war, 7,926 aircraft were ferried though Ladd Field. The last aircraft transited the airfield on 1 September 1945.
When the Air Force was made a separate branch in 1947 the name was changed to Ladd Air Force Base. For many years, it would be one of two Air Force bases in the Fairbanks area.
From the late 1940s into the 1950s, Ladd AFB served as the northern hub for Air Force activities in Alaska. As headquarters first of the Northern Sector of the Alaskan Air Command and later of the 11th Air Division, Ladd was centrally involved in the Cold War missions of the Alaskan Command and in the transient missions of other military units, including the Strategic Air Command (SAC).
Fort Wainwright was first established in 1939 as U.S. Army Air Corps as Ladd Field. In 1947 it was transferred to the newly established U.S. Air Force and renamed Ladd AFB, serving as a cold weather station to test aircraft under arctic conditions. In 1961 it was transferred to the Army and redesignated Fort Wainwright in honor of World War II general Jonathan Wainwright. From 1963 to 1972 it was home to the 171st Infantry Brigade, mechanized until 1969, then light. During that time, the 172nd Infantry Brigade was at Fort Richardson, in Anchorage. From 1986 to 1998 Fort Wainwright was the home of the 6th Infantry Division (Light), and served as the division's headquarters from 1990 to 1994. From 1998 to 2006, it was home to the 172nd Infantry Brigade, which was reorganized in 2003 as the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), part of the U.S. Army's transition program to include six SBCTs. In 2006, the 172nd was re-flagged as the 1st brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. Fort Wainwright was also the home of Task Force 49, an aviation brigade that provides logistical air support for U.S. Army Alaska, Bassett Army Community Hospital and the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Service which later transformed to become a part of 16th Combat Aviation Brigade with headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA in 2010 with duty in Alaska.