Unlike most other bases that were named for aviators, Beale AFB was named for Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822-1893), the
19th-century pioneer. Beale graduated from the Naval Academy, served in the California militia and led the experiment to replace Army mules with camels.
Camp Beale opened in October 1942 as a training site for the 13th Armored and the 81st and 96th infantry divisions. During World War II, Camp Beale’s 86,000 acres were home for more than 60,000 soldiers, a prisoner-of-war encampment and a 1,000-bed hospital. In 1948, the camp transferred from the Army to the Air Force. The Air Force conducted bombardier and navigator training at Beale and in 1951 reactivated the Beale Bombing and Gunnery Range for aviation engineer training. The base has been under several commands, including Air Training Command, Continental Air Command, Aviation Engineer Force, the Strategic Air Command, and since June 1, 1992, Air Combat Command.
In May 1959, Col. Paul K. Carlton assumed command of the recently activated 4126th Strategic Wing. The first two KC-135s arrived two months later. On Jan. 18, 1960, the 31st Bombardment Squadron with its B-52s arrived at Beale to become part of the wing. The 14th Air Division moved to Beale from Travis AFB, one week later. On Feb. 1, 1963, Strategic Air Command redesignated the 4126th as the 456th Strategic Aerospace Wing. On Sept. 30, 1975, the 456th Bombardment Wing deactivated and the 17th Bombardment Wing activated in its place. On Sept. 30, 1976, the 17th deactivated and the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, became the 100th Air Refueling Wing and moved to Beale. Many of the people and the tankers that had been part of the 17th now became members of the 100th. The 17th Wing’s B-52s moved to other bases. The 100th Air Refueling Wing stayed at Beale until March 15, 1983, when the Air Force deactivated the wing and consolidated its refueling mission and assets into the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. From 1959 until 1965, Beale was the support base for three Titan I missile sites near Lincoln, Chico and the Sutter Buttes. On July 1, 1979, the 7th Missile Warning Squadron brought the Phased Array Warning System radar site (known as PAVE PAWS) to Beale. This 10-story structure can detect possible attack by sea-launched ballistic missiles or track a global satellite.
On Oct. 15, 1964, the Department of Defense announced that Beale would be the home of the new, supersonic reconnaissance aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird. The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing activated Jan. 1, 1965. The new wing received its first aircraft, a T-38 Talon, on July 8, 1965. The first SR-71 did not arrive until Jan. 7, 1966.
On June 25, 1966, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing replaced the 4200th. The first U-2 arrived from Davis-Monthan on July 12, 1976. Until Jan. 26, 1990, when budget restrictions forced the retirement of the SR-71, Beale AFB was the home of two of the world’s most unique aircraft.
In July 1994, the 350th Air Refueling Squadron transferred from Beale to McConnell AFB, Kansas, taking the last of the KC-135Q tankers with it. Tankers returned in 1998 when the 940th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, transferred to Beale. In 2001, the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron activated at Beale as the parent organization for the Global Hawk, the Air Force’s newest high-altitude reconnaissance platform.
Today, Beale AFB is home for the U-2 Dragon Lady, T-38 Talon and RQ-4 Global Hawk. The base has a unique name and mission, a historic past and a promising future.