Strategic Air Command
Non-SAC Bases:  Hanscom Air Force Base
Location: 20 miles from Boston, Massachusetts
Home of: 66th Air Base Wing - Electronic Systems Support
Status:  Active
Links:  Hanscom AFB

     Hanscom Air Force Base is located about 20 miles to the north and west of Boston next to Rte. 128 (now I-95), the major arterial highway around the city. The base came into existence during the time when the United States was considering its entry into the second World War. In May 1941, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the purchase of a large tract of farmland bordering on the towns of Bedford, Lincoln, Concord, and Lexington for a Boston Auxiliary Airport. Funds for the new airport were contributed by the Federal government, which had appropriated $40 million to build 250 new public airports across the United States "necessary for the national defense."
     In February 1943 the airport was renamed Laurence G. Hanscom Field in honor of a Massachusetts-born aviation enthusiast who had been a reporter for the Worcester Telegram-Gazette. Hanscom had died in February 1941 in an aircraft accident in Saugus, MA, while he was lobbying vigorously at the State House for the establishment of the airport at Bedford. By mid 1942 the Bedford airport had become a site for training units of the Army Air Forces to fly the Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft. The 85th Fighter Squadron and the 318th Fighter Squadron who trained at Bedford went on to combat in North Africa and Europe.
      The airfield also served as a test site for research on radar conducted by MIT's Radiation Laboratory and Harvard's Radio Research Laboratory. An elevation next to a runway hosted an experimental Microwave Early Warning radar system and so was dubbed MEW Hill. It was this secondary wartime activity at Hanscom that gave rise to the base's postwar role. Since 1945 Hanscom has emerged as the Air Force's center for the development and acquisition of electronic systems. The base also played a significant role in the creation of a national high-technology area around Route 128.
     World War II had established the key military importance of radar. In 1945, when the MIT and Harvard wartime laboratories were dissolved, the Army Air Forces aimed to continue some of their programs in radar, radio, and electronic research. It recruited scientists and engineers from the laboratories, and its new Cambridge Field Station took over MIT's test site at Hanscom Field.
    At the turn of the1950s, the Air Force was working closely with MIT to develop a new air defense system for the continental United States. Expanding its facilities at Hanscom Field was a step to accomplishing this massive project. After some negotiation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed in May 1952 to cede land on one side of the airport to the Federal Government, and it offered a 25-year renewable lease on the airfield itself.
     The first buildings for the new MIT Lincoln Laboratory at Hanscom were completed in 1952, and the Air Force's electronic and geophysics laboratories started to migrate out from Cambridge to Bedford in 1954. The airfield's runways were reconfigured and expanded in 1953 and new hangars built. To provide test aircraft for Lincoln Lab's "Cape Cod" experimental air defense system, Hanscom's 6520th Test Support Wing logged in many hours of flying time.
     The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system that was completed in the early 1960s revolutionized air defense and also contributed significantly to advances in air traffic control systems. As the SAGE system matured, the Air Force pursued the development of advanced command, control, and communications systems. In 1961 it established the Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom Field, in order to consolidate the management of electronic systems under one agency. Since that time, the Electronics Systems Division (redesignated the Electronic Systems Center in 1992) has been the host organization on the base.
    While Hanscom's role in system acquisition has flourished since the 1950s, its operational mission gradually diminished. P-51 Mustangs, F-106 Delta Darts, F-80 Shooting Stars, and F-86 Sabres were all stationed at Hanscom in the early days. There were also a number of transport aircraft, including the C-47 Skytrain, the C-119, and the C-124 Globemaster II, as well as trainers like the T-33.
    As of September 1973 all regular flying operations at Hanscom ceased. The following year the Air Force terminated its lease of the airfield portion of Hanscom Field, which reverted to State control and is currently operated by Massport. The Air Force redesignated its own acreage surrounding the field as the Laurence G. Hanscom Air Force Base. In 1977 the name was shortened to the present Hanscom Air Force Base.
     The base saw a new wave of construction during the 1980s. The Electronic Systems Division put up four new Systems Management Engineering Facilities (the O'Neill, Brown, Shiely, and Bond buildings). For base personnel, there were new service facilities -medical, youth, and family support centers-plus additional housing and a Temporary Lodging Facility.
     Since July 1992 the Electronic Systems Center and Hanscom have been part of the new Air Force Materiel Command. Organizations on the base include the 66th Air Base Wing, the MITRE Corporation, Rome Laboratory, Phillips Laboratory, and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The total strength of the workforce for the Hanscom complex, including military, civilian, and contractors, currently stands at about 10,000 personnel.