Historian discusses Hanscom’s heritage

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Members of the workforce came together to learn how the emergence of a military base in Massachusetts contributed to the development of radar and other military technology during a Heritage of Hanscom presentation May 24.

Randy Bergeron, Hanscom’s historian, discussed how the development, acquisition and sustainment mission came to Hanscom. Dr. Vannevar Bush, who had the idea of microwave-based radar, used military applications as a way to fund several military-related projects in the 1940s.

“When Bush became head of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] became the largest recipient of contracts during World War II,” said Bergeron. “He coordinated the activities of scientists whose research eventually led to the atomic bomb, the computer and the internet.”

In the following years, the region became a hub for technology, notably the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense system that protected the U.S. against the threat of Soviet bomber threats.

“Although it relied on telephones, some of SAGE’s contributions led to huge advances in online systems, interactive and real-time computing and data communications,” Bergeron said. “SAGE is considered one of two systems that advanced the computer—the other being NASA’s Apollo missions.”

Hanscom also had prominent roles in the Korean and Vietnam Wars of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Hanscom was instrumental in the way ground and air communicated, which is really one of our legacies,” said Bergeron. “Hanscom improves the way warfighters communicate.”

That legacy continues today with the development of Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, also known as BACN, and other programs.

“Whenever you see ‘command and control’ and ‘sensor data,’ chances are Hanscom is involved in those systems,” Bergeron said.

Research and development have always been at the core of Hanscom. In an effort to consolidate growth in the 1960s, the Air Force formed the Electronics Systems Division. When that growth stopped following the end of the Cold War, the Air Force downsized from ESD to the Electronic Systems Center.

In 2012, the Air Force combined ESC with the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and other Air Force Materiel Command organizations by establishing the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which is headquartered in Ohio.

Bergeron also spoke about Hanscom being one of three bases named after a civilian citizen, the others being the former Loring Air Force Base in Maine, and Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

“In 1941, Laurence Gerard Hanscom was killed in an air crash,” he said. “Hanscom was a state house reporter for the Worcester Telegram-Gazette who promoted the idea of an airport in Bedford.”

He also discussed the significance of the two static displays on base.

“A day after Massachusetts leased the airport to the War Department in 1942, the Army Air Forces arrived with P-40 aircraft,” Bergeron said. “Aircrews trained at Hanscom and then most ended up in the Mediterranean Theater fighting the German Luftwaffe over Northern Africa.”

The F-86 aircraft on Barksdale Street represents the last active duty aircraft, which was assigned to Hanscom in the 1960s.

When flying operations ended at Hanscom in 1973, the Air Force terminated the lease at Hanscom Field.

“The facilities portion of Laurence G. Hanscom Field remained under Air Force control and was re-designated
Laurence G. Hanscom Air Force Base under the Department of the Air Force,” said Bergeron.

Four years later Laurence G. Hanscom Air Force Base was redesignated “Hanscom Air Force Base,” in a move throughout the Air Force to use only last names. The Massachusetts Port Authority followed with “Hanscom Field.”

Bergeron closed by highlighting how members of the workforce contribute to the acquisition mission at Hanscom.

“It doesn’t matter if you are an engineer, a program manager, you work the gate, whatever you do – you are part of Team Hanscom and what you do is important to the national security of this country,” he said.