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Otis Air Force Base


Otis Air Force Base

Template:Infobox military structure

Airfield information
Elevation AMSL 131 ft / 40 m
Direction Length Surface
ft m
05/23 8,000 2,438 Asphalt/Concrete
14/32 9,500 2,896 Asphalt/Concrete
Source: Federal Aviation Administration[1]
Location of Otis ANGB

Otis Air National Guard Base (IATA: FMHICAO: KFMHFAA LID: FMH) is an Air National Guard installation located within the Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR), a military training facility, located on the western portion of Cape Cod, in western Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States. It was previously known as Otis Air Force Base prior to its transfer from the active duty Air Force to the Air National Guard. In the community, it is also known as Otis Air Base or more commonly by its old name, Otis Air Force Base. It was named in honor of pilot and Boston surgeon, Lt. Frank "Jesse" Otis.

Major units


Previous designations

Major commands to which assigned

Major units assigned

Current units

Previous units

Operational history

World War II

According to the 102d Intelligence Wing Public Affairs office, Otis Air National Guard Base is named for pilot, flight surgeon, and eminent Boston City Hospital surgeon, Lt. Frank "Jesse" Otis, a member of the 101st Observation Squadron who was killed on Jan. 11, 1937 when his Douglas O-46A crashed while on a cross-country training mission.

In 1938, the landing field area at Camp Edwards was named Otis Field in memory of the Boston flying physician. Ten years later the base was renamed Otis Air Force Base in his honor. Until 1973, it was the largest Aerospace Defense Command base in the world and is the only base named for a doctor.

During World War II, the field was known as Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Otis and was a subordinate field for Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

Cold War

During the Cold War, the base was a key Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) installation. Activities ranged from the Air Force's 33rd Fighter Wing (Air Defense) / 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron to the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing and the 4604th Support Squadron supporting the Texas Tower Radar Platforms in the Atlantic Ocean. The 551st flew the EC-121 Warning Star before moving to Hanscom Air Force Base in 1969. The 551st was also the first Air Force wing to fly the EC-121. The 33rd flew various fighter jets in conjunction with the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. The expanding mission led to the runways being lengthened in 1960. The base was also home to the 26th Air Defense Missile Squadron, which maintained the BOMARC surface-to-air missiles on the base. The regular air force began leaving Otis in the late 1960s as improvements in radar made the 551st more costly when compared to newer technologies. The 551st and the 60th left Otis when the Air Force began to move the continental air defense mission over to the Air National Guard.

Strategic Air Command maintained the 19th Air Refueling Squadron at Otis AFB flying the KC-97 Stratotanker. After the 19th AREFS inactivated, SAC assigned Detachment 1, 416th Bombardment Wing/ 41st Air Refueling Squadron, based at Griffiss AFB, New York with 2 KC-135 Stratotanker and 2 99th Bombardment Wing / 99th Air Refueling Squadron, Westover AFB, Massachusetts KC-135 Stratotankers on 24 Hour Alert Duty.

The Massachusetts Air National Guard's 102d Fighter Wing, 101st Fighter Squadron including its previous iterations as a fighter-interceptor group, fighter group, air defense wing and fighter-interceptor wing became the lead command at Otis for executing this mission. During the Cold War period from 1964 until 2004, the 102d operated a variety of air defense and tactical fighter aircraft, to include the F-86H Sabre, F-84B/F Thunderstreak, F-100D Super Sabre, F-106A/B Delta Dart and F-15A/B Eagle. The base was also utilized as a stopover for a French Air Force Mirage IV on the way to French Polynesia for Operation Tamoure.

The Air National Guard's and 101st Tactical Fighter Squadron used Otis when the active duty Air Force was present and shared missions with the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing while operating their own aircraft as indicated in the previous paragraph regarding the Cold War. In 1987, the 102d Fighter Wing (102 FW) transitioned to the F-15A Eagle. A subsequent transition to the upgraded F-15C Eagle occurred. Following 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) action, the Massachusetts Air National Guard continued to retain an air defense mission, but the 102 FW was directed to transfer its F-15 aircraft to its sister unit, the 104th Fighter Wing, formerly an A-10 Thunderbolt II unit of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at Barnes Municipal Airport/ANGB. All F-15 aircraft were transferred by January 2008 and the 102 FW was redesignated as the 102d Intelligence Wing (102 IW), a non-flying unit at Otis ANGB.

President John F. Kennedy used Otis on many occasions for the landing of Air Force One when he traveled to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis. He would then board an Army or Marine Corps helicopter which would then take him to the compound. It was at the Otis AFB Hospital that his wife, Jacqueline, gave birth to their son Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died two days later.


In the early 1970s, Otis AFB was marked for closure as part of changing priorities and a nation-wide reduction of military bases in response to cost cutting efforts as the Vietnam War was winding down. In 1973, Governor of Massachusetts Frank Sargent appointed the Otis Task Force to oversee a phase-down of military activities at the Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR). The major concern of Cape residents was the fate of base property and impacts on the local economy as military activities decreased.

During a period of time when the future of the base was in limbo, ideas were floated that would include the redeveloping of the base into a recreation center of sorts that would rival Disneyland.[2] The state even went so far as to mail out brochures to 1,500 corporations around the world, advertising the redevelopment opportunities of the base.[2]


In 1977, Otis AFB was officially redistributed with the establishment of boundary lines which divided the complex into several installations, all within the confines of the original Otis AFB. Established was Otis Air National Guard Base, Camp Edwards (an Army National Guard small arms training facility that served as a POW camp during World War II), and Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod (which utilizes the Otis ANGB runways). Together they form the Massachusetts Military Reservation, where 17 other state, federal and private entities operate within its boundaries.

In 1978, the Regular Air Force returned to Otis ANGB with the construction of the Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) near the Cape Cod Canal. PAVE PAWS is designed to detect airborne ballistic missiles and monitor orbiting satellites.

Otis ANGB was an alternative landing site for the Space Shuttle orbiter if it ever had to abort its mission during liftoff. However, this was only possible if the orbiter was in a high inclination launch. The comparatively short main runway at Otis also made its use for this purpose unlikely when compared to other nearby installations such as Westover Air Reserve Base or Pease Air National Guard Base, both former Strategic Air Command installations with runways over 2,000 feet longer than Otis.

Accidents and incidents

  • 14 February 1951- Major Raymond S. Wetmore, World War II ace (21.25 kills), and commander of the 59th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, is killed this date in the crash of F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 48-0149, c/n 151-43517 [3][4] at age 27. After a cross-country flight from Los Angeles, California, to Otis AFB, he was on his final approach when his plane suddenly shot up skyward, and then turned towards the ground where it crashed.[5] Raymond was killed instantly. He was reported to have said that he had trouble steering and ejecting from the plane.[5] He was also reported to have said to the tower that, "I'm going to go up and bring it down in Wakeby Lake, so I don't hit any houses."[5] When he died, he left a widow and four children.
  • 25 May 1958- USAF Lockheed RC-121D-LO Warning Star, 55-123, of the 551st AEWCW, burns out on the ramp at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, 0 dead.[6]
  • 11 July 1965- A USAF Lockheed EC-121H-LO Warning Star, 55-136,[7] of the 551st AEWCW, out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts, develops a fire in the number three (starboard inner) engine, attempts ditching in the North Atlantic ~100 miles E of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Night touchdown in zero-zero weather, while on fire, proves difficult, aircraft crashes and breaks apart. Of the 19 people on board, three crew members survive, 16 die. Seven of the crew bodies are never recovered.[8][9]
  • 11 November 1966- A USAF Lockheed EC-121H-LO Warning Star of the 551st AEWCW, out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts, crashes in the North Atlantic ~125 miles E of Nantucket, Massachusetts by unexplained circumstances, approximately the same general area as the one lost 11 July 1965. All 19 crew members are KWF, bodies never recovered.[8][9]
  • 25 April 1967- A USAF Lockheed EC-121H-LO Warning Star, 53-549,[10][11] of the 551st AEWCW, out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts, ditches in the North Atlantic ~one mile off of Nantucket, Massachusetts, just after having taken off from that base. One survivor, 15 crew KWF. Five bodies were not recovered. Col. James P. Lyle, the Commander of the 551st AEW&C Wing to which all the aircraft and crew members were assigned, was the pilot. Colonel Lyle had been assigned to take over that command nine months earlier. It was he who presented each of the next of kin of 11 November 1966 crash victims with the United States Flag during that memorial service.[8][9]
  • 14 November 1967- Two McDonnell F-101B Voodoos of the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, out of Otis AFB, Massachusetts, collide over Maine during a cross-country formation flight. Aircraft 57-376 is destroyed crashing on Mount Abraham after the two-man crew ejects with minor injuries. The uninjured crew of moderately damaged aircraft 57-378 makes an emergency landing at Dow AFB, Maine.[12][13][14]

Base culture and civilian life

Otis was unique because it had its own schools for the students who lived on the base. The schools were a part of the Town of Bourne School system. These schools included: Edward C. Stone Middle School, Colonel James P. Lyle Middle School, Otis Memorial Elementary School, Otis Interm #2, and the Campbell School.

September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Boston Center contacted the base at 8:34 notifying them of the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy and Major Daniel Nash flew F-15 fighters out of the base heading toward New York City to intercept the plane. Conflicting reports say they departed somewhere between 8:46 and 8:52 and also at what speeds they flew (supersonic versus subsonic.)[15][16] In the 2006 TV documentary Flight 175: As the World Watched, both Otis pilots were interviewed and one spoke about their speed being supersonic in their effort to intercept the hijacked airliner headed for New York.

Modern operations

Originally scheduled to be closed by the 2005 BRAC, Otis ANGB was spared in last minute decisions. However, the 102nd Fighter Wing did lose its F-15 Eagle and transitioned to a non-flying mission, redesignated as the 102d Intelligence Wing. The only military aircraft currently based at Otis ANGB are those of the Coast Guard, although transient military aircraft continue to use the facility and the Navy has considered it as a place of interest should they decide to base naval forces in the Northeast again.[17][18]

On December 22, 2006 in an agreement amongst the Coast Guard, National Guard and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a partnership was created in which the Coast Guard would assume control of the aviation facilities from the Air Force (Runways, taxiways, etc.) while the Air National Guard will manage the utilities (Electricity, water, sewerage, etc.) and the state will fund the emergency services and fire protection. The Federal Aviation Administration has released new flight procedures that identify the ICAO code KFMH with the name of Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.[19] This does not signify a name change as it has not been officially announced. The FAA sometimes does issue plans that call an airport a different name than is commonly known. With the control of the airfield changing hands, improvements to the lighting system were put in control of the Coast Guard.[20] The base is still known as Otis among locals, but the media reports it as Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod.

Air Force One lands at the base whenever President Barack Obama vacations on Martha's Vinyard. It was also used when former President Bill Clinton also vacationed on the island

On November 6, 2009, ground was broken on new facilities for the 102nd Intelligence Wing.[21] The building will eventually replace the temporary facilities that the wing is now operating in.

The airport was a NASA Space Shuttle launch abort site.[22] It was only able to be used during high inclination launches.

In May 2013, it was announced that one third of the 104th Fighter Wing's F-15 aircraft would be moving to Otis to take up an alert mission for four to six month, as Barnes Municipal Airport's runway underwent renovation.[23][24]

Environmental issues

Military operations in the early years at Otis AFB included the use of petroleum products and other hazardous materials such as fuels, motor oils, and cleaning solvents and the generation of associated wastes. Consistent with practices of other industries at the time, it was common practice for many years to dispose of such wastes in landfills, dry wells, sumps, and the sewage treatment plant. Spills and leaks also occurred. These activities have resulted in serious impacts to the Upper Cape’s groundwater resources. As a direct result of the threats from waste plumes in the groundwater, much of the water supply in the surrounding area was converted from wells to municipal water sources.

In towns near the Air Force's PAVE PAWS radar at Otis Air National Guard Base, there was significant concern about possible adverse effects on health of humans resulting from PAVE PAWS radiation. Remediation on the site occurred in 1998 [25] and in 2005, a report available from the National Academies Press found no evidence for adverse health effects from PAVE PAWS.[26] In 2012, a wind turbine started operating in the area which is powering 25-30% of the energy used in the remediation effort.[27]

Notable associations

Current status


See also



External links

  • Otis Air National Guard Base (official site)
  • Google Book article on Otis
  • 50th and 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron Reunion Group
  • Department of Defense-New Jersey National Guard
  • PDF), effective May 29, 2014
  • FAA Terminal Procedures for FMH, effective May 29, 2014
  • Resources for this U.S. military airport:
    • FAA airport information for FMH
    • AirNav airport information for KFMH
    • ASN accident history for FMH
    • NOAA/NWS latest weather observations
    • SkyVector aeronautical chart for KFMH
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