The Norton Air Force Base played a major role in American and regional history for 52 years and for the past five years the Norton Air Force Base Museum, has played the primary role in collecting, preserving and sharing the story of those historic roles.
Norton AFB Museum Executive Director Robert “Bob” Edwards provided a history of the air force base’s numerous historical activities from the its development in World War II to its airlift operations in support of military and humanitarian operations from the Cold War to the Gulf War.
The base was active from 1942 to 1994.
Norton also had been the base for several historical figures and aircraft.
Edwards first highlighted base namesake Capt. Leland Francis Norton who died when his A-20 Havoc medium bomber was struck by antiaircraft fire over France during World War II.
Norton was the home base for Medal of Honor recipient John Lee Levintow. Levintow was serving as loadmaster on an AC-47 Spooky gunship in Vietnam when the aircraft, filled with live ammunition, was struck by a mortar shell.
Several of the crew were injured causing one to drop a smoking flare. Levintow who himself suffered more than 40 fragment wounds and a concussion threw himself on the flare and dragged himself to the rear of the aircraft and threw it out the cargo door.
Edwards also shared that Norton was Brigadier Gen. Chuck Yeager’s last assignment before retiring from a career punctuated by the first supersonic flight.
Norton was also home of the famed Women in the Air Force (WAF) Band of the 1950s.
Norton also served as the home and rest stop of many of America’s most iconic military aircraft from the heavy lift C-141 Starlifter to the top secret, state-of-the-art SR-71 Blackbird (still the world’s fastest manned airplane) and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack plane.
According to Edwards, 49 C-141s were assigned to Norton in 1967, each capable of hauling 71,000 pounds of cargo, 200 passengers or 158 paratroopers.
In the 1988 alone C-141s were used to transport 148,000 passengers and 100 million pounds of cargo through Norton.
Norton also served as the logistics center for the top secret Blackbird and Nighthawk projects operating out of Area 51 in Nevada.
Spare parts and other materials were kept at Norton for repair and maintenance of the black projects.
“I was there four years and never knew it was there,” Edwards said of the Blackbird’s secret existence in the 1960s.
After Edward’s presentation, this connection between Norton and Area 51 brought up tales and speculation about the possibility of UFOs being brought to Norton.
After the air base’s closure its history was without a home until the establishment of the museum in 2013 at what was once the base’s NCO club.
Thanks to an ever-growing collection of artifacts, collected almost entirely by donation, the museum and its docents, Norton veterans, can tell the air base’s many stories which span World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm.