The spectacular “Air Age Show” that took place at Grenier Air Force Base/Manchester Airport in 1958, and the similarly named event held there in 1959, were proud showcases of the modern military and civilian aircraft of the era.
Organized by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the shows celebrated the airfield’s becoming a joint military-civilian operation in 1957. Each show attracted around 100,000 people. In 1960, and from 1962 to 1965, the New Hampshire Air National Guard (NHANG) and the U.S. Air Force Reserve presented smaller-scale open houses at Grenier to mark Armed Forces Day in May. These were popular with the general public, but the attendance at any one show likely did not exceed 10,000 people.
In 1960 the NHANG was transformed from a fighting force into a transport unit. The NHANG’s 133rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, with its swift Sabrejets, became the 157th Military Air Transport Group. The unit was furnished with eight C-97A Boeing Stratofreighter long-range aircraft. This huge, four-engine plane had a wingspan of 141 feet and could carry 130 troops.
The 157th was federalized on Oct. 1, 1961 during the Berlin Crisis. This major Cold War incident led to the physical and political partition of the German city into East and West Berlin by Soviet-controlled East Germany. The unit’s support squadrons remained at Grenier, while its pilots and crews were deployed in Europe, South America, and Asia where they flew their C-97A transports on airlift missions.
The 157th was demobilized on August 24, 1962 in a ceremony at Grenier Air Force Base. The popular Muchachos Junior Drum & Bugle Corps of the Manchester Boys Club performed at this public event.
The 732nd Troop Carrier Squadron, the Air Force Reserve Unit at Grenier, was activated during the Cuban Missile Crisis, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 28, 1962. In 1963 the unit, which flew Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar transport planes, would be assigned to the 902nd Troop Carrier Group which would be established at the airbase that year.
In February 1960 the Manchester Airport Authority, which had been in existence for less than a year, was already reviewing a concept for a new passenger terminal and air traffic control tower being designed by the Manchester architectural firm of Isaac and Koehler.
Roscoe A. Ammon, a 41-year old aircraft electronics inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, donated $500,000 toward the cost of the terminal. Ammon held over 30 patents, including some for instruments used in the X-15 rocket plane and the Project Mercury space program.
He was quoted in the Feb. 8, 1960 Manchester Union Leader, where he stated that the reason for his gift was that “a modern airport can become an impressive gateway and, one might hope, an attractive symbol of a progressive community … I believe very strongly in the future that this development holds for Manchester.”
Ammon was the former owner of the Marion Electrical Instrument Company, which had a large manufacturing plant at the airport.
The remaining funding for the over $800,000 needed for the terminal project was provided by the Federal Aviation Agency (now the Federal Aviation Administration) and the city of Manchester.
Construction began in March 1961, and the sleek modernistic building was completed in early 1962. Sadly, Roscoe Ammon died of cancer two months before the dedication ceremony, which took place on Feb. 17, 1962. The structure was named the Ammon Terminal Building in his honor. It was replaced by the current terminal in 1994. The 1962 terminal still exists, though in altered form, and has been converted into an office building.
Local leaders had hoped that the military would grow its operations in Manchester, but that was not to be. In January 1966, the 902nd Troop Carrier Group was inactivated, and the New Hampshire Air National Guard moved to its new home at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Grenier Air Force Base was then closed, ending 26 years of Manchester’s complicated and proud relationship with a military airbase that had been established in 1940. Though the facility had now reverted to its original purpose as a civilian airport, for decades to come locals would continue to refer to it by its World War II name, Grenier Field,.
Note: Looking Back will return on May 24 to begin a new series about the Air Force bombing range at New Boston.