Looking Back

One of the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s F-86L Sabrejet interceptor planes at Grenier Air Force Base in 1959.

In August 1955 Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester lost its resident U.S. Air Force unit. After a little over two years of service at the base, the 1610th Air Transport Group, which operated Douglas C-54 Skymaster planes, was inactivated. That same month Grenier became home to the newly reactivated 81st Troop Carrier Squadron, which became part of the Air Force Reserve. The unit flew Beech C-45 Expeditor utility aircraft and Curtiss C-46 Commando transport planes.

In November 1955 Grenier was assigned to the Continental Air Command (CONAC). The 2235th Air Reserve Flying Center was activated to oversee the airbase’s operations, and in April 1956 Grenier became a training center for C-46 mechanics and specialists, both military and civilian. That summer the airbase hosted reserve units from New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts in a series of training exercises. Involved were fighter bomber, troop carrier, early warning and control, and communications units. Also participating were Civil Air Patrol groups from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These types of “summer camps” had become a tradition at Grenier starting after World War II, and would continue in future years.

In early 1957 the 81st was re-equipped with 18 Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar transport planes. These distinctive twin-boom troop carrier and cargo planes, flying singly or in formation, soon became a familiar sight to residents of the area. Grenier served as an important training facility for reserve units from the Northeast that were transitioning from World War II-era planes to this modern type of aircraft. By Sept. 1, 1957 a total of 190 pilots had been certified on the C-119G at Grenier.

On Nov. 15, 1957 the 81st was inactivated, but the unit remained intact and it was immediately reconstituted as the 732nd Troop Carrier Squadron. With an authorized strength of 58 officers and 393 enlisted men, the 732nd provided airlift support for Army paratroopers and equipment wherever needed. In the years that followed, the 732nd would engage in numerous training exercises, including operations in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York and Bermuda.

Over time, Grenier’s command structure underwent changes and a variety of specialized functions were developed on base, including a weather station, recruitment operation, communications squadron, air traffic control unit, and medical dispensary. In October 1958 Grenier’s role as an Air Force Reserve center was expanded with the addition of an Air Reserve Technician program that used civil service employees in operations and training capacities.

During the 1950s the New Hampshire Air National Guard (NHANG) continued to be based at Grenier. Its 133rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron was always ready to provide front-line defense by intercepting potentially hostile aircraft — specifically planes that were not readily identified by radar or by pre-filed flight plans. In April 1956 the status of the NHANG was raised when it became the 101st Fighter Group, NHANG. The 101st retained the 133rd, and by 1958 its operation grew to include a headquarters staff, medical squadron, air base squadron, dispensary, and maintenance operation. The unit included around 700 officers and airmen.

The 133rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron had begun its life in 1947 when it was equipped with P-47D (also known as F-47D) Thunderbolt fighter planes. In 1952 its pilots began flying P-51H Mustang fighters, and in 1954 the 133rd was assigned an early jet aircraft, the Lockheed F-94B Starfire interceptor. In 1958, the unit was furnished with 24 F-86L Sabrejet interceptors (also called the Sabre). Produced by North American Aviation, this was the Air Force’s first swept-wing fighter. This rocket-firing jet plane flew at 650 miles per hour.

From the mid- to late-1950s the Grenier Air Force Base complex and its advanced military programs were being further developed with the establishment of new Air Force Reserve activities and the expansion of the NHANG. Simultaneous to the military’s restructuring and modernization at the airfield, local business and political leaders were working with the federal government to facilitate Grenier’s conversion into a municipal airport. The idea was that military and civilian interests could function collaboratively, to their mutual benefit, into an indefinite future. Grenier Air Force Base came under civilian control on July 1, 1957, and the City of Manchester became the U.S. Air Force’s landlord.

Next Week: Air shows and open houses engage the civilian population.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter.

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