The base began as Municipal Airport, San Bernardino under Army Air Corps jurisdiction. During the summer of 1941, it became a training base to meet the needs of the 30,000 Pilot Training Program. In December 1941, within days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, combat-ready fighter planes arrived to protect the Los Angeles area from enemy attack. In July 1942 the airport was renamed San Bernardino Army Air Field and the San Bernardino Air Depot was established. The facility's primary function was the repair and maintenance of aircraft. During the war, the Air Transport Command used the field and in 1943, maintenance operations for gas turbine engines were added.
After WWII, the base became one of three major maintenance facilities for jet engines. The base was transferred to US Air Force in 1948 and in 1950 was renamed Norton Air Force Base after Captain Leland Norton, a World War II bomber pilot who, ordered the crew of his crippled plane to bail out over France just before perishing with the craft. Operations at Norton were expanded to include maintenance, storage, and logistics support for various missile programs.
In 1966, Norton AFB became the home for the 63rd Military Airlift Wing (MAW), providing airlift and food services to air and ground combat units worldwide. Headquarters for the Aerospace Audiovisual Services (AAVS) was also established at Norton AFB in 1966 to provide audiovisual services to the Air Force and all Department of Defense agencies.
Norton AFB also has housed numerous tenant organizations, including Air Force Inspection and Safety Center Headquarters; Air Force Audit Agency Headquarters; Military Airlift Command (MAC) Non-Commissioned Officer Academy-West; and Ballistic Missile Organization (BMO).
The base was selected for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 1988 and closed on March 31, 1994. The Norton Air Force Base Museum was made possible through the generosity of the Inland Valley Development Agency.