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History of Norton Air Force Base

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.

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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.

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Reserve Power
Norton Air Force Base

A look at Norton Air Force Base, 445th Reserve wing. A video produced by Mike Wichman.

Remembering Captain Leland F. Norton

On May 27, 1944, Captain Norton was flying his sixteenth combat mission in a Havoc  A-20 attack bomber with a crew of three: two gunners and a bombardier.  They were attacking a German railroad yard near Amiens, France.  During the mission, Norton’s bomber was struck by antiaircraft fire.  He was wounded but ordered his crew to bail out and he, along with the bombardier, stayed at the controls to ensure their safe evacuation.


By this time the aircraft was coming apart, but Norton and his bombardier parachuted.  All four of the men made it to the ground.  But in one of those wartime tragedies, Norton and the bombardier were killed by bombs from the aircraft as it crashed near them.  Norton’s mother was working at the base when she was told the news.


Under General Dwight Eisenhower, the invasion of France began June 6, 1944.  His idea of bombing the railroad yards made it impossible for German reinforcements during or after the invasion.


Among the awards received by Norton was the Purple Heart, posthumously, and the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest Army Air Force Award.   He was buried in France but in 1947 his parents went to France and brought him home.  He now rests with his parents in Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino, CA.


On March 2, 1950, the former San Bernardino Air Depot was named in honor of Leland F. Norton.  As we approach Memorial Day, 2023, it seems appropriate to remember all veterans and the words on the memorial plaque commemorating Norton’s service:

“A patriot who dared to die that freedom might live and grow and increase its blessings.  Freedom lives; and through it he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”

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