Stewart International Airport’s Military History, Where the New York Air Show is Held

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If you come in the back way to Stewart International Airport, in by the south entrance off of Route 207, and if you are a little bit of an air base archeologist, you will immediately pick up clues that this was the old Stewart Air Force Base from 1948 to 1970. The entry road widens where the Base Main Gate was; there are still a few one- and two-story red brick military-type buildings that work their way along the winding roads. Up on a surrounding hill you’ll still find one old 1950’s USAF hanger still left intact. The Airport Administration is housed in one of the old USAF brick buildings near the old Base Fire and Crash station too.

When the State of New York gradually took over this airport after the Air Force left in 1970, they wanted to bring in airlines and make it (someday) into New York City’s “Fourth Jetport” with a rail link into New York. To start with, two projects has opened up the airport for business. A rather recent modern passenger terminal with extending jetways and extensive parking was completed around 1995 and a new four 4-lane access road connected the terminal facility with the new high-speed I-84 interchange built about 2011 that delivered passengers directly to the terminal and parking lots avoiding all the local traffic. Terminal expansion, runway expansion and the future rail link are now in the planning stage.


Stewart International Airport (FAA identifier SWF) is now a major regional public/military joint-use airport in Orange County New York at the intersection of I-87 (North-South, aka the NY State Thruway) and I-84 (East-West). It is in the southern Hudson Valley, about 60 mile north of Times Square. It is actually owned by the State of New York and is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the same operator as for JFK, LGA, TEB and EWR Airports. SWF has two heavy weight asphalt runways: 9/27 (main east-west) at 11,817 x 150 feet and 16/34 (short crosswind) at 6,004 x 150 feet. Runway 9/27 was always an emergency landing runway for the NASA STS Space Shuttle with its full length of almost 15,000 feet, and is still a Divert Runway for New York City air traffic in bad weather or emergencies. In the early 2000’s the Concord SST even practiced touch-and-goes on the long runway here.

Stewart played a major role in the 9/11 national Emergency Ground Stop during the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack on America. There are 79 aircraft based here including 18 military. For the last 12 months (through 6/16/2017), 278,000 passengers used SWF. Airlines serving the airport include: Allegiant Air; American Eagle; Delta Connection; Jet Blue and recently added Norwegian Air serving Edinburgh, Shannon and Dublin. FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service have major air cargo facilities here. Also, at the end of 9/27 is a major USDA International Plant and Animal Air Arrival Inspection and Quarantine Facility.

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Corporate FBO’s include Atlantic and Signature. Cessna has a major service center at SWF too. All Fire and Crash is handled by the NYANG 105th AW with a major new facility on the Air Guard side. There is a New York State Police Aviation Detachment in its own hanger with three helicopters assigned – a Bell 407; a Bell 430 and a recently refurbished Bell UH-1 “Huey-2”.


Next to the Police Hanger near 16/34 is the hanger for the West Point 2nd Army Aviation Detachment. The unit has four UH-72A “Lakota” helicopters and two C-172 fixed wing aircraft, which supports activities of nearby West Point by transporting distinguished visitors to the campus, assisting the West Point Parachute Team and assisting academic and military aviation helicopter assault training for the cadets.

On the opposite side of the airport off of Route 17K is the Stewart Air National Guard Base with two units sharing a high-security common military ramp. The 105th Airlift Wing (105AW) is a unit of the New York Air National Guard and a gained unit of the USAF Air Mobility Command. The Wing now supports eight C-17A Globemaster III cargo aircraft. The Wing has transitioned from C-5A Galaxy heavy transports that it gave up about 5 years ago. The 105th AW relocated to Stewart from a smaller NYANG Base at Westchester County Airport near White Plains, NY, in 1983. The unit started at Westchester about 1947 flying the F-47 “Thunderbolt” aircraft and was originally called the 105th Fighter Group / 137th Fighter Squadron. In September 1952, unit was re-designated the 137th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and received the F-51 “Mustang” aircraft as well as a new air defense mission.


Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star

In 1953, the unit entered the “jet age” when it received the F-94 “Starfighter” all weather interceptor. Supporting the F-94’s at Westchester were T-33A Trainer aircraft also assigned to the 105th.   Westchester Airport still has a Lockheed T-33A “Shooting Star” on a hardstand at the main airport entrance. As the 137th FIS, the primary mission of the 105th AW was now the air defense of nearby New York City and Long Island. The unit retained its air defense mission until 1958 when it converted to the famed F-86 Sabre jet and was reorganized into the 105th Tactical Fighter Group. Later it transition from the Air Defense Command (ADC) to a role under the Tactical Air Command (TAC) and began a tactical fighter mission. The 105th became a Tactical Fighter Group and the Group’s training mission now included high altitude interception, air-to-ground rocketry, ground strafing and tactical bombing with the F-86 Sabres under the 137th TFS.


File Photo, C-119 Flying Boxcar

In 1961 the 105th became the 105th Aero-Medical Transport Group / 137th ATG under MATS and began flying the C-119 “Flying Boxcar” out of Westchester.


File Photo, KC-97 Stratotanker, similar to the C-97 Stratofreighter.

A big change occurred in December 1963 when the 105th became the 137th Air Transport Squadron (Heavy) and started flying the big 4-engined Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter heavy transports, a hint of the future to come at Stewart. In 1966 the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) became the Military Airlift Command (MAC) and the 137th was re-designated the 137th Military Airlift Squadron. The 137th saw many missions to South Vietnam in the 1960’s supporting the Vietnam War.


Cessna O-2 Skymaster

In 1969, with airframe life running out, the unit gave up the big C-97’s, and the 105th changed again to become the 105th Tactical Air Support Group under TAC and received interim much smaller Cessna U-3 “Blue Canoe” aircraft and shortly replaced those with the Cessna O-2A “Super Skymaster” Push-Pull aircraft with ground FAC and ROMAD missions (leaflet drop and loudspeaker Psy-Ops warfare). The Westchester ANG Base was becoming inadequate for newer type aircraft. In 1983 National Guard Bureau reassigned the 137th Squadron / 105th Air Wing operations to Stewart Airport 40 miles to the north. They brought up a few remaining O-2’s and moved into an old USAF Hanger from when it was still the Stewart AFB, which closed in 1970.


C-5A Galaxy

In 1984 the 105th built a new administrative Headquarters Building near their temporary hanger. But big changes were in the wind for the 105th AW. The unit was redesignated the 105th Military Airlift Group and in July 1985 became the first Air National Guard unit to be assigned to fly the C-5A Galaxy heavy transport aircraft. A major new facility for the 105th AW was built starting in 1984 on the north side of the field to support the special needs for the new very large white and grey heavy transports. In October 1987, the 105th began relocating to its new home on the north side at Stewart Airport – the “Stewart Air National Guard Base”. Ultimately, twelve C-5A’s were assigned to the 105th. In October 1995, the unit was further re-designated as the “105th Airlift Wing”, its current official name.


C-17 Globemaster III

The 105th, with their Super Galaxy’s, went on to serve many worldwide military and humanitarian missions. But more changes happened for the 105th. In July 2011, the 105th AW started transitioning to the new McDonnell Douglas/Boeing C-17A Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft. The first C-17A, tail number 50105, (same number as the AW number), arrived a Stewart ANGB on July 18, 2011 at exactly 11:52 AM. The first training flight at Stewart ANGB went wheels-up at 1226 hours on August 11, 2011. The 105th with their C-17 aircraft continue to perform combat, military and humanitarian missions worldwide. Currently, eight C-17’s are assigned to the 105th AW.



The second military unit based right next to the NYANG 105th AW is the Marine Corps Reserve Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452 (VMGR-452), nicknamed “Yankees”, flying twelve KC-130T Hercules cargo/tanker aircraft with a big “NY” on the tails. The unit is now transitioning to the newer Lockheed-Martin KC-130J Super Hercules. The Squadron falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 49 (MAG-49) and the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (4th MAW). Its squadron patch has the logo and pinstripes of the New York Yankees. This USMC unit was activated in September of 1988 at the same time that their new facilities were completed next to the 105th AW Ramp on the Guard side of the airport.

Currently the Marines operate 14 KC-130T aircraft worldwide out of Stewart. In 2012 the USMC built a major housing complex near the Stewart Terminal for full time Marine personnel supporting VMGR-452. Nearby is a Marine motor pool too. (On a current tragic note, on 10 July 2017, one of VMGR-452’s KC-130T tanker aircraft from Stewart took off from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC, headed to NAF El Centro, CA, and crashed enroute in Laflore County, Mississippi, killing all 16 personnel on board. We extend our sympathies to the families of VMGR-452 and to the Stewart airport families too.)


In 1939, the US Military Academy at nearby West Point built the first permanent airfield at Stewart for cadet aviation training, later dedicating it as “The Wings of West Point “. In 1930 Thomas “Archie” Stewart, an early aviation enthusiast and descendant of a prominent local dairy farmer and sea captain, Lachlan Stewart, convinced his uncle, Samuel Stewart, to donate the “Stoney Lonesome” site, split between the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor to the nearby City of Windsor for use as a municipal airport. Newburgh was broke due to the Depression and could not fully develop it, but planes used the flat fields anyway in the 1930’s.

In 1934, Douglas McArthur, then Superintendent of the US Military Academy, proposed flight training Air Corps cadets at the airport location. On October 29th, 1941, the City officially sold the land to the Military Academy for one dollar and Stewart Field became part West Point. A deed restriction required that the federal government commemorate the naming of the field to Lachlan Stewart, hence to this day it is called “Stewart Airport”. Also, still to this day, one of the Gates at the USMA has been since known as “Stoney Lonesome Gate” in honor of the early Stewart airport name. In WWII many of the red brick barracks and other Army buildings were built and a few still stand scattered around the nearby Stewart hills. In 2008 the Town of New Windsor received a NY State Grant for $2.5M to demolish thirty to forty old military brick buildings as a part of the redevelopment of the former air base. As many as forty old military Army buildings still remain on site.

After the creation of the US Air Force in 1948, the Army Air Field was converted into the “Stewart Air Force Base” as an Air Defense Base while still being used for the training of cadets from West Point. Some 3,000 USAF personnel were assigned to Stewart. Stewart was an active USAF Base from 1948 to 1970 when it closed. After WW2 the Base became a fighter base with various squadrons with P-38’s, F-51’s, F-80, F-94 various F-86 Sabre variants, and finally F-102 Fighter Interceptor aircraft. MATS transport aircraft occasionally visited the Transient Ramp. The primary Fighter units at Stewart in the 1950’s and 1960’s were the 330th FIS and the 331st FIS under the 329th Fighter Group (Air Defense), all under the 4622nd Air Defense Wing, 1st Air Force, Boston Air Defense Sector (BADS). The mission of BADS was to provide air defense over New England, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.

During the late 1960s the eastern NORAD Region was one of six regions comprising the North American Air Defense Command with ultimate responsibility for all United States and Canadian air defense activities. In 1966, the 26th NORAD (CONAD) region and the 26th Air Division, both headquartered here at Stewart AFB, were designated the Eastern NORAD (CONAD) Region and the First Air Force headquartered at Stewart AFB.


On September 15th, 1958, the Semi Automated Ground Environment (SAGE) Radar Direction Center (DC-02) and the Combat Center (CC-04) became operational at Stewart AFB in a new 8-story high windowless above ground bunker with 24 inch thick walls. This blockhouse still exists at Stewart Airport along with its abandoned electrical powerhouse, emergency generators and electrical substation in the rear. The Stewart DC-02 was equipped with state-of-the art modern dual AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Center Computers, a computerized Command, Control and Interception (C3I) system for the Cold War, that provided ground controlled interception used with the SAGE national defense network. It was the largest computer system ever built at the time, and most expensive to build and operate, which ultimately led to its demise. Each of the 24 machines in the SAGE Blockhouse at Stewart weighed 24 tons. The AN/FSQ-7 mainframe computer needed 60,000 vacuum tubes. The BADS SAGE unit at Stewart was connected to various USAF and RCAF regional fighter bases and radar sites to provide Northeast US regional protection from Soviet bomber attack.

The day-to-day operations of the 4722nd Air Defense Wing at Stewart AFB was to train and maintain tactical units flying regional jet fighter interceptor aircraft including the F-86 Sabre variants, the F-89 Scorpion, the F-94 Starfire, the F-102 Delta Dagger, the F-104 Starfighter, the various regional operating Radars and the interceptor missiles (Boeing CIM-10 BOMARC’s and the Nike-Hercules Sites) in a state of constant readiness with training missions and a series of exercises with the USAF Strategic Air Command and other units simulating practice interceptions of enemy bomber aircraft approaching the ADIZ off the coast.


File Photo, B-57 Canberra; the EB-57E was a derivative of this airframe.

Also assigned to Stewart AFB was the 4713rd Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron flying the Martin EB-57E Canberra Twin-jet Light Bomber, Electronic Aggressor aircraft. The pilots and electronic warfare officers of the 4713rd tested the effectiveness of the NORAD North American Air Defense Command) systems as integrated with the SAGE (Semi-Automated Ground Environment) radar intercept, command and control systems, by using the B-57 Aggressor aircraft to simulate an attacking enemy over Greenland, Alaska, the Continental US and its seaward approaches. The B-57’s were equipped with well over a ton and a half of electronic countermeasures equipment used in attempt to jam NORAD’s various electronic defense systems.

There is still a fighter jet interceptor “Ready Alert Barn” at the west end of the long runway at Stewart with 8 Alert Hangers that used to house F-86 and F-102 jet Interceptors on 5-Minute Ready Alerts. Now the only thing on “Ready Alert” were two Port Authority yellow heavy duty snow plows. This fighter alert system was a part of the Cold War Northeast Sector coverage at Stewart to protect nearby cities like New York and Philadelphia from USSR mass strategic attack by Russian long range bombers like the Tu-95 Bear and the M-4 Bison bombers in the 50s and 60s.


Also still on base near the current Marine Barracks at Stewart is the SAGE Radar Command and Control Bunker – “Semi-Automated Ground Environment” – a huge 8-story high windowless blockhouse where – as in “Dr. Strangelove” and “Wargames” the “Big Board” was located with a Battle Staff on duty 24/7 with a large array of mainframe computers and early CRT computer screens and where command and control staff worked. Data was received from multiple radar sites and fighter status received from multiple fighter interceptor bases in the northeast.


The multiple radars could be used to direct fighter intercepts to multiple inbound targets from this SAGE Bunker. There were many live practice intercepts coordinated by this SAGE unit at Stewart for training. In back of the Bunker, now overgrown with brush, there still is the abandoned power station, emergency generators and huge transformers that produced the dedicated electrical power to operate the SAGE Bunker. Reports have it that the Bunker walls are almost three feet thick.


There was also placed on the high hill to the rear of the Bunker Building, a large radar dish, similar to the one that still exists at the old Montauk Air Force Station at the eastern end of Long Island. The Stewart radar dish was dismantled in the 1970’s when the Stewart AFB closed. There is still an abandoned road that goes up the hill to the old Stewart Radar Site. The entire system, including Stewart’s alert F-86 and F-102 fighters, were all tied into the NORAD/ ADC national Command Center and if given the “Go” order, could launch a coordinated attack of US Northeast Sector fighter interceptors, BOMARC and Nike nuclear tipped SAM missiles against a Soviet bomber attack in the early Cold War. This was “Dr. Strangelove” and “Wargames” all happening for real right here at Stewart AFB !!


The Stewart NORAD/ADC SAGE Direction Center-02 and Command Center-04 were activated in 1957 and deactivated in 1969. The Stewart SAGE operations were transferred in 1969 to the SAGE DC-03 and CC-01 at the Syracuse Air Force Station, then to the current NEADS (North East Air Defense Sector) Control Center at the old Griffiss AFB in Rome, NY. This NEADS unit controlled all fighter intercepts and tracked all four attacking airliners during the 9/11 airliner attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Some SAGE systems remained active until 1983 when they were replaced by newer technology with the Joint Surveillance System (JSS).

On November 1, 2005, the NEADS and SEADS systems consolidated and became the Eastern Air Defense System (EADS), still based out at the old Griffiss AFB in Rome, NY. Its responsibility now was to provide detection and air defense to the entire eastern USA east of the Mississippi River for both external and internal air attack. You might say that the SAGE system from Stewart AFB is still alive and well and living at the EADS Bunker at the old Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York, still protecting us from the Bad Guys!!

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