On Feb. 19, 1949 — the day of his last, tragic flight — Main Donald C. Jones was skimming over the snow-covered plains of North Dakota in an F-51. It was the enduring single-engine fighter airplane that’s come to represent the early years of American air energy, and it lower a powerful silhouette. Temperatures statewide hovered near zero or effectively under, and the icy wind flowing over the wings was absolutely tugging at his controls.

Jones was the commanding officer of the state’s Air Nationwide Guard, and he was main throughout a time of disaster. That winter’s snow — in some areas, the worst in 60 years — hemmed in ranchers and buried their herds from Nevada to the northern plains, threatening the lives of tons of of 1000’s of sheep and cattle. The U.S. Air Drive, confronted with an agricultural calamity, started scrambling planes, loading them with hay, and bombing American farms with the feed the herds wanted to outlive. The mission received its personal catchy moniker: “Operation Haylift.”

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North Dakota airmen had been quickly flying a type of home bombing mission, with sorties out of Minot showering ranchland with the hay cattle wanted to outlive. Historian David W. Mills, in his Chilly Struggle ebook on the northern plains, recalled that pilots and crew members even spoke about it in tactical phrases — looking for out a “goal,” making a low-flying cross and ringing the bell that signaled a bombardier to feed the cattle under.

Jones, in his F-51, wasn’t on a bombing mission, however was charged with scouting out anybody in want of assist. The snow had been devastating not only for ranchers, however for normal of us caught in deep blizzard situations, too.

It’s simple to think about him peering by way of a thick haze on the floor under, or preventing to take care of management in heavy wind. Regardless of the last moments of his flight may need been, they’re misplaced to historical past. Jones died that day when his airplane crashed.

It was a tragic, early second in North Dakotan flight and, as American air energy grew, would mark solely the start of its story within the state. Throughout the following century, Jones’ flight can be adopted by Chilly Struggle interceptors, bombers, nuclear missiles and drones.

However, on a frigid winter’s day in 1949, all that was but to come back. Operation Haylift was exhibiting what airplanes may just do because the Berlin Airlift, the well-known air mission to interrupt a Soviet blockade, performed out in Europe. Each occasions, Mills argued, underscored the potential of American air energy — simply because the Chilly Struggle started in earnest.

Explosive development

That is the third installment in a five-part sequence on North Dakota’s historical past, produced by Discussion board Information Service and the North Dakota Newspaper Affiliation Training Basis. The sequence explores what’s made North Dakota into what it’s as we speak: A deep-red GOP stronghold with socialist establishments — one foot firmly planted firmly in oil, and the opposite agriculture. Immediately’s installment explores the Chilly Struggle, which remodeled the state’s economic system and made it a navy linchpin.

Robert Branting supervises the historic nuclear missile launch website close to Cooperstown. He factors out that because the Chilly Struggle started, North Dakota was completely poised for interceptor and bomber squadrons that could possibly be shortly flown into the tense, over-the-pole nuclear standoff with the us.

The chance for the state — and for particular person communities — was large. A brand new base would imply billions of {dollars} for native economies in coming a long time, and the post-war period noticed a fierce competitors for the navy’s favor. Grand Forks and Minot received out by buying large swaths of land and providing them as donations, Mills remembers, a lot to the chagrin of their rivals in Fargo, Bismarck, Devils Lake and elsewhere (“I’ve obtained some imply letters from nearly each metropolis in North Dakota,” Sen. Milton Younger, R-N.D., wrote to a constituent).


This fowl’s-eye-view of Grand Forks Air Drive Base was taken in 1962, the identical yr of the Cuban Missile Disaster.

The bases at Grand Forks and Minot, based in the course of the Nineteen Fifties, grew over the next a long time to incorporate these fighters and bombers that had been so integral to nationwide protection. The panorama of North Dakota grew dotted with nuclear missile websites, too.

And, as anticipated, navy investments proved a bonanza in North Dakota — nowhere extra clearly than at Minot and Grand Forks Air Drive bases. In each counties, the inhabitants surged between 1950 and 1970: by 55% in Grand Forks County and by 68% in Ward County. In the meantime, the remainder of the state noticed a 3% drop in its inhabitants.

Branting mentioned that, had been it not for these air bases, Grand Forks and Minot would have been remarkably completely different for the missed funding. Grand Forks, dwelling to the College of North Dakota, would possibly nonetheless have a bigger statewide function — however that’s doubtless all.

“They might not be the communities they’re as we speak — particularly Minot,” he mentioned.

The end result was a reshaped state, with larger city facilities alongside Freeway 2. As an alternative of Bismarck and Fargo dominating the city lifetime of North Dakota, Minot and Grand Forks grew to become two of the state’s foremost cities.

‘The one ones left or the primary ones to go’

The missile silos, particularly, had been part of the favored creativeness because the U.S. endured its decades-long standoff with the us. The North Dakota State Historic Society, in interviews with Chilly Struggle-era North Dakotans, information Merl Paaverud — who would go on to turn into director of the society — explaining what life was like in a land speckled with nuclear weapons.


On this Eighties photograph, airmen are inspecting the surface-level portion of a missile silo, a key a part of the U.S. nuclear protection arsenal. Many missile silos dotted North Dakota in the course of the Chilly Struggle.

“It was in your thoughts. You didn’t fear about it, you didn’t anticipate sooner or later to be in your tractor digging and searching again and seeing the smoke popping out of [the silo], both,” Paaverud mentioned. “It by no means occurred, however it may have occurred.”

And in October 1962, it nearly did. The Cuban Missile Disaster unfolded because the U.S. and USSR entered a tense standoff over the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba. In North Dakota, as President John F. Kennedy took to tv, viewers at dwelling and across the state started to know how dire the scenario had turn into.

“Crowds gathered round each tv set on campus, and directors famous that nobody spoke in the course of the president’s handle. Solely after the speech did anybody focus on the story. Some tried to make mild of the scenario, referring to their draft standing,” Mills remembers. “As some sixty individuals gathered round a tv in a Fargo resort foyer, enterprise got here to a standstill.”

Concern was simply as intense on the bases. John Good friend, an Air Drive mechanic who labored on F-101 Voodoo interceptors, recalled in a 2016 Grand Forks Herald interview that he’d slept on the wing of an airplane in the course of the disaster, able to spring into motion in a second.

“It was jumpy,” Good friend mentioned. “Scary, jumpy — we thought this was it. We thought (for) certain there was going to be a nuclear trade. At the moment, we did not know if we had been going to be the one ones left or the primary ones to go.”

The disaster, after all, handed, and North Dakota was capable of breathe a sigh of aid.

And, after all, the Chilly Struggle itself ended, too. In Grand Forks, bombers departed, and so did nuclear weapons, changed by unmanned plane and the aerospace corporations that visitors in them (far fewer Chilly Struggle capabilities have been phased out in Minot).

However the significance to the state economic system — irrespective of the mission — has remained fixed.


On this Eighties photograph, airmen scramble towards a ready airplane at Grand Forks Air Drive Base, maybe for a Chilly Struggle-era drill or train.

“Once I was within the Air Drive, we purchased our furnishings on the town, we purchased our vehicles on the town,” mentioned former Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown, who was as soon as a missile launch officer. “That gave stability to the economic system. As a result of farms have ups and downs. Tourism has ups and downs. However the navy was a constant supply of individuals.”

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President John F. Kennedy visited Grand Forks Air Drive Base simply months earlier than he was assassinated. Present right here, he boards the steps of Air Drive One on the bottom’s runway on Sept. 25, 1963.


On this Nineteen Nineties photograph, an airman speaks by way of the telephone from a missile launch facility station.


On this undated photograph, an Air Drive missile trailer drives on a snowy highway in North Dakota.

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