Kulis Air National Guard Base served Alaska for over 50 years
|Kulis Air National Guard Base in the early 1960s, with a Fairchild C-123J parked in front.|
According to National Park Service documents, Alaska’s first Air National Guard unit, the 8144th Air Base Squadron, was formed at Anchorage in September 1952. In July 1953 the unit was re-designated the 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.
The Air Guard operated out of Elmendorf Air Force Base until 1955. That year 77 acres (later enlarged to 129 acres) was leased at Anchorage’s international airport, and a hangar for maintaining fighter-bombers was constructed at the airport’s southeast corner. The newly-established facility was named Kulis Air National Guard Base, in honor of Lt. Albert Kulis, an Alaska Air Guard pilot killed in a 1954 crash.
In 1957 the unit was re-designated the 144th Air Transportation Squadron. Its first transport planes were Douglas C-47 “Gooney Birds.”
The squadron’s new role required a larger hangar, and in 1959 the hangar shown in the drawing was constructed. This building is 48′ high, 176′ wide and 157′ deep, with steel roof trusses and metal siding. (This second hangar, the only surviving one at the base, is now called Hangar 1.)
A two-story shed-roofed addition was built on the west side of the hangar in 1963. As the 144th shifted to Fairchild C-123 “Provider” transport planes in 1960, and then to Lockeed C-130s in 1976, the roof trusses were modified to accept the higher tail fins of the newer planes.
Kulis planes flew search and rescue and supply missions throughout Alaska, and eventually world-wide. Two of it best-known missions occurred during the 1960s.
The 1964 Good Friday earthquake destroyed much of Southcentral Alaska’s communication infrastructure. Initially, radios in Air Guard C-123s provided the only communications link with the outside world. Also, the Anchorage airport’s control tower collapsed during the earthquake, so a C-123 circling the airport served as a temporary air traffic control center. Over the next few weeks guardsman flew 77 missions evacuating people, and delivering personnel and supplies to communities throughout the region.
Three years later, in summer 1967, the Chena River overflowed its banks inundating the Fairbanks area. Within five hours of learning about the disaster, Kulis planes were in the air. During the next nine days guardsman flew 138 missions, evacuating flood victims and delivering supplies.
In 1969 the Alaska Air Guard unit was re-designated the 176th Tactical Airlift Group. The unit’s functions, the number and types of aircraft it used, and its Kulis facilities greatly expanded over the next 35 years. By the turn of the century the unit was running out of space at Anchorage international airport and a 2005 study recommended that the unit be transferred across town to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER).
In 2011 Kulis closed, and Air Guard personnel and aircraft moved to new facilities at JBER. The Kulis facility reverted to the State and it is now managed as Kulis Business Park. Since closing, 16 of Kulis’s 20 buildings have been demolished. Four buildings remain, including Hangar 1. All of the buildings except the hangar have found new tenants.
Hangar No. 1 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May of this year. Due to contamination, high remediation costs, and other factors, its future remains uncertain.
The plane in the drawing is a Fairchild C-123J transport. The C-123J was a standard C-123B modified for arctic operation. The modifications included small jet engines mounted on its wingtips to provide additional lift for takeoffs from short airstrips and to improve in-flight performance. C-123Js could also be fitted with retractable skis.
The model was developed for the U.S. Strategic Air Command to supply its arctic installations, and the Alaska Air Guard was the only National Guard unit in the U.S to fly C-123Js. The Alaska Region of the Federal Aviation Administration also operated C-123js.. Two C-123js still reside in Alaska: one is on display at the Air Guard facility at JBER, and the other is at the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry in Wasilla.
- “Alaska Air National Guard unit prepares for larger role at Elmendorf.” Fred W. Baker III. American Forces Press Service. 8-21-2007
- “History of Kulis Air National Guard Base.” Robert M. Braley. Jr.. On Alaska Storyteller Photography website, <http://www.alaskastorytellerphotography.com> 2007
- “Kulis Land Use Plan.” State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. 2011
- “Kulis Hangar 1, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Rob Stapleton, Jr.. National Park Service. 2019