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Forbes Field: 548th Strategic Missile Squadron

Based out of Forbes Field in Topeka from 1961 to 1964, the 548th Strategic Missile Squadron was composed of a "ring" of nine sites around Topeka that had silos for the Atlas series of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), the first ICBM used by the United States.

Originally a bomber squadron, this unit was deployed to England during World War II. After the war, the squadron was deactivated in 1949 due to post war budget constraints. In the late 1950's, the Airforce's Ballistic Missile Division scoured the Great Plains for potential ballistic missile locations. Topeka was chosen as both a "low cost" site for the Atlas series and because of it's "strategic" location as it was seen that the Topeka site would be serve as a "last ditch" site if other U.S. missile sites were knocked out by a Soviet attack. The 90 foot tall Atlas ICBM had a range of 6,000 miles and carried a 4 megaton yield warhead.

The base would originate in Forbes Field; Forbes at the time housed strategic bombers but the inclusion of ICBM launch sites officially transformed it into a Strategic Air Command Base. In 1959 the Topeka sites were approved by the Secretary of Defense and took 14 months and $35 Million dollars to construct. The 548th was reactivated in 1961 as a ballistic missile unit and from 1961-64, the crews at nine separate launch sites stood at the ready 24 hours a day in the event an order to launch was given.

The locations of the nine Kansas launching sites are:

  • Holton
  • Rock Creek
  • Delia
  • Wamego
  • Worden
  • Dover
  • Burlingame
  • Waverly
  • Bushong

In 1964 the 548th was deactivated when newer, more reliable and precise missiles rendered the Atlas obsolete. The Atlas missiles had few accidents over the course of service; three of them in New Mexico silos, one in Oklahoma but none in Kansas.

After the Atlas program was cancelled, private entities showed interest in purchasing the silos for their own use. Jackson Heights K-12 school in Holton was built from a decommissioned Atlas silo. Jackson Heights' teachers use the silo as an educational aide in teaching students about the Cold War as well as a general storage area and garage for buses. 

A silo in Wamego was converted into a home in 1996.

Entry: Forbes Field: 548th Strategic Missile Squadron

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2015

Date Modified: December 2015

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.