So there we were
standing in the Griffiss control tower, 10 floors high. At least I think
that's how many floors I counted as we walked up carrying cameras and other
gear. The elevator wasn't working.
We were there as part of a tour of Griffiss, taping things for a WUTR
To the east of the tower we looked over at the Family Dollar construction
project. This is going to be one huge distribution center, and it is
bringing more jobs and more activity to Griffiss.
I was looking at the multi-million dollar distribution center, but I was
remembering when multi-million dollar airplanes sat there, protected by
fences, electronic detection devices, dogs, and armed guards, who, as signs
announced, were authorized to shoot.
Tour guide Fred Tillman, president of the Griffiss Local Development
Corporation's board, was standing next to me in the control tower. He was
remembering those Cold War years, too.
"That's where we stored the Cruise missiles," Tillman said, pointing north
to the other side of the runway at ammunition bunkers, doors now opened.
Turning and pointing east, between the control tower and the Family Dollar
site, Tillman said, "Those hangars housed the fighters."
He was referring to F-106 jets flown by the 49th Fighter Interceptor
Squadron, which, during the Cold War, was always on alert, just as ready as
the heavy aircraft in the 416th Bomb Wing, made up of B-52s, filled with
missiles and bombs, and KC-135s, filled with gas for mid-air refueling of
"This was a busy place," Tillman said. He should know. He was commander of
the 416th Bomb Wing.
Tillman was leading a television crew from WUTR on a tour of Griffiss. The
station will air a two-part special about Griffiss later this month.
Tillman, who flew B-52s over Vietnam, talked about how the aircraft was
armed, how it handled, how crews were kept on alert 24/7 and how they raced
to their aircraft and got them rolling down the long Griffiss runway in just
a very few minutes.
But on this day the only jets to be seen from the control tower were two
757s, belonging to a charter company, parked on the tarmac near the Empire
Aero Center, a company that is looking to hire airplane mechanics and others
needed to give major overhauls to airplanes ranging from C-130s to huge
747s. Business is good at Empire, as well as at many other businesses around
We spent a full day at Griffiss, remembering when and looking at new
construction and improvements.
The part of the tour I liked best was the control tower. It's a beautiful
360-degree view, especially on a sunny day. From the tower, in your mind's
eye, you can see the things that made Griffiss a great Air Force base. With
your real eyes, you can see the history now being made at Griffiss.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and