WWII Satellite Airfield

During the dark days of WWII after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US Congress responded with massive defense appropriations, including $200M for airport development across the country. The Lewistown Satellite Airfield was constructed in Lewistown during World War II as one of four training facilities for B-17 Flying Fortress crew members and included a storage site for the top secret Norden Bombsight. The Norden Bombsight, a synchronous stabilized bomb-aiming device, was considered fundamental in America's precision bombing doctrine. The extant bombsight storage shelter which housed the bombsight is one of a few known buildings of this type remaining in the United States. With construction complete by 1942, Lewistown was built as a satellite field for Great Falls Air Base. Squadrons were trained in the navigation of the B-17 in addition to receiving gunnery and bombing practice. Once their training was complete, the men were sent to the European front. The airfield was in operation during a 12-month period between 1942 and 1943 and thereafter deactivated.

The historic district retains all original buildings within its boundaries, with the exception of a guard house previously located southeast of the bombsight storage building. The Norden Bombsight was stored in a small one-story building constructed of poured concrete. Divided into two vaults, the Norden device was only accessible through bank vault doors. Other extant buildings include a hangar, the operations building, an armament building and an underground storage vault. The field was declared surplus in 1944 and has served the local community as a municipal airport ever since.

Seventeen buildings were built in this satellite airfield, many of which can still be seen today:

  • Bombsight storage building
  • Hangar
  • Oil and storage house
  • Operations and alert building
  • Enlisted men's recreation hall
  • Crew Chief building
  • Armament building
  • General purpose shop
  • Pre-war hangar
  • Training building
  • Camouflage building
  • Warehouses
  • Elevated water storage tank
  • Employee house
  • Fire pump house
  • Storage reservoir
  • Machine shop

More information about this historic site can be found at the National Park Service website or in the Lewistown, Montana: A Tour of Historic Lewistown brochure available at the Yogo Inn.

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