Roswell International Air Center (RIAC)
(Roswell Army Air Field and Walker Air Force Base buildings, Alien Autopsy site, ENMU-R, Hanger-84, and more)
In 1940 the United States Army built an airfield and pilot training facility on vacant land just south of Roswell: Roswell Army Air Field where pilots and bombardiers trained throughout World War II. After the war it became home to the nation’s only atomic warfare group, with the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, based here.
After the Air Force separated from the Army in 1947 RAAF took the name Walker Air Force Base, in honor of Brigadier General Kenneth Walker of Cerrillos, NM, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who died in the Pacific in 1942. It became one of the largest installations operated by the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command.
Walker Air Force Base closed in 1967. The City of Roswell took over the land and facilities and began promoting the Roswell Industrial Air Center to educational and health-care institutions as well as to manufacturing companies, especially those related to aircraft industries. Its 13,000’ (4,000 m) runway, along with Roswell’s good weather and low volume of air traffic, has made the RIAC a popular location for training airline and military pilots. Private individuals have bought many of the former base quarters as low-cost housing.
Recently the City renamed the facility the Roswell International Air Center. It has also been designated a “Foreign Trade Zone,” which brings businesses tax benefits.
Entrance. (South end of Main Street). The public entrance and guard box for Walker Air Force Base once stood where Main Street becomes the Esplanade—the landscaped median between the two lanes of Walker Boulevard—just south of the railroad tracks. Today this is the beginning of the RIAC, as the sign indicates.
Burrowing Owls often stand beside ground squirrel holes in open areas east and west of the Esplanade, and the ground squirrels themselves scamper across the lawns during the summer. The railroad tracks, a branch of a spur from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line three miles (5 km) to the east, are no longer in regular use. Built in the 1970s to provide rail access to the Bus Plant, these are some of the newest railroad tracks in New Mexico. The government built the main spur that ends near the Water Tower in 1941 to provide rail access to the RAAF for supplies and heavy equipment.
New Mexico Rehabilitation Center (31 Gail Harris Avenue). Here patients from all over the state receive a wide range of rehabilitation services including physical and occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, social work, and psychological services. The Center, a major employer in the Roswell area, also operates an in-patient drug and alcohol treatment program.
This building is sometimes called the site of the alien autopsy. Tourists are often told that military physicians autopsied alien creatures found with the crashed flying saucer in 1947 inside this facility. The RAAF Hospital in 1947 was actually a one-story frame building constructed on this site in 1942, however. This two-story brick building, completed in 1960, stands a little to the north and west of the original hospital but does have a unique claim to fame: the world’s only “resident alien” ghost. Members of the Rehab Center night shift tell stories of unusual sightings in dimly lit corridors. One is of a military man in uniform who seems comforting as he walks the halls. A more interesting presence, only glimpsed occasionally at the end of a corridor, is about four feet tall, human-like, but very thin with a large head and dark, slanted eyes. Why would an alien ghost appear here? Several witnesses claimed that at least one alien was recovered alive from the saucer wreckage in 1947, only to die later in the RAAF hospital.
A new building for the Rehabilitation Center will be constructed on the ENMU-R campus some time in the next few years. The future of this structure and its “residents” remains unknown. 347-3400.
Secret Cities (? ? ?). Rumors have circulated for years—and now appear on the Internet—about secret underground government installations in the Roswell vicinity. Most have some connection with the former Air Force base location. Some rumors claim that underground chambers interspersed among the runways still hide secret aircraft. Others describe a network of tunnels, including passageways that connect the former Base Commander’s house on Walker Place with the airport control tower. Still others talk about entire underground cities dedicated to secret activities ranging from work on new weapons to breeding experiments on captured aliens. Whoever operates these facilities must be a tight-lipped, highly disciplined group. Nothing more than rumors has surfaced—so far.
New Mexico Department of Transportation Training Academy (132 West Earl Cummings Loop). This unusual school trains county, state, and tribal employees from all over New Mexico in management skills, truck driving, and the operation of 15 types of road equipment. Photographs of antique road equipment line the building’s halls and lobby.
Parked in front of the Training Academy are two carefully restored antique road graders that trucks, tractors, and sometimes mules pulled in the 1920s. The smaller orange grader on the right of the entrance is a simple model with wheels and cranks to adjust the blade. The larger green model on the left is more sophisticated. Wheels, cranks, and gears control blade angle and elevation, the pitch of the wheels—so they can dig into the roadbed to keep the grader from being pushed sideways by the force of the dirt pushing against the blade—and the position of the wheels to the left or right of the blade. Why are the edges of the operator’s platform angled up on each side? So the operator can always stand on a horizontal surface, even when working on the side of a mountain.
The large boulder under the tree by the orange grader came from blasting work on Highway 70 up toward Ruidoso. Pecos Bill would say that they used a dynamite charge so large that it blew the boulder clear to Roswell. How else could it have gotten here!?
The New Mexico Department of Transportation sponsors an annual Equipment Roadeo at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair in October: a unique and sometimes strange competition for heavy equipment operators.
Eastern New Mexico University—Roswell (ENMU-R) (52 University Boulevard). In 1958 Eastern New Mexico University, located 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Roswell in Portales, established a branch campus in Roswell: Roswell Community College. At first the community college held evening classes at Roswell High School but in 1963 classes moved to the old Federal Building on Richardson Avenue. When Walker Air Force Base closed in 1967, Roswell Community College took over some of the empty buildings and changed its name to Eastern New Mexico University—Roswell. Over the years as new structures have replaced old military buildings, the campus has acquired state-of-the-art facilities in many areas of study. Some of the few remaining Air Force buildings on campus are the Quonset huts housing the Physical Plant at the west end of Mathis Street including some in the back that look like they are made of . . . adobe?
Initially a two-year institution, ENMU-R now also offers access to four-year degrees in conjunction with ENMU and other universities. Academic classes and a large variety of career and technical classes, such as aviation maintenance, criminal justice, nursing, respiratory therapy, computer applications, air conditioning, and dental assisting, are available to its 4,000 mostly commuter students. On-line and satellite courses are also available from the main campus in Portales, and some master’s level programs are even offered now. 624-7000, www.roswell.enmu.edu
The Campus Union houses the newly remodeled and expanded college cafeteria, which is open to the public. The building was originally completed as Walker Air Force Base Officer’s Club in 1959. The grill makes good—and inexpensive—quesadillas, especially if you ask them to throw on some green chile. The original frame building on this site held the Roswell Army Air Field Officer’s Club where Glenn Dennis and Nurse Selff met to discuss the alien autopsy—an inter-esting lunch stop on any UFO Crash tour.
ENMU-R boasts an impressive art collection on display in its many public areas. Michael Orgel’s 1998 bronze sculpture, Departure, representing a bird poised to take off from in front of the Arts and Science Center, celebrates diversity. The foremost piece in the art collection is a 4’ by 16’ (1.2 m by 5 m) painting by Roswell artist Peter Hurd, Round Up at South Spring 1875. In 1965 Hurd, the only civilian aboard a transatlantic Air Force flight, agreed to paint this mural for the Walker Air Force Base Officer’s Club at the end of a rocky trip, later saying he would have promised anything to get off the airplane alive. He donated the tempera-on-masonite painting to what became the “Peter Hurd Dining Room” in the Officer’s Club (now the Campus Union). The painting was later transferred to the college and is now on display in the Student Services Center two buildings south of its original location. A large untitled acrylic painting of a mountain by Roswell oil entrepreneur and artist Donald Anderson and a smaller oil painting by Roswell artist Bill Wiggins entitled Green Apples also brighten the lobby of the Student Services Center. Prospective students will find information about ENMU-R in this building.
New Mexico Army National Guard Armory (1 West Earl Cummings Loop). This most recent National Guard Armory, built in 1988, is home to what is now the New Mexico National Guard 200th Infantry Unit recently returned from Iraq. This group traces its illustrious history back in various configurations to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Battery A of the New Mexico 200th Air Defense Artillery guarded the border with Mexico after Pancho Villa’s attack in 1916, fought in France during World War I, and served in an anti-tank battalion in North Africa and Italy during World War II. A small collection of Unit memorabilia is on display inside the Armory. Previous Armories stood at 108 West 5th Street (p 41) and 4203 West 2nd Street.
The green tank in front of the Armory is an M42A1 Duster, one of over 3,700 built between 1952 and 1957 to replace the World War II Twin 40mm Anti-Aircraft Tank. During the Vietnam era they escorted tank columns and infantry units protecting them against attack from the air. Roswell’s 200th Air Defense Artillery unit used this Duster and the one at de Bremond Training Site from the 1950s until the 1980s.
The sculpture on the Armory lawn represents the symbol of the New Mexico National Guard Air Defense Artillery: a Zia sun sign and a bolt of lightning.
Bus Plant (42 West Earl Cummings Loop). A bus manufacturing plant has operated on and off in the large blue building—originally built as a hangar for B-36 bombers—under different corporate logos since the 1970s. At one time when the plant manufactured buses for New York City, a Roswell wag wrote the Big Apple’s mayor offering to organize groups of local Roswell youth to paint graffiti on the buses before shipping them out. The indignant mayoral aide who responded that “Graffiti no longer appear on New York City buses!” was clearly not amused.
General Aviation Terminal—Great Southwest Aviation (100 Southwest Way). Small private and corporate planes use this area regularly. Flight instruction is also available.
President Reagan toured New Mexico in 1982, campaigning for the reelection of New Mexico’s first astronaut, Senator Harrison Schmitt. The President incorporated Roswell’s alien theme into his speech as he stood on an outdoor platform set up in this area by remarking about Senator Schmitt, “When he was first elected to the Senate, he probably thought that, like E.T., he had landed on another planet. He was one of the few among those alien big spenders, big taxers, who was working to bring economic order to our nation.” In spite of Reagan’s support, Schmitt lost the election. (How could you vote against an astronaut!?)
Vice-President Dick Cheney also spoke to a local crowd inside Hangar 32 in this area during a campaign stop in 2004. Supporters hoped he might reveal something interesting that day, as President Bush had made a campaign promise to put Cheney to work disclosing “the truth about UFOs” if he was elected. The Vice-President stuck strictly to politics, however. Some think the country would have been better off if Cheney had spent more of his time researching UFOs.
Water Tower (100 East Gillis Street). This red and white-checkered tower has supplied water to the RIAC area since 1940. Its bright pattern is meant to attract the attention of low-flying aircraft pilots so they will avoid hitting it. So far it has worked.
Hangar 84 (East Enterprise Avenue). It was here in this former B-29 hangar that the Air Force stored the 1947 UFO Crash debris and alien bodies until it shipped them off to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, so the story goes. The City occasionally uses Hanger 84 for events and activities, but most of the time it stands empty or is used for storage. At one time, tours were available but they are no longer conducted; the area is fenced and locked—no trespassing al-lowed. A small brown sign at the north end of this fourth of five large hangar-like buildings northeast of the Terminal identifies “R.I.A.C. Bldg. 84.”
For more complete information about touring the Roswell International Air Center . . .
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