When we were routing our trip, we were looking for a waypoint between Ely, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah. Situated about midpoint on our map was the small city of West Wendover, Nevada – located right on the Nevada-Utah border. West Wendover was familiar to us because of a recent Dateline NBC program we watched about the murder of a young high school girl.
We knew the Bonneville Salt Flats were nearby and read about a small air museum. Little did we know what a gem of a museum we’d find – and the enormous role the area played in ending World War II.
Historic Wendover Airfield Museum
When we visited the Airfield Museum, we weren’t expecting much. It appeared to be a rather small airfield with dilapidated buildings. Inside, we found a small but very informative museum that educated us on history we weren’t too familiar with.
In 1942 Wendover Army Air Base became a training base for B-17 and B-24 heavy bombers, as well as for artillery. In fact, during World War II, General Douglas MacArthur praised the artillery soldiers from Wendover as the best in the Army. At its peak, Wendover housed over 20,000 troops.
After President Roosevelt established the Manhattan Project to develop America’s atomic bomb, the B-29 bomber was chosen as the delivery vehicle and Colonel Paul Tibbets was appointed to head the select team that would train to drop the bomb. Only Tibbets knew the mission of the group and he selected the Wendover airfield because of its isolation to help with security, and the wide open spaces that were available for training.
It was here that they built and tested the two bombs Little Boy and Fat Man that would eventually deliver the knockout blow to the Japanese culminating in Japan’s ultimate surrender.
The Enola Gay – the bomber that delivered Little Boy on Hiroshima – was based here, and Colonel Tibbets and his team tested and practiced dropping “Potato Bombs” that were the same size and shape as Little Man into the Utah desert.
We really learned a lot here – like the fact that the Norden Bombsight was developed to make our bombers more accurate. The actual bombsights were removed from the planes after each run and locked away to keep them secret.
Also, the nuclear materials were not at Wendover, but were added to the bomb in the Mariana Islands before being flown to Japan.
It’s a tremendous amount of history in this one little airfield, and we highly recommend a visit if you’re traveling along Highway 80.
Here are more highlights from our stop. Many more photos in the gallery.
Here’s an early example of “fake news.” Much like the infamous “Battle of Los Angeles” which inspired the movie “1941,” no Japanese fighters flew over California.
Wendover Airfield has also been the backdrop for quite a few movies including Hulk (2003), The Core (2003), Independence Day (1996), Mulholland Falls (1996), and Con Air (1997). Below is the airplane used in the filming of Con Air.
Bonneville Salt Flats
Just outside of Wendover are the Bonneville Salt Flats. Racing has taken place on the salt flats since 1914, and this part has become known as the Bonneville Speedway. There are five major speed events that take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. In mid-August is Bonneville “Speed Week,” followed in September by the “World of Speed,” and the “World Finals” in early October.
Because of the heavy rains this year, much of the salt is still under water, but it makes a beautiful landscape.
More images in the gallery.
Tom Hanks and his brother were on a low-key trip traveling in a camper van and stayed at the same KOA campground we stayed. When they were leaving town, they ran out of gas. Here’s a newspaper article with the story.
Until next time … Happy Trails!