Mention Albuquerque to the average person and he or she likely will say, “Oh, yes, that's where they fly all those beautiful hot air balloons every year.” The same person probably has no idea how much scientific experimentation has taken place here since WWII and the tremendous impact the actions at this base have made on world history.
Travelers passing through the area on east-west Interstate 40 will see a lot of growth and development, new buildings and heavy local traffic — maybe even a little smog, of all things. But they won't see or hear much about the exotic past research and development that no doubt will continue well into the future.
What began as the small Albuquerque Army Air Field in 1939 merged with Sandia Base in 1943 and was renamed Kirtland when the Amy Air Corps became the U. S. Air Force in 1947. Today, it is one is one of the Air Force Materiel Command's largest facilities — occupying 52,000 acres and employing almost 20,000 people, 9,700 of whom work in non-federal and civilian contractor positions. Recent analysis notes that Kirtland's economic impact on the City of Albuquerque amounts to $3.2 billion.
The catalyst for what has evolved here since 1945 was the most significant event of the 20th century - the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Not only did this change the course of the war, but also the military thinking from conventional to nuclear weaponry.
That same year, the Manhattan Engineering District created the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project at Sandia Base (which became the Air Force Special Weapons Center in 1953). The pioneering agencies occupying the base since early 1946, gaining information on nuclear weapon development and deployment, constituted the greatest body of knowledge and training capability available anywhere.
Through years of growth and change, several major commands have headquartered at Kirtland and in 1993 it came under control of the newly-formed Air Force Materiel Command. Its current host organization is the 337th Air Base Wing, which supports more than 150 tenant organizations.
These tenants include Air Force Phillips Laboratory, Air Force Operational Test & Evaluation Center, 58th Special Operations Wing, New Mexico Air National Guard, Defense Nuclear Agency Field Command, Air Force Security Police Agency, Air Force Inspection Agency, Air Force Safety Agency, Department of Energy and Sandia National Laboratories.
One of the most interesting free attractions in the Southwest is the National Atomic Museum here. It displays casings of atomic bomb types, nuclear carrying aircraft and weapons, models of atomic powered ships, detailed exhibits, movies, etc.
The prime tenant at Kirtland AFB is Sandia National Laboratories. It got its start in 1945 at Albuquerque as a division of Los Alamos National Laboratory. In 1949, President Harry Truman wrote a letter to American Telephone & Telegraph Corporation with an offer of “an opportunity to render an exceptional service in the national interest, by managing Sandia.” AT&T complied.
The original mission was to provide engineering support in the design of nuclear weapons. That mission has expanded through the years to include many other aspects of national security as well. Since the early 70s, Sandia has also conducted energy and environmental research.
Sandia is a Department of Energy laboratory and in 1993 the Department awarded Sandia's management contract to Martin Marietta Corporation. (now Lockheed Martin Corp.) Today Sandia operates as part of Lockheed Martin's Energy & Environmental Sector headquartered in New Mexico. Typical Sandia projects include these diverse efforts:
Centrifuge launch simulation
Electromagnetic environment simulation
Aircraft fuel fire simulation
Horizontal actuator for shock pulse
Core reactor melt experimentation
Light-initiated high explosive testing
Radiant heat simulation
Rocket sled testing
System response instrumentation
Vibration and modal testing
Water impact scale model testing
Microscopic motor manufacturing
Rocket-building robot manufacturing
Chip reliability testing
Spectrograph analysis of plasma cells
Programs in electronics, computers, space environment, energy, nonproliferation, etc.
Although sharing new technologies with industry is not a primary mission of Sandia, some business partnership result from doing cutting-edge research and development in support of national goals.
Over the years Sandia has worked with companies large and small, developing such things as solar energy systems, more efficient automobile engines and transferring useful technologies.
During 1994-95, it purchased $880 million worth of goods and services — including $470 million in New Mexico and $115 million in California. Of this amount, almost half went to small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses and small women-owned businesses.