Former Onizuka Air Station ready for new challenges

  • Published
  • By Scott Johnston
For more than 50 years, Onizuka Air Force Station was a top secret member of the Air Force Satellite Control Network. The installation is now ready to take on new frontiers.

The "Blue Cube" building on Onizuka AFS played a critical role in our nation's security and protection since 1960. The station started off conducting operations on the nation's first imagery satellite, the Corona spacecraft.
Following the success of the Corona mission, the installation became part of the Air Force Satellite Control Network, which provided the world's only global antenna network for command and control for military, intelligence and civil spacecraft constellations.

In 2005, Onizuka AFS was selected for closure by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, with the recommendation to move operations to Vandenberg Air Force Base consolidating satellite command and control operations while reducing excess infrastructure. The goal of the BRAC's decision was to generate a more efficient use of Air Force resources and savings to the American taxpayer.

The decommission process began on July 28, 2010, and Onizuka AFS's final inactivation ceremonies took place Thursday, Sep 15, 2011.

"The men and women who operated this facility provided our country with crucial information," said Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg, Commander, 21st Space Operations Squadron. "They provided our war fighters with information they needed to face unknown challenges on the battlefield. Our civil space program would not have been as robust without the efforts of Onizuka."

The Air Force officially transferred the operations to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California in 2010 and a transition team ensured that the property transfer was accomplished on time and on budget.

The transition team consisted of the Air Force Space Command, the 21st Space Operations Squadron, the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment and the Air Force Real Property Agency (AFRPA), all of whom have worked cooperatively to accomplish this transition. "In the past there were many challenges with transfers from the vacating tenant to the receiving agency," said Base Transition Coordinator Steve Mayer of AFRPA. "Everyone that signed on to the transition team here at Onizuka did a great job accomplishing their role to get us to this point.

It's a good news story of the successful use of a transition team strategy with all the parties continuously involved."

Throughout the closing process, steps were taken to ensure the installation would make a seamless transition from military base to a productive part of the community.

The 19.2 total acres that make up Onizuka AFS will be divided among the Veterans Administration, the City of Sunnyvale and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

AFRPA and the VA, have established a caretaker service agreement to provide around the clock security and emergency repairs for the facility. The Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment will oversee the execution of the agreement, which is in place until all property is transferred. The Air Force plans to complete this transfer of 4.4 acres, to the VA this fall.

The Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition and Charities Housing Development Corporation have made a claim for 4.6 acres. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will process this claim. However, discussions are taking place for MPHC and CHDC to vacate their interest in the property in exchange for a local armory site owned by the City of Sunnyvale.

Foothill-De Anza Community College District is slated to receive 9.2 acres with plans to build a new regional education facility at the site. Should the additional 4.6 acres become available, it is envisioned to be redeveloped by education-based commercial ventures. The final acre will be transferred to the City of Sunnyvale Fire Department
through the Federal Emergency Management Agency .

"If one were able to look into a crystal ball," Mayer said, "three years from now this property will likely be home to a new fire station expansion, a renovated VA office and research facility, and new education complex adding to the great redevelopment already happening around Onizuka."

Onizuka was originally commissioned as the Sunnyvale Air Station, but was later renamed for Astronaut Col. Ellison Onizuka, who trained there and was later killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

"All of the space programs known on the planet earth, from GPS, to Galileo, to the shuttle program all happened because of the men and women at Onizuka," said Col. Michael Finn, Commander, 50th Network Operations Group. "For the last half century the folks here have pushed the envelope. There were things being done here that could not be done anywhere else in the world."

AFRPA acquires, manages and disposes of Air Force-controlled real property worldwide. The agency's BRAC division has managed the remediation and transfer of more than 77,500 acres of property at 40 former installations throughout the U.S. to local communities for economic development.

For more information on the Air Force's BRAC environmental cleanup program, please call 866-725-7617 or email

Linda Geissinger
Regional Public Affairs Officer
Air Force Real Property Agency
(916) 643-6420 x109
cell: (916) 708-1526