Top 10 Largest Air Force Bases In The United States

Ken Hyde

By Ken Hyde

Last updated:

Many wonder how the U.S. has trained some of its most advanced electronic warfare aircraft throughout decades without any civilian planes interfering. The answer is simple: thousands of large Air Force bases were built in remote areas solely for training projects.

US Airforce base map
US Airforce base map (Source: Reddit)

Let’s look at some of the biggest bases in the U.S. to date.

10 Biggest Air Force Bases In The United States

10. Joint Base San Antonio – 72.7 square miles

F16 fly over Joint Base San Antonio.
F16 fly over Joint Base San Antonio.

Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) is the largest air force base in Texas, covering about 72 square miles. 

Its history stretches back to 1930 with the establishment of Randolph Air Field. But it wasn’t until 2005 — following recommendations from Congress — that JBSA officially came into being. 

The idea then was to merge three nearby military facilities, which had been operating completely in separation, into one unified base. As a result, in October 2010, U.S. Army Fort Sam Houston, Randolph, and Lackland Air Force Bases officially merged to form JBSA.

JBSA has been a pivotal hub for training pilots within the USAF, where they undergo training on advanced aircraft like the Northrop Talon T-38 or Raytheon Jayhawk T-1A. Numerous military units are stationed here, including:

  • 16th Air Force
  • 37th Training Wing
  • 59th Medical Wing
  • 149th Fighter Wing
  • 433d Airlift Wing
  • 24th Air Force Wing

9. Kirtland Air Force Base – 80.6 square miles

Kirtland Air Force Base

Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB) is the biggest Air Force Global Strike Command installation. With an expansive area of over 80 square miles, the base is home to 23,000 personnel, including 3,200 Reserve staff, 1,000 Guard personnel, and over 4,200 duty members. 

During World War II, Kirtland played an extremely pivotal role, particularly as a vital transportation camp for scientists who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. 

The close distance between the base and Los Alamos made it the primary airport for the atomic bomb project from 1944 to 1945, with its bomb loading pit and runways supporting hundreds of critical military operations. 

Atomic bombs aside, it was also a key staging area for transporting men and materials to different field sites.

8. Edwards Air Force Base – 470 square miles

Edwards Air Force Base

EAFB is about 6.8 miles southwest of North Edwards. It covers a 301,000-acre area (470 square miles) and ranks as one of the biggest Air Force bases in the country. The base has been operational since 1933; much of its land has been left undeveloped or only partially improved, mainly for flight testing purposes.

A closer look reveals that EAFB is bordered by the Rosamond and Rogers dry lake beds, approximately 100 miles northeast of L.A. 

The Rogers Lakebed (44 square miles) has a hardened clay surface for emergency aircraft landings. On the other hand, Rosamond (21 square miles in total, southwest of Rogers) provides a flat, smooth surface for research, routine plane tests, and additional emergency landings. 

Its housing office manages 291 houses, each approximately 500 square feet, including 16 for SNCOs (Senior Non-Commissioned Officers) and 58 for regular officers. So far, nearly every U.S. military aircraft has undergone partial testing at the base – which further reflects its significant role in the country’s defense operations.

7. Eglin Air Force Base – 640 square miles

Eglin Air Force Base

Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), situated in the Florida Panhandle, is the largest Air Force base in the area. It has a special airspace designated for testing and evaluation purposes – which is all the more crucial now that Eglin AFB hosts training for the Joint Strike Fighter. For this mission, aircraft fleets are required to fly at low altitudes into specific areas around the base.

To ensure these areas remain clear for military activities, Eglin AFB and its associates are conserving extensive land sections under and near the base’s airspace (preserving wildlife corridors included). One example is the Northwest Florida Green Way, a 100-mile stretch connecting Eglin AFB with the Apalachicola Forest.

6. Fort IrWin – 1,000 square miles

Fort IrWin

The National Training Center boasts over 1,000 square miles of desert terrain for large-scale military exercises, including simulated urban environments, mountainous areas, and open lands for practicing various combat scenarios. 

Most importantly, there’s a restricted airspace designated for military use, which allows for large-scale air-to-air practice fights without any interference from civilian air traffic. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (also known as the Blackhorse Regiment) is permanently stationed at Fort Irwin, serving as an adaptable, highly trained opposing force to stimulate real-world enemy tactics.

5. Twentynine Palms – 1,100 square miles

Twentynine Palms

As the United States Marine Corps’ largest base, MCAGCC specializes in conducting large-scale, combined-arms training exercises that integrate air, ground, and logistical support to prepare Marines for real-world combat scenarios.

A sizable population resides on MCAGCC, including over 12,500 active-duty Marines, along with their families (around 24,000 people) and DOD employees and contractors (roughly 21,000). Hence, the base offers various facilities and services to support those stationed there, including:

  • Commissary
  • Child care centers
  • Exchange stores,
  • Recreational facilities
  • Hospitals

4. Utah Test and Training Range – 2,675 square miles

Utah Test and Training Range

UTTR is recognized as the largest contiguous overland military training range in the United States, spanning an impressive 2,675 square miles with over 19,000 square miles of restricted airspace. National defense units like the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings have relied on the base for support. 

The base serves as a critical location for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct various tests and training exercises for the United States Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps Air Station. High-quality fighter jets in the U.S.’s aviation history, such as the F-35 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, and other advanced combat units, have also been trained and maintained here.

3. Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range – 2,969 square miles

F-35 Lightning II training at Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range
F-35 Lightning II training at Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range

The complex is a massive training area for U.S. soldiers and pilots, spanning over 2900 square miles (1.9 million acres) between Tucson and Yuma. Its airspace above covers 57,000 cubic miles, where pilots engage in air-to-air operations or train with simulated on-the-ground targets.

BMGR could afford multiple training activities simultaneously on 2 air-to-air and 9 air-to-ground ranges. Luke Airforce Base Management Office supervises eastern activities, while Marine Corps Yuma Air Station manages the western side.

Since 1941, military pilots from various branches – Navy, Army, allied Air Force, Marine Corps Air Station, and Guard units – have utilized the base to refine their combat skills. Pilots fly over 68,000 sorties within the range each year, benefiting from its vast, unpopulated terrain and favorable flying conditions.

And yet, despite nearly six decades of military use, the entire complex remains relatively undisturbed. In fact, only around 6% of this land is heavily redesigned for infrastructure (roads, support areas, targets, etc.). The remaining 94% still retains its natural Sonoran Desert habitat.

2. White Sands Missile Range – 3,200 square miles

White Sands Missile Range

The White Sands Missile Range (originally called the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range) is nestled in south-central New Mexico. Throughout history, it has been involved in numerous significant military milestones.

For instance, WSMR witnessed the dawn of the nuclear age with the Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, in 1945. A year later, it served as the launch site for the V-2 rocket, captured from Germany during World War II, which paved the way for future American missile and space exploration programs.

Aside from the American troops, WSMR also supports the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and even international partners and commercial entities on a reimbursable basis. Over 3,000 tests are conducted annually. 

1. Nellis Air Force Base – 5,000 square miles

Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis houses the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center – the world’s most extensive and demanding advanced place for air combat training program.

It tests new Air Force combat tactics, aircraft capabilities, and weapons systems, sometimes collaborating with other military branches and even international allies to promote air-combat interoperability. 

Military practices and experiments aside, one of Nellis’s best highlights is its annual Aviation Nation Airshow, typically held in November. 

This free, three-day event has been a major crowd-pleaser, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Each show centers on aerial demonstrations by USAF Thunderbirds and other military aircraft to introduce Air Force equipment to the public, accompanied by numerous food vendors and entertainment booths.


Nellis tops our list as the biggest U.S. Air Base and one of the most exciting tourist destinations nationwide. 

All these bases are important witnesses of the country’s wartime past and continue to fulfill their basic military training missions today. Feel free to contact us if you want to learn more about them.

See more:

Share on:
Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde is the founder of The Wright Experience™. He is passionate about antique airplanes and has restored many of the Wright brothers' planes, including the 1918 Curtiss Jenny and the 1903 Wright Flyer. He is also a pilot and mechanic who has worked for Capital Airlines, Bendix Corporation, and American Airlines.

Leave a Comment