Fairchild Air Force Base is located 12 miles west of the city of Spokane, Washington adjacent to US Highway 2 and 3 miles north of Interstate 90. The base is at an elevation of 2,463 feet above sea level and covers approximately 4,300 acres of high plains characteristic of Eastern Washington. Fairchild originated as the Spokane Army Air Depot in 1942 and was turned over to the United States Air Force (Strategic Air Command) in 1947. The base is currently shared with the Washington Air National Guard and several tenant organizations. Several facilities administered by the base are located in the surrounding area off the main base.
Fairchild AFB has been an important part of the Inland Empire since 1942. Construction crews poured the foundations for the first buildings of the Spokane Army Air Depot on March 2, 1942. Two cities in western Washington, Seattle and Everett, also sought to have the base built in their communities. The competition was keen, but Spokane won out in the end for several reasons. The War Department felt that Spokane offered better weather conditions than the western competitors, as well as something they could not offer: 300 miles and a mountain range as a natural barrier to possible Japanese attack. As an added incentive to the War Department, many Spokane businesses and public-minded citizens donated money to purchase the land for the base. At a cost of more than $125,000, these people bought 1,400 acres and presented the title to the War Department in January 1942. That year the government designated $14 million to purchase more land and begin construction on a new Spokane Army Air Depot.
From 1943 until 1946, the base served as a repair depot for damaged aircraft returning from the Pacific Theater.
In 1947, the base was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to 15th Air Force. The same year, the 92nd and 98th Bomb Groups arrived. Both units flew the most advanced bomber of their day, the B-29. Just a year later, the base received the second of its three official names: Spokane Air Force Base.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, both groups deployed to Japan and Okinawa. After only a few months, General Douglas MacArthur released the 92nd to return to the states while the 98th remained in the Far East. The 98th was reassigned to Nebraska after the conflict. Upon its return to Fairchild, the 92nd was redesignated the 92nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy).
The base took its current name in November 1950, in memory of the late Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Muir S. Fairchild, a native of Bellingham, Wash. The general entered service as a sergeant with the Washington National Guard in June 1916 and died while on duty in the Pentagon in March 1950. The formal dedication ceremony was held on July 20, 1951 to coincide with the arrival of the wing's first B-36.
As of 09 November 1951 a new 10,000 foot runway (23/05) was in use.
On 29 January 1952 a B-36 crashed short of the runway, resulting in the loss of the aircraft with no casualties. The aircraft's landing gear sheared off on dirt mounds near west end of runway. Very deep snow would not allow crash vehicles access to fire. On the early morning of 15 April 1952 a B-36 crashed on takeoff, resulting in a low order high explosive detonation that left 15 dead with 2 survivors. The incident occurred at the West end of the runway. And on 10 July 1952 a B-29 crashed on the runway with ROTC cadets on board. There were no casualties, although the aircraft was a total loss and the hulk was later used by the fire department for practice fires.
About this time, the 111th Reconnaissance Wing (Air National Guard) was activated at Fairchild. Later, this unit was transferred to Westover AFB, Mass. It was replaced at Fairchild by the newly activated 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.
In October 1953, the Air Depot facility was deactivated.
On 26 February 1954 a B-36 crashed on end of runway as it ran up its 6 piston and 4 jet engines for takeoff. The main gear collapsed, though no injuries resulted. The aircraft, equipped with eight gun turrets, two 20mm cannons per turret, was fully loaded with 20mm ammunition. The ammunition was exploding as firefighters battled the blaze. On 29 March 1954 a B-36 crashed on takeoff, barely missing an O-11A on line standby at taxiway 10). Building 3 (present fire station 1) had just been completed and was scheduled to be occupied soon. Unfortunately, the aircraft, after clipping several aircraft on the flightline, demolished the kitchen as it crashed toward the west. Seven crewmembers were killed on the aircraft, three survived. One firefighter suffered a broken arm after being struck by a flying wheel strut that had exploded. The aircraft flipped upside down and came to rest in an area occupied by the 99th SRW, now utilized by the 141st Air National Guard.
By 1956, the wing had begun a conversion that brought the B-52 Stratofortress and later, the KC-135 Stratotanker to Fairchild. On 12 December 1957 a B-52 crashed on takeoff (flown by by the wing commander , Col. Neeley) at 1700 hrs. in a field between the runway (05) and the hospital. All air crew members were killed except the tail gunner. Causee trim motors that were hooked up backwards, the aircraft climbed straight up, stalled out, fell over backwards and nosed straight in. On 08 September 1959 two B-52's (tail numbers 6661 and 6681) collided over Airway Heights at 1822 hrs. Thirteen crew members were killed; only the tail gunner and E.W.O. of one aircraft survived. No one on the ground was injured. The accident occurred while both aircraft were circling the base going opposite directions.
On 01 April 1960 a B-52 crashed on takeoff at the end of runway (23), causing the loss of aircraft to fire, though with no casualties. The accident was due to the wing falling off on takeoff roll -- engines were being run up when wing snapped. And on 15 December 1960 a KC-135 collided over Montana with a B-52 from Larson Air Force Base at Moses Lake. The refueling boom was torn off the KC-135, which safely landed at Fairchild. The B-52's wing fell off where the tanker boom had cut through, and the bomber crashed and burned on Larson's runway.
In 1960 Atlas Missile sites were established within a 200 mile radius of base (ICBM). Nine locations: Deer Park; Newman Lake; Rockford; Croskey (near Sprague), Lamont (east of Odessa), Bluestem (south of Davenport); Wilbur; Egypt (south of Miles); and Crescent (north of Reardon).
On 14 July 1958, the Corps of Engineers Northern Pacific Division directed its Seattle District to begin survey and mapping operations for the first Atlas E site to be located in the vicinity of Spokane. The design contractor, Bechtel Corporation, provided the Seattle District with the initial plans, design analysis, and outline specifications in December. Originally, the Air Force wanted three sites with three missiles at each (3 x 3); however, in early 1959, the Air Force opted to disperse the missiles to individual sites as a defensive safety measure. Launchers were located at Deer Park, Newman Lake, Sprague, Davenport, Wilbur, Egypt, Reardon, Lamona, and Rockford, Idaho.
The work to build the nine sites was split between three major contractors and dozens of smaller firms. Work started at Site A on May 12,1959, and completion at Site I occurred on February 10, 1961. Auxiliary support facilities for each site were built concurrent with the launchers. At Fairchild, support facilities, including a liquid oxygen plant, were completed by January 1961. Several problems hindered construction. Three major contractors working together on a single site caused coordination problems. The 116-day national steel strike that commenced on July 15, 1959, caused delays up to 5 months for delivery of key components such as blast doors. Some 459 modifications to the ongoing construction added delays and added another $6.6 million to the project costs. Working relations between the contractors and the unions were cordial. Nine work stoppages were quickly resolved and the impact on construction was minor. One worker was killed during construction.
Activation of the 567th Strategic Missile Squadron on April 1, 1960, marked the first time SAC activated an E series Atlas unit. On December 3, 1960, the first Atlas E missile arrived at the 567th SMS. Construction continued and SAC accepted the first Series E Atlas complex on July 29, 1961. Operational readiness training, which previously had been conducted only at Vandenberg AFB, California, began at Fairchild during the following month. On September 28, 1961, Headquarters SAC declared the squadron operational and during the following month, the 567th placed the first Atlas E missile on alert status. The bulk of the Fairchild force was on alert status in November.
The 567th SMS underwent the first formal Operational Readiness Inspection for a SAC Atlas E missile squadron in April 1963, and became the first SAC missile squadron to pass. As a result of Defense Secretary McNamara's May 1964 directive accelerating the phaseout of Atlas and Titan I ICBMs, the first Fairchild Series E Atlas missiles came off line in January 1965. On March 31, the last missile came off alert status, which marked the completion of Atlas E phaseout. The squadron was deactivated within 3 months.
The departure of Atlas ICBMs did not completely close out Fairchild's involvement with strategic missiles. B-52H bombers assigned to the base underwent modification to carry Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs). Missile assembly and storage facilities were constructed for this purpose.
On March 1, 1966, the 3636th Combat Crew Training Group was activated at Fairchild. In 1971, it became a wing and assumed control over all Air Force survival schools.
On 01 July 1994 the 92nd Bomb Wing was redesignated the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, and Fairchild AFB was transferred from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Mobility Command (AMC), in a ceremony marking the creation of the largest air refueling wing in the Air Force. Dubbed as the new "tanker hub of the Northwest," the wing is capable of maintaining an air bridge across the nation and the world in support of US and allied forces. Fairchild currently has more than 60 active duty and Air National Guard KC-135 aircraft assigned. These aircraft continue to actively support missions in Southwest Asia and throughout the world.
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: Realign Fairchild AFB, WA. The 141st Air Refueling Wing (ANG) would associate with the 92d Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild AFB, and the 141st Air Refueling Wing's eight KC-135R aircraft would be distributed to the 185th Air Refueling Wing (ANG), Sioux Gateway Airport AGS, IA. The 256th Combat Communications Squadron and 242d Combat Communications Squadron, which were ANG geographically separated units at Four Lakes and Spokane, would be relocated into available facilities at Fairchild AFB.
The total estimated one-time cost to the Department of Defense to implement this recommendation would be $6.4M. The net of all costs and savings to the Department during the= implementation period would be a cost of $1.6M. Annual recurring savings after implementation would be $1.0M, with a payback expected in seven years. The net present value savings to the Department over 20 years would be $8.3M. Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 413 jobs (198 direct jobs and 215 indirect jobs) over 2006-2011 period in the Spokane, WA, Metropolitan Statistical economic area (0.2 percent).
Secretary of Defense Justification: This recommendation would realign aircraft and streamline operations at Fairchild by associating the Air National Guard KC-135 wing with the active duty wing. Fairchild Air Force Base (17) ranked just behind McConnell Air Force Base as the active duty tanker base with highest military value for a tanker mission. This realignment would preserve remaining capacity for the next generation tanker aircraft, while maintaining the ANG experience and recruiting potential within the region. By relocating two geographically separated units onto Fairchild, the Air Force would best use its available resources while reducing the cost to the government of leased facilities.
Community Concerns: The Fairchild, WA, community did not express specific concerns about DoD's proposal, having been advised they were in line for some of the early new tanker aircraft once they are produced and deployed. The community is pleased to associate with the active unit until the new tanker aircraft are available.
Commission Findings: While the Commission found that the community had no specific concerns regarding this recommendation, the Commission noted that the 141st Air Refueling Wing (ANG) is prepared to associate with the Active Duty's 92d Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild AFB. The Commission recognized the stewardship of the 141st ARW and strongly supports the placement of the new tanker aircraft with the 141st to lead the force. The Commission further found that the Secretary of Defense's overall intent and concept of redistributing the ANG KC-135s out of Fairchild AFB was supportable.
This recommendation directing aircraft movement and personnel actions in connection with Air National Guard installations and organizations is designed to support the Future Total Force. The Commission expects that the Air Force will find new missions where needed, provide retraining opportunities, and take appropriate measures to limit possible adverse personnel impact. The Commission's intent is that the Air Force will act to assign sufficient aircrew and maintenance personnel to units gaining aircraft in accordance with current, established procedures. However, the Commission expects that all decisions with regard to manpower authorizations will be made in consultation with the governor of the state in which the affected Air National Guard unit is located. Any manpower changes must be made under existing authorities, and must be made consistent with existing limitations. Some reclassification of existing positions may be necessary, but should not be executed until the Air Force and the state have determined the future mission of the unit to preclude unnecessary personnel turbulence. This recommendation is consistent with the Commission's Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Laydown Plan.
Commission Recommendations: Not available on the BRAC 2005 Commission Report pdf file: page 179, Recommendation 116 (Air Force Recommendation 51)
Sources and Resources
- Fairchild AFB @terraserver.com
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