Larson AFB, WA
Larson AFB is geographically located five miles northwest of the city of Moses Lake, Washington, fourteen miles southwest of Ephrata, Washington, and seventeen miles south of Soap Lake, Washington. Spokane and Seattle, Washington lie approximately 122 miles east and 180 miles west of Larson respectively.
Larson AFB, only five miles from the city of Moses Lake, Washington, originally was named Moses Lake Army Air Base. It was first activated on 24 November 1942 as a temporary World War II training center. Its first assigned mission was to train pilots for P-38's and later to train combat crews for B-17 Flying Fortresses. Major Donald A. Larson, for whom the base was named, was from Yakima, Washington. He was killed 4 August 1944 on a fighter mission over Germany while attached to the 505th Fighter Squadron. He had flown 57 combat missions when his P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down and crashed near Ulzen, Germany. He is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetary at Neuville-en-Condroz, nine miles west of Leige, Belgium.
In 1945 the base activity was curtailed to standby status and during the next three years the base was used as a testing site for two famous aircraft: the B-47 Stratojet and the B-50. Even though Larson was on standby status as far as the military was concerned, it was still playing a vital role in the development of the United States Air Force. The extensive Boeing Aircraft Company facilities at Larson were being put to the test developing the B-47 and the B-50. In February 1949, a lone B-47 lifted off the ground at Larson, was pointed east, and began a race against time. The object was to smash the cross country speed record with its destination, Andrews AFB, Maryland. The B-47 set a new speed record, completeing the flight in just three hours and forty -five minutes at an average speed of 607.2 miles per hour.
Larson was reopened as a permanent installation in November 1948 under the Air Defense Command. The mission of the Larson based F-82, F-94 and finally F-86 aircraft was to protect the vital Hanford Atomic Works, Grand Coulee Dam and the coastal area. On 1 April 1952, Larson AFB was placed under the Tactical Air Command and the 62d Troop Carrier Wing moved from McChord AFB, Washington to assume command. During the next eight years, the 62d was prominent in national news events with missions in DEW Line and communications network construction, mercy flights and flights to Formosa and Africa. Larson became a Military Air Transport Service base on 1 July 1957 and in June 1958 Larson was put under the newly created Western Transport Air Force of MATS.
The Air Materiel Command Flight Test Center at Larson tested B-52's at the field from February 1955 to 1959, when the program was discontinued. Boeing built a $5.8 million-hangar to accommodate eight B-52s or KC-135 tankers, 1954-1957. Featuring a three-inch thick shell of alternating low- and high-bay barrels, the hangar was 1,068 feet long and 372 feet wide, with clear spans of 217 feet. Seattle engineering firm Worthington & Skilling executed the design.
The Strategic Air Command assumed command of Larson AFB on 1 January 1960 and established the 462d Strategic Aerospace Wing as a part of its Fifteenth Air Force.
The 568th Strategic Missile Squadron was officially activated on 1 April 1961 as a 4170th Strategic Wing unit. There were three missile complexes consisting of three Titan I's each.
Responsibility for this project initially fell on the Walla Walla District of the Corps of Engineers, which set up an area office in October 1959. Nine Titan I silos split between three sites (3 x 3) at Odessa, Warden, and Quincy would be built along with support facilities at Larson AFB. In October 1960, the construction oversight responsibilities were passed on to the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office (CEBMCO). On November 18, 1959, the Walla Walla District opened bid packages. Of the eight bid packages, the lowest submitted ($31.6 million) had been assembled by a joint venture of contractors composed of MacDonald Construction Company, The Scott Company, Paul Hardeman Company, G.H. Leave11 Company, F.E. Young Construction Company, and Morrison-Knudsen Company, Incorporated. Subsequent contracts for such components as the propellant loading system (PLS) were let by the Omaha District office.
The contractor broke ground on December 1, 1959. A cut and fill method was used to install the missile silos and launcher control facilities. Water seepage proved to be a challenge at these northwestern locations. By August 1961, one site had pumps removing 175,000 gallons a day. Improved drainage around the complexes eased the problem. Although no workers died while working at Larson, the frequency of lost-time accidents doubled that of the national average. In hindsight, the rush to get the project completed caused workers and supervisors to forsake prudent measures. With the assumption of the project by CEBMCO, a full-time safety engineer took charge and the accident rate began to decline. Toward the end of the project, it had dropped well below that of comparable CEBMCO projects.
The complexes, one located at Royal City, Washington, one at Warden, Washington and another at Odessa, Washington, were deactivated officially on 25 March 1965. The missiles were moved and shipped to Norton AFB, California for disposition. Most of the aerospace ground equipment including the diesel generaotrs used for power underground during the operational period of the complexes was removed, and the missile sites were turned over to the General Services Administration for disposal on the open market.
The Secretary of Defense announced on 19 November 1965 that Larson was to be closed by June 1966. After initial shock, local civilian committees were formed to attempt to determine the possible private or governmental usage of Larson AFB facilities. Through the combined efforts of the United States Air Force and governmental agencies several uses were considered. A base closure plan was approved and a base closure projects office established to act as liaison between Larson AFB, higher headquarters and civilian groups.
Formerly Larson Air Force Base, Grant County International Airport is now a world-class heavy jet training and testing facility used by the Boeing Company, Japan Airlines, the U.S. Military and many other air carriers from around the world. With 4,700 acres and a main runway 13,500 feet long, it is one of the largest airports in the United States. Moses Lake is famous for good flying weather -- this is not Seattle. Grant County International Airport is located on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, in the semi-arid desert of central Washington State.
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