Fairchild had a missile squadron… Who knew?

  • Published
  • By Jim O'Connell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
When most think of Fairchild's rich heritage, they think of aircraft. Those who are young at heart but with a few more greys will remember Fairchild's role first as an air depot repairing aircraft during WWII and then later as a bomber base with the arrival of B-29 Superfortress bombers in 1947. Since then the base transitioned to B-36 Peacemakers in 1951 and finally B-52 Stratofortresses in 1957. Others know Fairchild as a tanker base with Airmen who have been refueling freedom around the world since 1958.

A small few, however, will remember Fairchild AFB as the home of the 567th Strategic Missile Squadron and of the nuclear deterrence role it played in national defense when it fielded the Atlas-E Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

Although the 567th SMS was activated at Fairchild AFB on April 1, 1960, the unit was not new. It had an impressive combat history. Originally, the unit was activated on Dec. 24, 1942 at Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Ariz., as a heavy-bombardment squadron flying B-24 Liberators. In April 1943, the unit transferred to the European Theater and flew their first mission out of Benghazi, North Africa. Aug. 1, the unit participated in the historic raid on the Ploesti oilfields. The unit celebrated its 100th mission on May 19, 1944. Later, they flew four separate missions on D-Day flying tactical missions in support of the invasion. After the war, the unit inactivated at Charleston Army Air Field, South Carolina, on Sept. 13, 1945. In all, the unit earned nine battle credits, one Distinguished Unit Citation for Ploesti, and one Meritorious Unit Citation for action in the European and North African Theaters of Operation.

The squadron was reactivated for a short time as a reserve squadron at Coffeyville Municipal Airport in Kansas, on Sept. 15, 1947, until it was inactivated two years later. On Dec. 15, 1959, reflecting the changing posture of the Air Force, the unit was redesignated the 567th Strategic Missile Squadron and activated and assigned to Fairchild AFB. This marked the first time Strategic Air Command activated an E-series Atlas missile unit.

The Atlas missile had been rushed into development and work on the nine missile complex sites began on May 12, 1959. The launch complexes were located near Deer Park, Lamona, Wilbur, Rearden, Newman, Sprague, Harrington, and Egypt, Wash., and one location near Rockford, Idaho. Work on the last site was completed on Feb. 10, 1961.

The Atlas-E was the first ICBM developed and then deployed in 1961 throughout the United States. The 82-foot-tall missile had a self-contained, automatic inertial guidance system which was accurate to within one-and-one-half miles. It was a liquid-fueled missile that delivered a nuclear warhead greater than 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped at Nagasaki in 1945.

While the first missile arrived at Fairchild on Dec. 3, 1960, SAC did not accept the first Atlas-E complex until July 29, 1961. Operational readiness training began in earnest in August marking the first time such training was not conducted at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. On Sept. 28, 1961, Headquarters SAC declared the squadron operational making Fairchild AFB the first aerospace wing in the country, when, on Oct. 1, they placed the first Atlas-E missile on alert status and becoming the first combat ready Atlas-E squadron. The 92nd Strategic Aerospace Wing now had both bombers and ICMBs. By November, the bulk of the Fairchild's missile force was on alert status.

In April 1963, the 567th SMS experienced its first Operational Readiness Inspection and passed with flying colors making it the first SAC missile squadron to pass an ORI. Impressively, the unit was also the only missile squadron never to fail one. Despite its short time; the Airmen of the 567th SMS amassed an extraordinary record of accomplishment.

Some of the unit's accolades included:
- Only missile unit to receive a General-Dynamics-Astronautics Safety trophy for safety achievements during installation and check-out during 1960 to 1961
- Winners of the first Headquarters "Outstanding Achievement in Missile Safety for 1961"
- Winners of SAC's Charles D. Trail Material Trophy for performance and "getting the job done" under any and all circumstances
- Col. Lee R. Williams Award for meritorious achievement in all aspects of ballistic missile operations
- Earned the Air Force Association's Outstanding Missile Unit Award
- Earned the "Best Maintenance Unit in SAC" Trophy
- Earned the Outstanding Unit Award

Advances in missile technology in the 1960s led to the Atlas-E and Titan I missiles becoming obsolete. The most important improvement was solid fuel. This reduced launch times and added safety. The Defense Secretary at the time directed the accelerated phase-out of Atlas and Titan-I ICBMs. In January 1965, Fairchild's first Atlas-E missile came off of alert status. By March 31, the last missile came off of alert and was shipped to storage. The 567th SMS was inactivated three months later on June 25, 1965, ending a significant, yet unheralded chapter in the history of Fairchild AFB. The inactivation of the 567th SMS completed the inactivation of all Atlas ICBM squadrons.