Venturing through the past: A Fairchild history

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- From its beginnings as the Spokane Army Air Depot, to Spokane Air Force Base and on to Fairchild Air Force Base, Fairchild has had an exceptional history as part of the world's leading military force.

"Fairchild is unique because when it was the Bomb Wing, the mission was strategic deterrence, and for so many years it was responsible for deterring war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War," said Dan Simmons, 92nd Air Refueling Wing historian. "Since 1994 when it became the Air Refueling Wing under Air Mobility Command, it has been involved in nearly every contingency world wide."

'What we've had over the past 60 years as an Air Force base are two distinct missions and throughout it all, the wing has performed with excellence," he said.

Though, Fairchild was not always home to Air Force Airmen. The land was first a maintenance and repair depot for damaged aircraft returning from the combat operations in the Pacific Theater. In 1946, the base was aligned under the Strategic Air Command in the 15th Air Force and became home to the 92nd and 98th Bomb Groups, both of which flew the B-29 Superfortress, the most advanced bomber of that time.

Four months after the birth of the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 18, 1947, the military installation was renamed Spokane Air Force Base. In response to the Korean War, both of the base's groups deployed to Japan as warriors in the air.

"The wing's mission was strategic bombing, but as there weren't many strategic targets, they conducted more tactical missions," said Mr. Simmons. The most notable was the carpet bombing of North Korean forces north of the Pusan Perimeter, which allowed South Korean and U.S. troops to break through the North Korean force's blockade.

On July 20, 1951, Spokane Air Force Base was officially renamed Fairchild Air Force Base during a dedication ceremony in honor of former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Muir Fairchild.

Not long after, the face of Fairchild began to change. With the arrival of the B-52 Stratofortress in 1956 and the KC-135 Stratotanker in 1958, the wing began to excel further than before in strategic deterrence missions.

"The mission didn't change much. It was still strategic deterrence. Yet, when the wing received the jet bomber and jet tanker, these aircraft enabled us to reach any target worldwide and allowed us to get to our targets quicker," said the historian.

Fairchild's newer aircraft played a huge role in the victory of Vietnam. Stratotankers were deployed to fulfill the need for refueling and the Stratofortresses followed soon after for various bombing missions.

"One of the major B-52 bombing missions, Linebacker II in 1972, was a factor in bringing the North Vietnamese to the peace talk table," stated Mr. Simmons. "That was the campaign that ended the war."

Along with the arrival of newer, more advanced aircraft, further additions to Fairchild were made in 1966 and 1976 with the arrival of the 3636th Combat Crew Training Group and the 141st Air Refueling Wing, respectively. The 3636th CCTG, which was renamed the 336th Training Group, controlled all Air Force survival schools, and the 141st Air Refueling Wing, carried out its air refueling mission flying KC-135s.

In 1991, following a significant involvement in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the wing was renamed the 92nd Wing to encompass the bombing and refueling missions.

From its beginnings as maintenance depot and on to a major bombing- and refueling-based installation, Fairchild's history has played a dynamic part in the struggle against enemy forces. It is with honor and pride that the wing and its tenant units have excelled into what Fairchild Air Force Base is today.

(This is the first in a three-part series in recognition of the Air Force's 60th Anniversary and Fairchild's endeavors.)