Since 1942, Fairchild AFB has been a key part of our nation’s defense strategy — from World War II repair depot, to Strategic Air Command bomber wing during the Cold War, to Air Mobility Command air refueling wing during Operation Enduring Freedom and other contingency operations. Today, Fairchild’s aircraft and personnel are the backbone of the Air Force’s tanker fleet on the West Coast.
Fairchild’s location, 12 miles west of Spokane, resulted from a competition with the cities of Seattle and Everett in western Washington. The War Department chose Spokane for several reasons: better weather conditions, its location 300 miles from the coast and the Cascade mountain range providing a natural barrier against possible Japanese attack.
As an added incentive to the War Department, many Spokane businesses and public-minded citizens donated money to purchase land for the base. At a cost of more than $125,000, these supporters 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 building the new Spokane Army Air Depot.
From 1942 until 1946, the base served as a repair depot for damaged aircraft returning from the Pacific theater. In the summer of 1946, the base was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the 15th Air Force. Beginning in the summer of 1947, the 92nd and 98th bomb groups arrived. Both units flew the most advanced bomber of the day, the B-29 Superfortress. In January 1948, the base received the second of its three official names: Spokane Air Force Base.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, both bomb groups deployed to Japan and Guam. After only a few months, Gen. Douglas MacArthur released the 92nd to return to the states while the 98th remained in the Far East. The 98th was then reassigned to Nebraska.
Upon its return to Fairchild, the 92nd was redesignated the 92nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy). In November 1950, the base took its current name in memory of Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Muir S. Fairchild, a native of Bellingham, Washington. The general entered service as a sergeant with the Washington National Guard in June 1916 and died while on duty at the Pentagon in March 1950. The formal dedication ceremony was held July 20, 1951, to coincide with the arrival of the wing’s first B-36 Peacemaker.
In 1956, the wing began a conversion that brought the B-52 Stratofortress to Fairchild, followed by the KC-135 Stratotanker in 1958. In 1961, the 92nd became the first “aerospace” wing in the nation with the acquisition of Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles. Given its new role and the addition of missiles, the 92nd Bomb Wing was redesignated the 92nd Strategic Aerospace Wing, though the designation lasted longer than the missiles, the missiles themselves being removed in 1965.
On March 15, 1966, the 3636th Combat Crew Training Group was established at Fairchild. In 1971, it became a wing and assumed control over all Air Force survival schools. Today, the 336th Training Group continues this mission for Air Education and Training Command.
As military operations in Vietnam escalated in the mid-1960s, the demand for air refueling increased. Fairchild tanker crews became actively involved in Operation Young Tiger, refueling combat aircraft in Southeast Asia. The wing’s B-52s were not far behind, deploying to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for Operation Arc Light and the bombing campaign against enemy strongholds in Vietnam.
In late 1974, the Air Force announced plans to convert the 141st Fighter Interceptor Group of the Washington Air National Guard at Geiger Field to the 141st Air Refueling Wing and move it to Fairchild. Work began soon after, and by 1976, eight KC-135E aircraft transferred to the new 141st Air Refueling Wing.
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, 560 base personnel deployed to Desert Shield and Desert Storm from August 1990 to March 1991. The 43rd and 92nd air refueling squadrons flew a combined total of 4,004 hours and 721 sorties and off-loaded 22.5 million pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft.
On Sept. 1, 1991, the Air Force redesignated the 92nd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) as the 92nd Wing, emphasizing its dual bombing and refueling role.
Dec. 7, 1993, marked the beginning of a significant change in the mission of Fairchild when a wing B-52 transferred to another base, the first step in Fairchild’s transition to an air refueling wing. The departure of B-52s continued throughout the spring of 1994, with the last bomber leaving May 25, 1994. On July 1, 1994, the 92nd Wing was redesignated the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and Fairchild was transferred from Air Combat Command to Air Mobility Command in a ceremony marking the creation of the largest air refueling wing in the Air Force. Dubbed the new “tanker hub of the Northwest,” the wing was capable of maintaining an air bridge across the nation and the world in support of U.S. and allied forces.
In 1995, Fairchild crews flew to Travis Air Force Base in California in support of its first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty mission, transporting Russian inspectors to sites in the western U.S. In May 2000, the wing became the first active-duty KC-135 unit to transport U.S. inspectors on a START mission into Ulan-Ude, Russia.
Throughout much of the ’90s, the wing took part in missions to suppress the aggression of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Wing personnel answered the call for operations such as Desert Strike and Phoenix Scorpion and routinely deployed in support of operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch. Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch required a constant presence of tankers and associated support personnel to help enforce the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zones in Iraq. Southwest Asia, however, was not the only trouble spot, as the wing also had to deploy aircraft and personnel in 1999 to support Operation Allied Force, the mission to stop Serbian aggression in Kosovo.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation, the wing began providing around-the-clock air refueling of Combat Air Patrol fighter aircraft and initiated 24-hour ground alert operations in support of Operation Noble Eagle, the defense of our homeland. Preparations also began for what would become a series of extended Operation Enduring Freedom deployments for aircrews and maintainers, as well as combat support and medical personnel. Wing personnel were also deployed from 2003 to 2011 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. In 2011, wing personnel supported Operation Odyssey Dawn, the mission to resolve the crisis in Libya.
In March 2017, the Air Force relocated the 384th Air Refueling Squadron — nine KC-135 refueling tankers and their 50 crew members — from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas to Fairchild, bringing the base tanker component to 44 aircraft. With the addition, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing now has three refueling squadrons: the new 384th, the 92nd and the 93rd.
Since its inception, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing has been involved in virtually every contingency mission around the world. Whether participating in combat operations or humanitarian relief missions, Fairchild tankers are force extenders, enabling U.S. and allied aircraft to successfully complete their missions. In addition, the wing’s KC-135s routinely support special airlift missions in response to world events or international treaty compliance requirements.