Spokane Journal of Business



The Journal's View: Base’s anniversary worth celebrating

Fairchild Air Force Base, located west of Spokane, has been such an Inland Northwest fixture for so long that some residents here no doubt now take it for granted. Many probably barely notice as KC-135 Stratotankers regularly pass overhead while departing on or arriving back from their various refueling missions or training sorties.
However, the base’s 75th anniversary provides an ideal opportunity to reflect, thankfully, on the base’s massive beneficial impact on the economy here over the years and the likelihood of more of the same for years to come. It held a kickoff celebration earlier this month that launched what it says will be a year full of anniversary festivities. 
 Home to the U.S. Air Force’s 92nd Air Refueling Wing, the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing, and a number of other units, the base is Spokane County’s largest employer, totaling about 6,000 uniformed and civilian personnel. Its direct annual economic impact on the community is estimated at around $500 million.
While some communities merely tolerate nearby military installations, as 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Ryan Samuelson noted during anniversary celebration comments, the Inland Northwest has embraced Fairchild from the start.
Business and civic leaders have done so partly through Greater Spokane Incorporated and its Forward Fairchild committee, which advocates on behalf of the base. Meanwhile, residents show their support by flocking to air shows held at the base and by participating through various means in the annual Spokane Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, which will be held for the 68th time this May.
One wonders whether local leaders who played a role in establishing the base here foresaw it ever becoming the “Team Fairchild” military conglomerate that it is today. It opened on March 1, 1942, as the Spokane Air Depot, with many Spokane businesses and public-minded citizens donating money to purchase the initial 1,400 acres for the base as an added incentive to the War Department. Over the years, it then morphed from a repair depot for damaged aircraft into a Strategic Air Command bomber, tanker and ICBM wing during the Cold War, and finally taking on an Air Mobility Command.
Today, as a historical account on its website notes, its aircraft and personnel make up the backbone of the Air Force’s tanker fleet on the West Coast.
A lot of the most recent publicity about Fairchild has focused on its thus far unsuccessful bid to become a host for next-generation KC-46A Pegasus aerial tankers, which has left many of its supporters disappointed. The upside is that it has the potential to become home to a sizable number of additional KC-135s, augmenting its current fleet and personnel.
Beyond that, who knows? The consensus belief among knowledgeable Air Force insiders here seems to be that Fairchild’s mission and the outlook for the base are secure, with little chance that it’s at risk of closure in the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping it will be around to celebrate its 150th birthday another 75 years from now.