By: Unknown | Published: 2021-03-27
The lineage of the 141st Air Refueling Wing, Washington Air National Guard, began with federal recognition on August 6, 1924, as the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division Air Services at Felts Field in the Spokane Valley. The 116th is one of the oldest National Guard flying units in the United States.
As the story goes, in 1924, the Adjutant General for the National Guard Bureau, who was traveling through Spokane, made a simple proposal to the city fathers. Whichever city, Spokane, Seattle or Tacoma, raises $10,000 dollars first for the building of hangars will get an Observation Squadron. As the General’s westward train pulled out of the station and was approaching the city limits, a telegraph wire sent out ahead of the train stated, “The $10,000 has been raised. We want the squadron.”
On August 6, 1924, the 116th Observation Squadron, Washington National Guard, received federal recognition. They established their unit headquarters at the former Parkwater Municipal Golf Course (now Felts Field) near Spokane. Major John T. “Jack” Fancher, a World War I veteran, would act as the units’ first commander.
By early 1925, construction of the new hangars began with federally funded building materials, locally bought concrete and the squadron members themselves donating most of the labor. The 116th soon received its first airplanes, three Curtis JN-6-A2 “Jenny” aircraft. They arrived at the rail yards still in the crates and no funds were provided to transport or construct the planes for use. A few creative enlisted men managed to haul, assemble and fire up these planes with oil donated by local businesses and gasoline bought on Maj. Fancher’s personal credit.
On August 8, 1926, the unit was redesignated as the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division Aviation, and expanded to include a photo section, medical detachment and transportation section. The 116th was the first National Guard unit to achieve full flight qualifications for every officer in the unit.
During the summer of 1927, Maj. Fancher, a local pioneer for both the development of the 116th and the growth of aviation, flew to New York to persuade officials for the National Air Races to sponsor that year’s race out of Spokane. He was successful and on his return flight, he continued to rally support for aviation in the Inland Empire by stopping off at the summer home of then President Calvin Coolidge. As a result of the air races, the northern route from Minneapolis to Spokane was established and later became the route used by Northwest Airlines.
In April 1928, Fancher was attempting to dispose of unexpended pyrotechnics left from an aerial demonstration at the Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee. The ordnance detonated while Fancher was carrying it, resulting in his death a few hours later. Flight instructor Caleb V. Haynes succeeded him in command of the 116th.
The squadron insignia, the Ace of Spades with a dagger driven through the center of the card scripted “Caveat hostis,” Latin for “Let the enemy beware,” was approved by the Pentagon and is still used today by the 116th. One of the original sheet metal hand painted insignias that adorned an O-17 fuselage can still be seen today in the Operations building.
In the late 1930’s, the unit, tasked by the federal government to do an aerial survey of the Columbia River, provided invaluable information to geologists and engineers for the site selection and construction of Grand Coulee Dam, the largest dam in the world at the time.
The 116th activated for one year in 1940 as World War II was about to break out, but most served seven years by wars end. At first, the unit was assigned to Gray Field at Fort Lewis, Washington, where the unit flew anti-submarine patrols along the Pacific Coast. The unit members were eventually split up to provide experience to photo reconnaissance units or to other air corps units filled with inexperienced draftees. Many of the members died during World War II and some were prisoners of war.
After the war ended in 1946, the unit was reactivated back at Felts Field with P-51 Mustangs, thus beginning it’s new mission of fighter-interception. The 116th came under the 141st Air Defense Group with the headquarters in Spokane. In 1950, the squadron was the first Guard unit west of the Mississippi River to be equipped with jets. The need for more space and longer runways prompted a move from Felts Field to Geiger Field at the present day Spokane Airport.
As a result of the Korean Conflict, the 116th Fighter Squadron was again called to active duty and received new F-86 Saber Jets. After only four months of training, the unit was ordered to Sheppards Grove, England, to bolster NATO forces in Europe. The move was the first time in aviation history a National Guard fighter squadron would cross over to the European Theater under its own power and only the second time such a move was ever attempted without air refueling. The unit was released from active duty November 1952, but the aircraft remained in England. The unit returned to Geiger Field and was later reequipped.
In 1955, they received their first Lockheed F-94B Starfire all-weather interceptor. With this new aircraft, the mission of the 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron changed from day interceptor to day and night all-weather interceptor.
The year 1967 was a “trophy” year for the 141st Fighter Group. Trophies and awards received included the Spaatz Trophy for the most Outstanding Air National Guard Flying Unit, the Air National Guard Outstanding Unit Plaque, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Trophy and the Winston P. Wilson Award. In 1969, the unit accumulated an outstanding record, 37,900 accident-free flying hours, receiving the 25th Air Division Flying Safety Award five years in a row.
In July 1976, the 141st Air Refueling Wing became the fifth Air National Guard unit to join the Strategic Air Command and convert to KC-135 Stratotankers, necessitating the move to Fairchild Air Force Base. This ended the era of the fighter interceptors of the previous 30 years, but air refueling missions have since taken the 141st all over the world.
Aircrew, maintenance and support personnel responded to the Iraq invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and deployed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. Upon federal activation in December 1990, 307 members of the 141st and all eight KC-135’s refueled coalition attack aircraft during Operation Desert Storm.
Since that time the 141st has responded to every major military action taken by the United States. In December 1991, the unit responded with aircrew and support personnel for Operation Restore Hope, a United Nations relief mission to aid hunger victims in Somalia. June 1995, several rotations deployed to Pisa, Italy, for Operation Deny Flight, NATO mission enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. May 1999, six KC-135E’s and 140 members deployed to Budapest, Hungary in support of Operation Allied Force to deter ethnic aggressions in Yugoslavia.
Of course, the 141st ARW has never forgotten its roots in the community and have continued to be of service to the Governor of Washington State during times of strife. The wing has a responded to nearly every form of natural disaster: the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the fierce ice storm that knocked out power to large sections of Spokane in 1996, severe flooding of the Pend Oreille River in 1997 and the many Washington forest wildfires of 2001.
A sad turn of events took place for the 141st on January 13, 1999, when one of the unit’s KC-135E’s crashed at Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, killing all four crew members. This was the first time the unit lost an aircraft or lives since beginning the aerial refueling mission in 1976. The bonds of grief, forged in the aftermath of that crash, joined two distant communities together as a monument was erected at the site a year later.
By the end of the year in October 2000, the 141st joined the virtual community for the first time as the wing homepage became active and took its place on the information superhighway. The 141st supported the new Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) concept that sent individuals and small groups all over the world, wherever their skills were needed.
The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was felt everywhere. In Eastern Washington, refueling flights began supporting Operation Noble Eagle almost immediately and for the first time in guard history volunteers augmented airport security serving the Spokane and Pullman airports.
As the year 2002 progressed, members of the 141st Security Forces Squadron escorted detainees from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in support of Operation Fundamental Justice. The new Pacer CRAG digital navigation system was added to our aircraft and crews trained to function without a navigator. Members of the 141st joined the thousands of Guard and Reserve forces called up to deploy all over the world in support of America’s “War on Terror.” At one point, 169 of our members deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Meanwhile, approximately 200 members volunteered to help with home station support. In October, a memorial was dedicated at Fairchild AFB to all the 141st members who lost their lives while performing their duty to their community, their state and their country.
When the newest R-model air refueling KC-135 Stratotanker landed on Fairchild AFB in January 2003, with its new engines, it became the 40th different airplane the 116th squadron pilots had flown since it was created back in 1924. Each one of the four engines of the KC-135R can produce a thrust equal to lifting 21,634 pounds. A far cry from the unit’s first plane, the JN-6-A2 “Jenny,” which had a wooden body covered in fabric and only weighed 1,430 pounds.
President George W. Bush ordered coalition military units into Iraqi during Operation Iraqi Freedom on 19 March 2003. Soon afterwards, various small units and individuals from the 141st began deploying to the region, especially in heavily tasked career fields such as Security Forces, Services and Transportation. Continued deployments in the wing supported the antiterrorism efforts abroad under Operation Enduring Freedom and air refueling missions over the US for homeland defense flights under Operation Noble Eagle.
During a banquet ceremony in July of 2003, the 141st Air Refueling Wing accepted the coveted Solano Trophy marking the wing as the best Air National Guard unit in the 15th Air Force.
Overseas deployments and homeland security refueling missions continued to dominate the tasking landscape for the wing in 2004. Airmen from the Vehicle Maintenance Flight were called up in April to protect and drive resupply convoys right through the area of Iraq known as the Sunni Triangle. The exposed multi-vehicle convoys came under constant attacks from small arms, including shoulder launched rocket propelled grenades (RPG), improvised roadside explosive devices (IED) and suicide car bombers. After some close calls and a few scratches the airmen thankfully returned safely to Fairchild by September.
116th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135R Stratotankers and crews deployed to Turkey to successfully fulfill their AEF commitment without incident in late July 2004.
An uplifting new program for the 141st Air Refueling Wing began on the 21st of July as it hosted two young children tragically afflicted with severe physical disabilities. They were initiated into the unit as official Pilots for A Day after a full day’s regiment of exploration and learning around the base, which included piloting a multi-million dollar room-sized KC-135 flight simulator.
The wing mustered out to the field for a big event on 16 Oct 2004, but it didn’t muster at Fairchild. Members reported to Felts Field in the Spokane Valley, the original airfield for the unit to celebrate its 80th Anniversary. New and former members of the 141st mingled in the 1933 brick hanger built with the largest wooden trusses in the Spokane Area at the time. Former wing commanders paused for a picture at the celebration: Col. (ret) Lyle Scott, Maj. Gen. (ret) Lloyd Lamb, Maj. Gen. (ret) Dennis Hague, Brig. Gen. (ret) Donald Powell and Brig. Gen. (ret) Dale Wainwright. Altogether, they represent 25 years of wing command experience from 1967 to 1996.