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K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base: Wikis


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K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png

Part of Strategic Air Command (SAC)
Located near Marquette, Michigan
Sawyer AFB - MI - 28 Apr 1998.jpg
28 April 1998
Type Air Force Base
Built 1944
In use 1955-1995
Controlled by United States Air Force
Garrison 410th Bombardment Wing
SawyerAFB is located in Michigan
Location of K.I. Sawyer AFB,
southeast of Marquette, Michigan

K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base is a decommissioned U.S. Air Force base in Marquette County, Michigan, south of the city of Marquette. The base, near the center of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, closed in 1995. The county airport, Sawyer International, now occupies a portion of the base and has scheduled airline flights and some general aviation activity. The elevation at the passenger terminal is 1,190 feet (362 m) above sea level, about 600 feet (183 m) above Lake Superior, fifteen miles (24 km) north of the former base.

The former base is located in the southeast corner of Sands Township, with small portions in West Branch Township and Forsyth Township. It is a census-designated place (CDP) for statistical purposes. As of the 2000 census, the CDP population was 1,443.



The base was named for Kenneth Ingalls Sawyer, a former Marquette County road commissioner who proposed an airport for the area, about twenty miles (32 km) south of the city of Marquette.

  • Opened as: K. I. Sawyer Airport, 8 Apr 1956
  • Redesignated: K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, 8 May 1959

Major Commands to which assigned

Major Units assigned

410th Bombardment Wing, 1 Feb 1963
410th Wing, 1 Sep 1991
410th Bomb Wing, 1 Jun 1992-30 Sep 1995


The airport was built in 1944 and leased to the Air Force in 1955. K.I. Sawyer Airport officially opened as a joint civil-military facility on April 8, 1956. Originally, it was an Air Defense Command (ADC) base employing the SAGE system and fighter interceptor aircraft to deter a Soviet bomber attack. The first aircraft assigned were F-102 Delta Daggers from Kinross AFB, which were temporarily stationed at K.I. Sawyer. In 1959, the 62d Fighter Interceptor Squadron from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago was transferred, bringing their F-101B Voodoos to the base. The official opening of K.I. Sawyer AFB occurred on May 8, 1959, at which time the airfield became a strictly military operation.

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) became an operational tenant in August 1960, with the arrival of KC-135A refueling tankers. Twelve months later, the latest (and last model) of the B-52 series, the B-52H, arrived at Sawyer along with the 410th Bombardment Wing. In January 1964, operational control of the base was transferred to SAC.

The initial purpose of the Cold War-era base was to act as a fighter-interceptor defense against an enemy bomber attack and later as a strategic (nuclear) deterrent with the B-52, both of which would operate over the shortest route: over the North Pole and through Canada. K.I. Sawyer AFB was one of numerous B-52 bases across the U.S., many close to the Canadian border, ranging from Fairchild AFB near Spokane, Washington in the west, to Loring AFB in northeastern Maine.

Before receiving the KC-135 tanker and heavy B-52 bomber aircraft of SAC, an all-weather, heavy-duty concrete runway was built, measuring 24 inches (61 cm) thick, 150 feet (46 m) wide. It was extended in 1959 from 6,000 feet (1828 m) to over 12,300 feet (3,750 m), overruns of 1,000 feet (305 m) There are also 75 foot (23 m) shoulders on each side of the runway, providing a paved width of 300 feet (91 m).

The first Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker, assigned to the 46th Air Refueling Squadron, arrived at K.I. Sawyer AFB on 4 August 1960. The initial B-52H Stratofortress, the newest and final model of the venerable heavy bomber, arrived at K.I. Sawyer AFB in August 1961 and was assigned to the 644th Bombardment Squadron.

One K.I. Sawyer AFB KC-135A (AF Serial No. 61-0313) became famous throughout the SAC community as "the glider" when it ran out of fuel on a short final approach prior to landing at its home base after flying practice approaches at nearby Kincheloe AFB to complete requalification training. The flight crew, with the exception of the instructor pilot, bailed out when the engines went quiet. The instructor pilot, who remained on board, landed the aircraft just short of the runway overrun, bounced and rolled to a stop on the runway. The aircraft was repaired and returned to service quickly and even the crew entry door (which separated from the aircraft during bailout procedures) was returned to the Air Force by a local farmer.

In 1971, the 62d Fighter Interceptor Squadron and its F-101B Voodoo was replaced with a new squadron and aircraft. The new squadron was the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the "Red Bulls," which flew the F-106A Delta Dart until departing in 1985. In 1974-75, K.I. Sawyer temporarily hosted the high-speed FB-111 bomber, on satellite alert from the 509th Bombardment WIng (Medium) from Pease AFB, New Hampshire.

K.I. Sawyer was one of three SAC bases in Michigan that operated the B-52. The other two were Kincheloe AFB to the east, near Kinross, south of Sault Ste. Marie, which closed in 1977, and Wurtsmith AFB, in the northeast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, near Oscoda, which closed in 1993.


In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission of the federal government (BRAC 1993)[1] recommended the base for closure. K.I. Sawyer AFB was officially closed at the end of September 1995. [2]

K.I. Sawyer AFB was a favorite base among the SAC community. Although isolated and definitely northern, it was an attractive base for its pleasing North Woods location and its proximity to outdoor activities off the base, including hunting, fishing, boating, and winter sports (including Marquette Mountain), as well as the venues on site (base lake, ski hill, and others). While the base was sometimes referred to as "K.I. Siberia" and there was an abundance of lake effect snow, it was not the bitter sub-zero temperatures and wind chills and hot summers of the tree-sparse North Dakota bases, or the confinement of the bases in the more established communities of the northeastern states. Locals maintained that the K.I. Sawyer runway was built over some of the best blueberry fields in the state. Berry patches remained on other parts of the base, and families of aircrew members often picked them near the alert barracks and the family center.

A portion of the working section of K.I. Sawyer AFB has been converted into Sawyer International Airport, which replaced the smaller Marquette County Airport, just southwest of Marquette, as the region's primary civilian airport. Sawyer International opened its passenger terminal for service in September 1999.

In recent years, a group of local citizens interested in preserving the historical significance of the base have collected six aircraft of the types used actively at various times through the base's history to be displayed near the airport. The program is known as the "Sawyer 6" project.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 8.5 square miles (21.9 km²). 8.4 square miles (21.8 km²) of it is land and 0.04 mi² (0.1 km²) of it (0.24%) is water.


As of the census[3] of 2000, there were 1,443 people, 501 households, and 360 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 66.0/km² (171.0/mi²). There were 1,659 housing units at an average density of 75.9/km² (196.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the base was 90.23% White, 0.69% African American, 3.47% Native American, 0.35% Asian, 1.18% from other races, and 4.09% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.15% of the population.

There were 501 households out of which 55.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.9% were married couples living together, 19.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.1% were non-families. 17.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 2.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.88 and the average family size was 3.27.

In the CDP, the population was spread out with 38.5% under the age of 18, 12.3% from 18 to 24, 37.8% from 25 to 44, 9.1% from 45 to 64, and 2.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 25 years. For every 100 females there were 92.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.0 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $26,550, and the median income for a family was $26,979. Males had a median income of $27,679 versus $18,333 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $10,029. About 24.4% of families and 26.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.6% of those under age 18 and 31.3% of those age 65 or over.

See also


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ BRAC 1993 Sec. 1 Pg 72 (1993), BRAC 1993,, retrieved 30 Mar. 2009  
  3. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.  

External links

Coordinates: 46°19′54″N 87°22′19″W / 46.33167°N 87.37194°W / 46.33167; -87.37194


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