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Larson Air Force Base

Shield Strategic Air Command.png

Part of Strategic Air Command
Located near: Moses Lake, Washington
USGS 1996 Aerial Photo
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates 47°12′28″N 119°19′13″W / 47.20778°N 119.32028°W / 47.20778; -119.32028
Built 1941-1942
In use 1942-1966
Larson AFB is located in Washington
Larson AFB
Location of Larson Air Force Base, Washington
For the civil use of this facility and airport information, see Grant County International Airport

Larson Air Force Base was a military airport located five miles (8 km) northwest of the central business district (CBD) of Moses Lake, in Grant County, Washington. After its closure, the airport was operated as Grant County International Airport.




World War II

Larson Air Force Base, originally named Moses Lake Army Air Base, was activated on November 24, 1942 as a temporary World War II training center. Moses Lake AAB was a sub-base of Spokane Air Technical Service Command, headquartered at Spokane Army Airfield.[1]

The first operational training unit (OTU) at the base was the 482d Fighter Squadron, which conducted twin-engine fighter training for P-38 Lightning fighters. On April 5, 1943, the 396th Bombardment Group became a second OTU at the base, providing first phase bomber training with its 592, 593, 594 and 595 Bombardment Squadrons.[2][3]

In 1945, base activity was curtailed to standby and for three years, was used to test two famous bomber aircraft: the B-47 and the B-50. Even though Moses Lake AAB (later AFB) was on standby, it was still playing a critical role in the development of the USAF aircraft. In 1949, a B-47 took-off from Larson, headed east and began a coast-to-coast speed race. The plane set a new record, completing the flight in just three hours and forty-five minutes, at an average speed of 607.2 mph (977 km/h).

Air Defense Command

Moses Lake AFB reopened as a permanent installation on August 26, 1948, being transferred from Air Material Command to the Air Defense Command (ADC). The initial ADC base operating unit was the 2755th Air Base Squadron. Under ADC, the base came under the Western Air Defense Force, headquartered at Hamilton AFB, California. The primary mission of Larson-based ADC aircraft was to protect the secret Hanford Atomic Works and Grand Coulee Dam.

The ADC first flying organization was the 325th Fighter-Interceptor Group, arriving at the base on November 26, 1948. The mission of the 325th FIG was to conduct ADC's All Weather Combat Crew Training School. It's operational component, the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, initially flew P-61 Black Widows, almost immediately transitioning to the F-82 Twin Mustang. A second squadron, the 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron arrived on September 2, 1949, being reassigned from McChord AFB. The 319th also flew the F-82 Twin Mustang.[4][5] The 325th FIG remained at Moses Lake until being reassigned to McChord AFB on April 23, 1950. Its component squadrons at Moses Lake, the 317th also moved to McChord on April 23. The 319th remained until February 9, 1952 when it was reassigned to Suwon AB, South Korea flying F-94 Starfires.[4]

The next ADC unit was the the 81st Fighter-Interceptor Wing which arrived on From November 10, 1949. The 81st FIW flew F-51D/H Mustangs, F-80C Shooting Stars and F-86A Sabres from the base. The 81st remained until September 5, 1951 when it was reassigned to NATO and deployed to RAF Shepherds Grove, England.[6][7][8] During the Korean War, the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (Washington Air National Guard} was called to active duty and activated at Moses Lake. The 116th FIS was deployed as part of 81st TFW to RAF Shepherds Grove.

The base was renamed Larson Air Force Base in May 1950 in honor of Major Donald A. Larson. Major Larson was from Yakima, Washington and was killed in action August 4, 1944, on a fighter mission over Germany while attached to the 505th Fighter Squadron. He had flown 57 combat missions when his P-51D Mustang (#44-13881) with the nose-name "Mary Queen of Scotts" crashed near Ulzen, Germany. Larson is buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz, nine miles (14 km) west of Liège, Belgium.

Other known ADC units and squadrons assigned to Larson were:[4][6]

Assigned to: 4702d Defense Wing
Reassigned from: Hamilton AFB, California
Reassigned to: MATS Iceland Air Defense Force at NAS Keflavik, Iceland
Activated at Larson to replace 82d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
Assigned to: 4702d Air Defense Wing, April 20, 1953
Reassigned to: 84th Fighter Group (Air Defense) at Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan
Activated at Larson to replace 31st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
Assigned to: 9th Air Division, August 18, 1955 – December 1, 1956
Assigned to: 4721st Air Defense Group, December 1, 1956 – April 1, 1959
Reassigned to: Kingsley Field, Oregon upon SAC taking control of Larson AFB.
Assigned to: 4794th Air Defense Wing November 26, 1952 – January 19, 1953
Assigned to: 4702d Air Defense Wing, January 19, 1953 – October 8, 1954
Assigned to: 9th Air Division, October 8, 1954 – August 18, 1955
Activated at Larson AFB
Reassigned to: 84th Fighter Group (Air Defense) at Truax Field, Wisconsin
Activated at Larson to replace 323d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
Assigned to: 9th Air Division, August 18, 1955 – December 1, 1956
Assigned to: 4721st Air Defense Group, December 1, 1956
Assigned to: 4700th Air Defense Wing, May 1, 1959
Assigned to: Spokane Air Defense Sector, May 15 – July 1, 1960
Discontinued upon SAC taking control of Larson AFB.

Tactical Air Command

MWH - FAA airport diagram.gif

On April 21, 1952, Larson AFB was assigned to the Tactical Air Command (TAC) Eighteenth Air Force, which reassigned the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing from McChord AFB, Washington to the base. The Air Defense Command units became tenants on the base. The 4721st Air Defense Group was activated at Larson in 1956 to centralize supervision and support of 322d FIS and 538th FIS. It was later inactivated as part of ADC closedown at Larson prior to it being assigned to Strategic Air Command.

For the next eight years, the 62nd was very active, routinely performed troop carrier, air transport, and humanitarian missions on a global scale flying C-124 Globemaster II aircraft. It participated in the airlift of French troops from France to Indochina in Operation Bali-Hai, Apr—May 1954. Provided a major portion of the airlift needed to construct the distant early warning (DEW) line in northern Alaska and Canada, 1955–1956, and thereafter periodically resupplied the DEW line stations. During the international geophysical year 1957–1958, and subsequently through 1960, supported scientific stations in the Arctic Ocean by landing and airdropping supplies on the drifting ice.

From 1955–59, the Air Materiel Command Flight Test Center at Larson tested the B-52 bomber. Boeing built a huge hangar, 1,068 feet (326 m) long, 372 feet (113 m) wide, with clear spans of 217 feet (66 m) and able to hold eight B-52s under one roof.

On January 26, 1955, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was activated to perform strategic reconnaissance with B-36 and RB-36 Peacekeeper bomber. The wing was also assigned to test a technique for launching small RBF-84 Thunderjet aircraft from specially-configued GRB-36 Peacekeeper bombers, to extend the range of photographic reconnaissance and fighter escort. Tests ended in 1956, but the wing continued bombardment training and strategic reconnaissance until inactivated in 1957.

Larson became a Military Air Transport Service (MATS) base on January 1, 1958 when Eighteenth Air Force was inactivated and TAC's Troop Carrier units were reassigned to MATS. The 62d TCW was reassigned back to McChord AFB on June 13, 1960 where it continues to operate today as the 62d Airlift Wing with C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Strategic Air Command

Strategic Air Command assumed command of Larson AFB in 1960 and established the 4170th Strategic Wing (4170 SW) , later replaced by the 462d Strategic Aerospace Wing as a part of Fifteenth Air Force. The 568th Strategic Missile Squadron was later activated in 1961 as part of the 4170 SW with three missile complexes, each housing three Titan I missiles. The complexes, which were subsequently deactivated in March 1965, were located at Royal City, Warden, and Odessa. Colonel Clyde W. Owen, USAF, was assigned by SAC as the first commander of the 4170 SW.

The 462nd also operated B-52 and KC-135 aircraft, conducting strategic bombardment, air refueling and associated SAC Nuclear Alert Force operations. In November 1964, it was announced that Larson AFB would be closed due to DoD budget reductions. The 462d Strategic Aerospace Wing was inactivated in April 1966 and the base was closed on June 30, 1966.

Civil Use

With the closure of the base, Colonel Owen retired from the Air Force and became the first director of the Port of Moses Lake, overseeing the transfer of the property from the U.S. Government to Grant County International Airport.

Despite the Air Force's departure, the airfield has continued to support operations from McChord's 62d Airlift Wing over the years, as the wing's C-141, C-130 and currently C-17 aircraft have practiced approaches and both normal landings and tactical assault landings on a regular basis.

See also


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

  1. ^ USAFHRA Document 00175897
  2. ^ USAFHRA Document 00089349
  3. ^ USAFHRA Document 00060713
  4. ^ a b c Mauer, Mauer (1969), Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ISBN 0892010975
  5. ^ USAFHRA Orgazational Records Branch, 325th Operations Group
  6. ^ a b USAF Aerospace Defense Command publication, The Interceptor, January 1979 (Volume 21, Number 1)
  7. ^ USAFHRA Orgazational Records Branch, 81st Training Wing
  8. ^ USAFHRA Document 00175901
  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Volume 1: Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, Washington, D.C. ISBN 0912799536; 0160022614

External links


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