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"Ever into Danger"

This aerial view of McChord Field days before dedication shows a few of the 400 buildings built for the new field. Seen in this photo are new warehouses (upper left) two of the four aircraft hangars (upper right), steam heating plant (middle center) enlisted men's barracks (center) and hospital (lower center) all of which are sill in use today.

Aerial view of Tacoma Field. 

From Native American land to the British Hudson Bay Company’s Puget Sound Agricultural Company to Pierce County Airport, to Tacoma Field to Northwest Air Base, to McChord Field, are some of the transitions that has been seen in the area of what we now know as McChord Air Force Base.

An old 1851 hand-made map drawn by Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, Chief Trader for the Hudson Bay Company, indicates that The Puget Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC) herdsman’s huts once existed within the McChord boundaries. The PSAC was a joint stock company formed around 1840 as a subsidiary of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) to promote settlement by British subjects of land on the Pacific coast of North America. Maps prepared by Timber Cruisers in 1908 documented the existence of some huts still remaining.

During the late 1800’s this area was a part of land acquired by local pioneer John Rigney, an Irish immigrant who help establish Fort Steilacoom during his service with the U.S. Army. At the end of his Army commitment, Mr. Rigney received a homestead claim in the southern part of Pierce County of 640 acres, later adding many hundred additional acres to his original claim.  

In the late 1920’s Pierce County purchased a 900-acre partial of land for a future airfield from the Rigney Family with the stipulation that the airfield would be named “Rigney Field”. Work began on the airfield on April 21, 1929. After a heated debate, Pierce County Commissioners voted two to one to name the new airport “Tacoma Field” June 10, 1929.

During the early years of development, much of Tacoma Field was swamp, plains, and prairie. The location, weather, and terrain made it a natural choice for an airfield. The moderate temperatures (32F – 82F) ensured year round use. The terrain was generally flat, ranging from 200 to 800 feet above sea level. The Cascade Range, (25 miles East), Mount Rainer (40 miles Southeast) and the Olympic Mountain ranges (45 miles Northwest) shelter the field from strong winds with the strongest coming from the Southwest (35-50 knots).

Drainage of the field via Clover Creek was generally Northwest towards Puget Sound, originated East of the field picking up water from Spanaway and Tule Lakes continuing through the field (now under the runway), discharging into Steilacoom Lake, about 2 miles to the West and North.

Soon after completion of Tacoma Field, the Tacoma Ledger wrote:

"Out where the blue Pacific finds haven in sun-splashed inland waterways, among the green clad islands and along the varied shorelines adjacent to Tacoma, men and machinery have built a haven for the thunderbirds of the air that daily sing the song of a progressive community across the skies of many states in staccato notes of winged business and travel. With splendid facilities second to none in the country, Pierce County's new 1,000-acre airport has a complete landing circle of 3,000 feet in diameter that will permit landing and taking off in every direction of the compass with a 5,400-foot north and south runway in addition. The giant hangar recently completed has 27,600 square feet of storage space and contains every convenience and modern advantage to flying. A complete border and beacon lighting system make the local field an integral link in the second longest night run in the country. The field represents one of the finest landing areas in the country and its $370,000 cost was most reasonable. The airport offers a splendid potential site for manufacturing, airplane repair, and distribution."


Tacoma Field was the site of the beginning  - - and the end of an attempt to fly the first Trans-Pacific flight to Tokyo Japan. The aircraft, a Lockheed Vega named "City of Tacoma", flown by former Canadian RAF pilot crashed shortly after takeoff.

A number of early aviation pioneers flew from Tacoma Field among them was Lt. Harold Bromley who after Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic attempted a trans-Pacific flight departing from Tacoma Field. Starting from a specially built wooden ramp at one end of the runway, Broomley's overloaded "Sirus" monoplane collapsed during the take off roll and ended up on its nose without burning. A year later, he attempted a Japan to US crossing of the Pacific with Harold Gatty (the developer of the Fairchild A-10 sextant) as navigator, but was forced to turn back.  

In early 1933, Pierce County faced a dilemma. The airport was operating in the red, to the tune of $40,000 in operating costs and interest and principal on bonds per year. The County proposed to either find someone to lease the airport or if unable to find such a partner to close it all together. Pierce County continued to improve Tacoma Field, and in 1934, the airport was named one of the best airports in America.

 During the early 1930's, the United States Secretary of War directed the US Army to establish airfields in six strategic areas in the United States; one field was designated for the Pacific Northwest. Much effort was expended to determine the most suitable location for an airfield to defend the industrial and shipping centers of Puget Sound and the Northwest coastline from the Columbia River to the Canadian Border, and the 900-acre Tacoma Field was chosen as the best location in the Pacific Northwest.  


McChord Field's first Commander Lt. Col. Frank W. Wright (left) looks on as the Chairman of the Board of Pierce County Commissioners John Schlarb hands the deed for Tacoma Field to County Auditor S. Clifford Davis ending the County’s ownership of the 900-acre airfield. 


On May 5, 1938, Pierce County officials signed a deed passing the title of Tacoma Field, 900 acres of land with buildings, to the War Department to be used as part of a giant airbase to defend the Pacific Northwest.   By the request of Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps Major Gen. Oscar Westover,  the new airfield would be designated McChord Field, in honor of Colonel William C. McChord, who had been killed in an accident near Richmond, Virginia, on 18 August 1937.    

At the time of transfer, the field consisted of one hangar and two landing strips. Shortly thereafter, construction on a large scale began with most labor provided by WPA (Works Projects Administrations) primarily used to bring the ground to proper elevation, to clear stumps and borders, and for other unskilled work.

Hangars 1, 2, 3, and 4 under construction at McChord Field.

First bids for constriction at the field were requested on July 23, 1938, in December , a contract was awarded to Ross B. Hammond, Inc, Portland OR to construct a 1285 man barracks, a building is most commonly referred to as "The Castle” which in later years used a Headquarters for McChord’s host organizations.

Construction continued at a steady pace. Hangars 1, 2, 3, and 4, officer and enlisted housing, three warehouses, a maintenance building, two wells, a hospital, and a central heating plant were built in short order. Clover Creek crossing at the Southeast and South runways junctioning with Morey Creek in front of the site for hangars 3 & 4. In the triangle formed between these creeks was a marsh and lake that was diverted by 20 foot wide 5 foot deep channel, two miles in length from the East boundary of the Field to a bridge on the west.

By 1939, a radio transmitter building, a 300,000-gallon water tower, an electric distribution system, sanitary sewage system, a combination fire and guardhouse, and two runways had been added. Original budget for the McChord Field project was $18 Million dollars (1938).

A McChord based Douglas B-23 Dragon flying over Mt. Rainer in Washington State

On June 24, 1940, the first elements of the 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) began to arrive at the Army Air Forces newest bomber base. The units of 17th BG and the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron (attached), flew a mix of B-18, B-18A and B-23 bombers.  

After more than a year of preparation, McChord Field was ready. Formal dedication took place on July 3, 1940. Thousands of people entered McChord to inspect the new buildings, hangars, grounds, and the B-18A, and B-23 bombers on the world's largest warming apron.


The program began at 1:00 PM, with a band concert. McChord Field Commander Colonel Carlyle H. Wash introduced the a number of distinguished officers from the U.S. Army, Army Air Corps, Navy, local and government officials. Brig General B.K. Yount, Assistant Chief of the Air Corps, spoke assuring Americans that aircraft of the Army Air Corps are the best in the World.

An American flag was proudly raised over McChord for the first time, followed by an address by Clarence D. Martin, Governor of the State of Washington. Gov Martin spoke fervently regarding the place of the United States in during the international turmoil of the times,  " Every American is more grateful of his citizenship today than he was a year ago, and on the eve of the Forth of July, we should give special thought to the privilege of living in the U.S".

In a fitting end for the days festivities, more than 100 Army Air Corps bombers, fighters and observation aircraft flew over the field, in an impressive show of air power. 


With hangar 3 in the background, a new USAAF Boeing B-17B Flying Fortress starts its engines before flying in McChord Fields dedication Army Air Corps air demonstration. Forty RAF aircrew from No. 90 Squadron were trained at McChord Field from January thru April 1941 in B-17C's.


In early 1941 two new units, the 12th Bombardment Group (Medium) and the 47th Bombardment Group (Medium), activated at McChord Field flying B-18, B-18A and B-23 bombers, with the new units in place the 17th BG was selected to become the first unit to receive the North American B-25 Mitchell.  readied for conversion trading its B-18's and B-23's for the North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Colonel Jimmy Doolittle came to McChord looking for experienced B-25 crews to volunteer for his secret bombing mission to Tokyo. At least 10 aircrew members with McChord training participated in the 1942 Doolittle raid launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet.  




In February 1941, McChord's 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) was the first unit to receive the North American B-25 Mitchell. A aircraft assigned to the Groups 34th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) is pictured above.


During the war years the 55th Fighter Group an its fighter squadrons  prepared for battle by flying combat air patrols over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the mouth of the Columbia River. Satellite fields were constructed at Port Angeles, Olympia, Kitsap, and Ephrata, for dispersal of the increasingly large number of aircraft arriving at McChord. Detachments of P-40 and P-43 fighters were assigned to McChord Field, and bombers ferried in from Seattle, awaited the arrival of pilots from Ferry Command to take them to their final destinations. By January 1942, McChord's military population had jumped from 4,000 to 7,400.

In addition to being one of the largest bomber training bases in the US, McChord was a clearing station for planes and crews headed for Alaska and the war in the Pacific. Additional rail lines were added to process the increasing movement of troops and supplies. In April 1944, McChord was designated as a modification center for P-39 aircraft. An additional 300 civilians were hired to do the work (doubling the civilian workforce), and they were trained by the Clover Park Vocational School. They modified 12 to 26 P-39s per month. Later, these proud Americans would also modify P-38s, B-24s, and B-25s.



  Bell P-39 Aircobras undergo modifications inside one of  McChord's main hangars during World War II.


Following the end of the war in Europe McChord redeployed thousands of troops arriving from the European theater to the Pacific. McChord's location had proven to be of great value during the war, and its importance did not diminish in peacetime.

Over the war years McChord operated various types of aircraft, among these were the Boeing B-17, Curtiss P-40, the Douglas A-20 and A-26 along with many observation and liaison types.



Fairchild C-82A Packet  from McChord's 62d Troop Carrier Wing

During the late 40's an air rescue detachment was assigned to McChord flying the Canadian Vickers built SA-10A (a Consolidated PBY-5A built under licenses in Canada). Later McChord would later host Boeing B-17's converted for rescue work and the Grumman SA-16 Albatross. The Air Force Reserve was also present flying North American AT-6's Douglas A-26's and Beech C-45's.   

In 1947, the 62d Troop Carrier Group flying Fairchild C-82 Packets was reassigned from Bergstrom Field, TX to McChord Field, marking the beginning of a long time association between the unit and the base. McChord became the final continental stop in three "Great Circle" air routes from the United States to Tokyo, via Anchorage and Adak. McChord was thereafter the primary Northwest aerial gateway to Alaska and the Orient. The 62d was a very busy in the late 40's transporting Men and supplies to many locations around the globe, in a  operation codenamed Project Yukon, the 62d airlifted Army Infantry Companies from McChord to Big Delta and  Elmendorf Field, Alaska.


The 425th NFS with their P-61 Black Widow's were the first squadron assigned to the U.S. Air Forces Air Defense Command


McChord's strategic location prompted the Air Force to transfer P-61 Black Widow night fighters of the 425th Night Fighter Squadron from March Field , CA  to McChord standing up on September 1, 1946. The 425th NFS was the first fighter squadron the be assigned to the newly established Air Defense Command. After the 425ths deactivation, the 317th Fighter Squadron made its first appearance at McChord in August 25, 1947 flying P-61's. Three months later, the 317th was on its way to Hamilton Field CA.

On January 1, 1948, the field was redesignated McChord Air Force Base. In that month the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing prepared to deploy in Project Yukon, an exercise that was considered to be a very complicated task for the piston-engine-powered C-82s required numerous stops for refueling. One infantry company with full field equipment was airlifted from McChord to Big Delta, AK. From Big Delta, the 62nd's C-82s flew to Elmendorf Fld, AK, for the return of another Army unit to McChord.


Later that year the 62nd flew flood relief supplies to several locations in Washington and Oregon and by fall, 62nd TCW assets were tapped to support the now famous Berlin Airlift. More than 100 men, primarily mechanics, aerial engineers, and truck drivers were identified for a 90-day temporary tour of duty in Europe, to bolster airlift resources.

Later that year the 62nd flew flood relief supplies to several locations in Washington and Oregon and by fall, 62nd TCW assets were tapped to support the now famous Berlin Airlift. More than 100 men, primarily mechanics, aerial engineers, and truck drivers were identified for a 90-day temporary tour of duty in Europe, to bolster airlift resources. During this busy period,


For three years F-82 Twin Mustang’s from the 325th Fighter Group (All-Weather) protected the Northwest from McChord AFB & Moses Lake AFB replacing the P-61  Black Widow.  The F-82 was the last propeller-driven fighter acquired in quantity by the U.S. Air Force.   


In November of 1948 the 317th Fighter (All Weather) Squadron along with it's sister squadron, the 318th Fighter (All Weather) Squadron would return to Washington State, with the 317th relocating to Moses Lake AFB  and the 318th standing up at McChord. Both squadrons now flying the North American F-82F Twin-Mustang resumed their mission  protecting the skies over the Pacific Northwest under the Continental Air Command. In May of 1949 the squadrons war time companion the 319th F(AW)S joined the 318th at McChord from it's previous assignment in the Panama Canal Zone until September when it joined the 317th at  Moses Lake AFB.  

In the unusually cruel winter of '48 -'49, the 62nd attracted national attention as it airdropped tons of hay to livestock stranded by extreme blizzards in several western States is a Operation codenamed "Hayride" On October 6, 1949, the 62nd received its first four-engine Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport. By Thanksgiving of that same year, the Wing was equipped entirely with C-54s, and its designation was changed from 62nd Troop Carrier Wing (Medium), to (Heavy).

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