McChord Air Force Base

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McChord Air Force Base (1928-Active) - A United States Air Force Base first established in 1928 as Northwest Air Base near Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. Renamed McChord Field 5 May 1938 after Colonel William C. McChord, who was killed on 18 Aug 1937 when his aircraft crashed near Richmond, Virginia. Renamed McChord Air Force Base in 1949 and consolidated with Fort Lewis to form Joint Base Lewis-McChord on 1 Feb 2010. Active military installation.

USAF C-17 Globemaster III at McChord Air Force Base.
McChord Name Chronology
Name From To
Northwest Air Base 1928 5 May 1938
McChord Field 5 May 1938 1 Jan 1948
McChord Air Force Base 1 Jan 1948 1 Feb 2010
Joint Base Lewis-McChord 1 Feb 2010 Current Name

Pre World War II

McChord Air Force Base began as a struggling civilian municipal airport named Tacoma Field that opened for business on 14 Mar 1930. On 28 Feb 1938 Pierce County transferred title to the 900-acre airport and its one hanger to the war department and with land from the adjacent Fort Lewis, the new field expanded to 1,232 acres. Initially, the field was named Northwest Air Base, on 5 May 1938, the Base was renamed McChord Field after Colonel William C. McChord.

Public Works Administration (PWA) contracts were issued to Pacific Northwest construction companies to prepare the site and build a permanent air base. Initial construction included a radio-transmitter building, a water-supply system, and a fire station. Necessary infrastructure construction included 1,285-man barracks, four large hangars, family housing, warehouses, shops, and a hospital. Four runways were constructed, the longest two being 7,000 feet long, to allow landing from all directions.

The official McChord Field dedication took place on 3 Jul 1940, as a part of a four-day celebration that included the dedication of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

World War II

The Pearl Harbor attack put McChord Field on a war footing with all service personnel ordered to return to the Airfield. All leaves and passes were canceled and a base defense was organized with Half-track vehicles armed with machine guns loaned from Fort Lewis. Coastal air patrols were established to engage any Japanese surface ships and submarines that might approach the Northwest coast.

Satellite airfields were quickly built around Washington and Oregon initially for fighter defense and patrol duties. The 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) at McChord immediately received a new assignment to Pendleton Army Airfield in eastern Oregon. From Pendleton, the 17th flew coastal patrols to guard against Japanese attacks on the West Coast. It was not long before operational units were deployed to active combat zones and many of the new airfields became aircrew training centers and later aircrew replacement training centers. In late 1942 the 17th, flying B-26 bombers, entered combat in North Africa. The group flew its first combat mission on 30 Dec 1942 in southern Tunisia. In 1943 the group flew missions in Italy and then supported the invasion of southern France. During the war, the 17th Bombardment Group flew 606 missions and lost 110 B-26s while destroying 244 enemy aircraft.

Other missions at McChord included aircraft modifications (P-39s) and support for the transfer of aircraft to Alaska presumably for lend-lease to Russia. At the end of WWII, McChord became a processing and separation center, and thousands of veterans received their discharges at McChord.

Post World War II

McChord Field transferred from the Army Air Force to the newly formed United States Air Force in 1947 and on 1 Jan 1948 it became McChord Air Force Base. The base had three main missions: transport and airlift duties, humanitarian support, and air defense and those missions remain today

Cold War

On 1 Aug 1946, McChord was assigned to the new Air Defense Command, with a mission of air defense of the United States. During the Cold War, numerous fighter-interceptor squadrons were stationed at the base, as well as Radar and Command and Control organizations, the 25th Air Division being headquartered at McChord from 1951 until 1990.

The 325th Fighter Group (All-Weather) operated two squadrons of F-82F Twin Mustangs from McChord between 1948 and 1950, the first postwar fighter optimized for the air defense interceptor mission. Designed for very-long range bomber escort missions in the Pacific during World War II, the design became operational too late to see service and was adapted for the air defense mission.

Other interceptor squadrons stationed at McChord were:

  • 64th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
  • 317th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
  • 318th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
  • 465th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
  • 498th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

The 505th Aircraft Control and Warning Group, the first postwar general surveillance radar organization was activated at McChord on 21 May 1947 and was tasked with establishing a lashup system of WWII-era radars to provide an early warning radar system until a permanent System could be put in place. The McChord AFB Lashup Radar Site became operational at McChord on 1 Jun 1950 with World War II-era CPS-4 and CPS-5 radars operated by the 636th Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) Squadron.

The McChord Air Force Base Radar Site (P-1) was the first of twenty-eight permanent radar stations built by the Air Defense Command (ADC). ADC completed the installation of two CPS-6B combination search and height-finder radars in February 1951. A separate FPS-6 height-finder radar was installed in the mid-1950s. Also built at McChord was the first Permanent system manual direction center, McChord Manual Direction Center P-4

The McChord ADC radar site (P-1) was deactivated on 1 Apr 1960 and repositioned to Fort Lawton Air Force Station (RP-1) where it was co-located with the U.S. Army Seattle Defense Area, Army Air-Defense Command Post (AADCP) S-90DC for Nike missile operations.

In 1958, a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Direction Center (DC-12), and SAGE Combat Center (CC-3) were established at McChord replacing the McChord Manual Direction Center P-4. SAGE at McCord became operational in 1960 linking Air Force (and later FAA) Radar stations into an Air Defense system that provided early warning and prompt response to any nuclear attack by Soviet bombers.

On 1 Apr 1966 the McChord SAGE Direction Center and the SAGE Combat Center came under the 25th Air Division headquartered at McChord AFB. The McChord Command Center (CC-3) was active until 30 Jun 1966 when it was deactivated as part of an ADC restructuring. The McChord Direction Center (DC-12), with its vacuum tube FSQ-7 computer, remained active until 1983 when the whole SAGE System was shut down and replaced with solid-state FYQ-93 computers.

Post Cold War

In October 1997 the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) at McChord completed a transition from the active-duty Air Force to the Washington Air National Guard and the McChord Sector Air Operations Center became responsible for air defense of the airspace west of the Mississippi as the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS). A similar transition took place with the North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and South East Air Defense Sector (SEADS) on the east coast. This was the state of the U.S. Air defenses when the events of 911 took place.

Post 911

Following the 911 attack, the NEADS and SEADS sectors consolidated at Rome and became the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) on 1 Nov 2005

In 2007 the FYQ-93 computer system was replaced by the Battle Control System-Fixed (BCS-F). The BCS-F System employs the FYQ-156 computer system with updated technology that enables either EADS or WADS to control the air space over the entire United States.

Today the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), is a major tenant organization at McChord AFB, being one of two air defense sectors responsible for the security and integrity of continental United States air space. WADS is staffed by members of the Washington Air National Guard (WANG) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Operationally, WADS reports to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Current Status

Active Air Force Base consolidated with adjacent Fort Lewis to form Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Location: Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington.

Maps & Images

Lat: 47.1475 Long: -122.479444

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 322'

GPS Locations:

See Also:



Fortification ID:

  • WA0203 - McChord Air Force Base
  • WA0333 - Northwest Air Base
  • WA0211 - McChord Field

Visited: 29-30 Apr 2014

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