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Grant County Airport in Moses Lake opens on October 8, 1966.
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On October 8, 1966, the Grant County Airport -- formerly Larson Air Force Base -- is dedicated with a day-long gala event. Several dignitaries are on hand to open the airport, including keynote speaker and United States Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), as well as representatives from Senator Henry Jackson's (1912-1983) office, The Boeing Company, the Defense Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, and various business leaders from around the state. An estimated 3,500 people attend the ceremonies, which include plane exhibitions, skydiving, stunt flying, and performances by the Moses Lake and Warden High School marching bands.
Moses Lake Flyboys
Located just outside the city of Moses Lake, Larson Air Force Base (named Moses Lake Army Air Base in its early years) was originally opened during World War II to serve as a temporary training center for pilots. At the close of the war it was put on standby status, although The Boeing Company used its facilities while testing aircraft in the mid- to late 1940s.
Larson was reactivated in November 1948, becoming a permanent military facility protecting the West Coast, Grand Coulee Dam, and the Hanford Atomic Works. This mission continued until April 1, 1952, when Tactical Air Command took charge of the base and brought the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing (formerly located at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma) to Moses Lake. Later, in 1960, Larson Air Force Base came under the jurisdiction of Strategic Air Command, and the site eventually became home to the 568th Strategic Missile Squadron. From the Larson base this squadron controlled three Cold War era missile sites (in cities of Royal City, Odessa, and Warden), each equipped with a trio of Titan I intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missile sites were decommissioned on March 25, 1965.
On November 19, 1964, it was announced that Larson Air Force Base would close in June 1966. The announcement caused a frenzy in the Moses Lake area, as citizen groups mobilized to identify public or private usages for the Larson site. Their efforts eventually paid off in the opening of the Grant County Airport.
A Busy Day
Events kicked off early on October 8th with a "Flying Farmers" fly-in breakfast scheduled to begin at 7 a.m., which was expected to attract about 100 small planes. (High winds on the morning of the 8th, however, limited the fly-in to a handful of aircraft.) This was followed at 10 by a performance of the Moses Lake Sky Divers club, the first of four jumps planned throughout the day. At 11 a.m. stunt flier Dave Rahm of Albion was scheduled to perform in front of the terminal building and control tower, an effort he would repeat again at 2 p.m. Unfortunately, like the early morning fly-in, weather cancelled Rahm's morning performance.
For visitors who did not want to stay for the formal festivities, public tours of the control tower and terminal area went throughout the day. Several planes from the commercial pilot training program at Big Bend Community College were on hand for public inspection, and West Coast Airlines provided an F-27 Prop-Jet that took passengers on tours of the Moses Lake area.
The Formal Dedication
The official program got underway in the afternoon. Following preludes by the Ephrata and Warden High School marching bands and the presentation of colors, there began a long series of remarks by the Port of Moses Lake commissioners -- Floyd Rigsby, Dr. Leon Brodie, and Dan B. Dunn. This was followed by the introduction of Bruce W. Johnson, the director of public affairs for The Boeing Company, who served as the master of ceremonies in dedicating the $25 million facility.
Following introductions and some opening remarks, Johnson turned the microphone over to Senator Magnuson for a formal address. Calling the closure of Larson Air Force base a "disaster" for the Moses Lake community, Magnuson lauded the efforts of the Port, the Moses Lake Development Group, and state and federal officials in transforming the military facility into a modern commercial airport. "This ceremony," Magnuson noted for the crowd, "... represents a major milestone in the development of Central Washington state. The ingenuity and persistence ... displayed by the people of Grant County set an example which all communities might exemplify" ("Senator Lauds Port Progress").
Although the conversion of Larson Air Force Base was indeed a commendable effort, the job was not entirely done by the time of the October 1966 dedication ceremonies. As Senator Magnuson pointed out in his remarks, conversion of 1,300-plus military housing units and some additional buildings had not yet been worked out. Additional state and federal assistance, he noted, would help with these remaining projects. "Certainly, your past achievements give every reason to expect a bright future," Senator Magnuson remarked.
And Bright It Has Been
Today, in 2006, the Grant County Airport (which became the Grant County International Airport in 1994) is one of the largest airports of its kind in the United States. Covering 4,700 acres of land, the facility currently has five separate runways, its largest being 13,500 feet in length. This runway is so large, in fact, that the airport serves as an alternate landing site for the NASA Space Shuttle.
The facility also continues its original purpose -- training pilots. Today, however, it serves both commercial and military airplanes, in particular those of The Boeing Company, Japan Airlines, and the U.S. military.
"Dedication at Airport to Attract Dignitaries," Columbia Basin Daily Herald, October 7, 1966, pp. 1-2; Bob Crane, "Senator Lauds Port Progress," Ibid., October 8, 1966, pp. 1-2; "Grand County Airport to Get a Customs Office," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 10, 1994, p. B-5; Port of Moses Lake website accessed September 5, 2006 (www.portofmoseslake.com).
Note: This essay was corrected on August 26, 2012, to state that the announcement that Larson Air Force Base would close was made in 1964.
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FAA Certification Tests for Embraer-145 aircraft, Moses Lake, October 1, 1996
Photo by Al Anderson, Port of Moses Lake
Entrance to Larson Air Force Base, Moses Lake, ca. 1963
Courtesy Clyde Owen
Grant County International Airport, Moses Lake, n.d.
Courtesy Port of Moses Lake
Grant County International Airport, Moses Lake, 2010
Courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation