The Evolution of Sunset Field

How the United States Military Repurposed Spokane’s Airfield

When the United States was pulled into World War Two thousands of American businesses were repurposed to better support the war effort. It was this direct response to an overseas threat that influenced the War Department to purchase and rename Spokane’s famous “Sunset Field.”

In 1938 a growing Spokane County decided to develop a local commercial airfield and acquired land on the West Plains where “Sunset Field” was born. Sunset Field ran commercially until 1941 when it was purchased by the War Department. By 1942 it became one of the most important airbases in the West.

The Army renamed the airfield to honor the late Major Harold Geiger, a pioneer of air travel. Geiger Field soon replaced Felts Field as the region’s primary airbase, as Geiger’s long landing strips and wide-open area allowed a wider variety of planes to operate. Felts, which had been serving as the Air Force’s main operating center in the area for years, was turned into an auxiliary base alongside Fairchild Air Force Base.

During the war, B-17’s and other aircraft from Boeing ran training operations during all hours of the day. Recruits spent hundreds of hours preparing for conflicts both in Europe as well as the Pacific. The little airfield just West of Spokane became a militarized hub full of trainees and teachers, with new technology and weapons arriving constantly. The field operated in this fashion into 1945 when the war ended.

After the end of the second World War Geiger was temporarily shut down. Most of the military planes were removed and Fairchild inherited many of its previous duties. In 1948 the base was sold back to Spokane County by the War Assets Administration but during the Cold War Geiger once again was used as a military facility while still operating as a commercial airport. Due to the proximity to Hanford and the Grand Coulee Dam Interceptors with the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, part of the 141st Air Defense Group, as well as the 84th Fighter Group were kept in the hangers at Geiger to serve as the first line of defense. The 84th Fighter Group was deactivated in 1963. In 1976 the 141st joined Strategic Air Command and shifted focus from interception missions to refueling. The switch from interceptors like the F-94b and F-106 to KC-135 Stratotankers necessitated their move to Fairchild. Today the Spokane International Airport still operates using the location identifier GEG for Geiger Field.