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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘An incredible milestone’: Washington Air National Guard celebrates 100 years of military aviation in Spokane with historical design on aircraft

The tail of a KC-135 aircraft at Fairchild Air Force Base is now rich with color and history.

The Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing painted its flagship KC-135 Stratotanker with a design that honors its heritage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 116th Air Refueling Squadron in Spokane.

Military officials lifted large hangar doors and revealed the aircraft’s new look to the applause of a large crowd of mostly servicemen and -women Friday afternoon at Fairchild. Elected officials, like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane,  and Medical Lake Mayor Terri Cooper were also in attendance.

“This is an incredible milestone for 116th Air Refueling Squadron, the 141st Air Refueling Wing and the local community in Spokane,” said Col. James McGovern, commander of the 141st Air Refueling Wing.

The squadron gained federal recognition in 1924 as the 116th Observation Squadron, 41st Division Air Services, at Felts Field in Spokane Valley.

The heritage art design is inspired by the markings that were displayed on the squadron’s observation aircraft flown in the 1930s, according to the Washington National Guard.

The paint scheme includes the squadron’s insignia, an ace of spades with a dagger driven through the center of the card. The insignia was adopted in 1931 and is still used today.

Lt. Col. Brian Gliniak, commander of the 116th Air Refueling Squadron, said the insignia originated from a late-night squadron poker game at Felts Field.

Lt. Laurie Heral, a 116th member, threw the ace of spades, known as the death card, on the card table. Heral felt the card by itself wouldn’t grab people’s attention as an insignia.

Legend has it, Heral drove a dagger through the center of the card, and the ace and dagger insignia was born, Gliniak said.

The design also consists of red and white stripes on the KC-135’s rudder, which were present from the start of the 116th, and blue and yellow stripes on the tail. The blue and yellow paint increased visibility on the aircraft in the 1930s.

The stripes were discontinued when World War II started.

The 116th Air Refueling Squadron is one of the oldest Air National Guard units in the nation, and one of the 12 original Air Guard units in the country. It has participated in nearly every armed conflict in which the nation has been involved.

The 116th took a group photo in front of the KC-135 tail after Friday’s unveiling.

“Every member of this wing should be proud to be a part of this rich heritage,” Gliniak said. “To our Spokane civic leaders, I’d like to thank you for 100 years of continuous support as we proceed into the next century of service to neighbor and nation.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 7, 2024, to reflect Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, did not attend the event as previously reported. However, a representative from her office did attend.