Gray Army Airfield

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Gray Army Airfield (1921-Active) - A pre World War II era U.S. Army Airfield established in 1921 on what was then Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. Later named Gray Army Airfield after Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, who died during a free balloon flight from Scott Field on 4 Nov 1927. Now a part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Pre World War II

The Shenandoah Airship at Camp Lewis 19 Oct 1924

In October 1921 Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplanes flew from the Naval Station at Sand Point (Seattle) to a primitive grass airfield at what was then called Camp Lewis. In 1922 the Airfield erected a steel hangar, Hangar Number 1.

In 1923 a Dirigible Mooring Mast was built to dock arriving dirigibles. The Navy Dirigible USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) visited here twice but found northwest weather conditions unfavorable.

Camp Lewis received funding in 1927 to build a second hangar and it was renamed Fort Lewis. A communications building and photography building were completed in 1933. A major expansion of the airfield came in April 1938 with a WPA project to construct two new paved runways and support buildings. A metal balloon hangar at Fort Casey was disassembled and trucked to Fort Lewis and reassembled.

The Fort Lewis field was renamed Gray Army Airfield on 12 Apr 1938.

World War II

With the start of World War II, Gray Army Airfield received 1.7 million dollars for new hangars and improved facilities. Two of the early hangars and support buildings along the main runway remained in use. One new hangar was completed in 1942. This is the only surviving building from World War II and the oldest structure at the airfield. A new concrete apron was added around the World War II hangar. During the war the control tower sat on the west side of the field; now a replacement tower stands on the east side.

The Air Transport Command used Gray Airfield as the CONUS hub for ferrying supplies, equipment, and aircraft to Eleventh Air Force at Elmendorf Field, near Fairbanks. Also used by Air Technical Service Command as aircraft maintenance and supply depot; primarily to service lend-lease aircraft being sent to Alaska.

Post World War II

With the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947 Gray Airfield was not transferred to USAF and it remained a U.S. Army Airfield with a mission for observation and Liaison aircraft at Fort Lewis.

During the Korean War, Gray Airfield continued in the role as a training and division support field using L-19 Bird Dog and other observation planes. The L-19 was easy to fly and reliable, with more than 3,000 produced. Pilots trained in L-19s for Forward Air Controller (FAC) duties directing artillery fire and infantry movement. On 22 Nov 1950, the 2d Aviation Company introduced H-13 Sioux helicopters, into the Korean War.

The 9th Cavalry Brigade (Air Assault) in the 1980s developed air-assault strategies with their AH-1 Cobra helicopters based upon experiences learned in Vietnam. They were equipped with rockets, guns, and grenade launchers for close fire support. A post-Vietnam air-supported infantry dominated Gray Airfield operations. This required new supporting facilities, including maintenance hangars and other facilities. In February 1981 a new operations center opened. Three hangars were constructed between 1985 and 1988.

In August 1984 Gray Airfield became one of a few test centers for the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.

In the fall of 2000 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were introduced at Gray Airfield. Cavalry soldiers learned how to fly the UAVs and learned of their reconnaissance and attack potential. In the War on Terrorism, the UAV became a critical and effective tool.

Gray Airfield units have served in Iraq returning from their 15-month deployment on 17 Apr 2004. Their CH-47 Chinooks performed transportation and supply missions in Balad, Iraq.

Since 2005 the field has been experiencing another major expansion. This includes the activation of a Special Operations Aviation Battalion on 16 Jul 2006. The battalion is equipped with MH-47 Chinooks and MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. A new complex has been constructed for the Special Operations forces.

Based at Gray Army Airfield, Army Reserve aviation units transport National Park Service emergency search-and-rescue (SAR) teams to and from the nearby mountains. The company inherited the SAR mission in July 1998, when the active-Army unit tasked with the responsibility was inactivated. During regular training sessions before and during the climbing season, the unit's CH-47 Chinook helicopters fly to Kautz Creek near the base of the mountain to pick up the SAR teams.

Current Status

Gray Army Airfield is an active military airfield now a part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Location: Near Tacoma in Pierce County, Washington.

Maps & Images

Lat: 47.079167 Long: -122.580833

GPS Locations:

See Also:


  • US Army Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities Report, AMD-1, Office of the Chief of Engineers, 31 Dec 1945, CDSG Pdf
  • Shaw, Frederick J. Ed., Locating Air Force Base Sites: History's Legacy, updated 2014, Air Force History and Museums Program, USAF, Washington DC, 2004, 268 pages


Fortification ID:

  • WA0161 - Gray Army Airfield

Visited: No

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