THE BARNES AIR SHOW 2017: The History of Barnes Airport and the 104th Fighter Wing

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Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport was home to the 2017 "Westfield International Air Show", a flying extravaganza sponsored by the 104th Fighter Wing and held in central Massachusetts on August 11th and 12th this year that included over 72 airplanes and 6 hours of "Sierra Hotel" flying for 100,000 plane crazy people! Outwardly Barnes looks like a small airport, but Barnes Airport near Springfield has an amazing history: Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport (KBAF) is a public / military airport in Hampden County, Massachusetts. It is owned by the City of Westfield and is three miles north of the City on Route 202, and west of Springfield, MA. Formerly known as Barnes Municipal Airport, it is now one of Massachusetts's largest airports with a strong flight training, general aviation and military presence. It has two runways: 2/20, its main north-south runway at 9,000 x 150 feet and 15/33, its cross-wind runway at 5,000 x 100 feet. In 2010 it had 57,000 private operations and has 155 aircraft based here including military.

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You could say the Airport started here on July 13, 1914, when Jack McGee of Pawtucket, RI, landed his Wright Bi-Plane nearby after he was hired to drop store flyers over Westfield. In WW1 a part of Barnes was known as Camp Bartlet and was a training camp for the 103rd and 104th Infantry Regiments of the famed 26th "Yankee" Division. In 1923 Vincent E. Barnes gave 27 acres of his property free to the City for an actual airport and it became known as the Westfield Aviation Field. Barnes leased another 27 acres for a dollar a year to Westfield in 1927 and finally the Barnes family donated 297 more acres in in 1936 to be used for airport expansion. Soon passenger service was started out of Barnes on October 28th, 1937 when a 10-passenger Stinson Tri-motor aircraft began flying between Westfield and Newark, NJ. American Airlines DC-3's operated out of Westfield from 1938 until 1950. The airport is now 1,200 acres. The airport now has a new VORTAC, ILS and lighting system. A new ATC Control Tower was added in 1975. Runway 2/20 was rebuild in 2011. The new modern Terminal was built about 2005 and includes Papp's Bar and Grill, a high-end restaurant. Barnes has one FBO - Rectrix - located next to the Terminal. In 2005 Rectrix bought out the adjacent Five Star Jet Center and is now the only full FBO on site. Barnes also has two FAA-Approved Flight Schools, an aircraft restoration firm and a noise mitigation firm on site. The airport has an abundance of GA hangers. "Gulfstream" recently build a huge new major service center near the 104th FW Ramp at the end of Runway 2/20. The facility has two large hangers plus 210,000 square feet of work space for 225 employees and can perform major maintenance on up to 22 major large corporate aircraft in the hangers at one time.

There is also a Massachusetts Army National Guard Helicopter Unit at Barnes - Detachment 1, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, 26th Division, located at a brand new Army Aviation Support Facility complex on the south side of the 104th FW ramp. Entry is via the Main Gate at the Barnes ANGB with a service entry off of Route 202. They use three brand new (so new they smell like a new car!) LUH-72A (Light Utility Helicopter) Lakotas and three HH-60M MedEvac Blackhawks. The three MedEvac Blackhawks and 21 personnel recently deployed to "an undisclosed location" in Southwest Asia in support of "Operation Inherent Resolve" and "Operation Spartan Shield" to provide medical evacuation as needed and to relieve the 21 MAARNG personnel already in-country.

The major military unit at Barnes ANG Base and the primary sponsor of the 2017 Westfield International Air Show, is the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, based in a major facility at the far north end of the Airport. The Wing is called the "Barnstormers" and has over 1,000 full time and part time personnel assigned. The Primary Aircraft Authorization (PAA) as determined by the 2005 BRAC base realignment Congressional Order are eighteen F-15C Eagle jet fighters. Its Primary Mission is that of an Air Expeditionary Fighter Wing tasked to deploy where needed and to provide Air Superiority with its assigned F-15C aircraft. The unit also performs 24/7 Aerospace Control Alert with armed F-15C's to protect the Northeast Sector of the United States from "external and internal attack". The history of the 104th Fighter Wing / 131st Fighter Squadron began in 1946 when the National Guard Bureau authorized an Air National Guard Unit for Western Massachusetts. In 1947 the Unit was federally recognized as the 131st Tactical Fighter Squadron and was assigned the Republic P-47D "Thunderbolt" fighter and based at the Barnes Municipal Airport and was assigned to the 102nd Fighter Group at Otis ANGB. In 1951 the 131st FS converted to the F-51H Mustang Very Long Range Fighter and was assigned the defense of Massachusetts during the Korean War and was re-designated as the 131st Fighter Interceptor Squadron. It went on Runway Daytime Alert to protect the northeast from the early threat of Soviet bomber penetration.

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In 1956 the Barnes unit became the 104th Fighter Group and in 1958 it further changed from an Air Defense Command unit to a Tactical Air Command unit with the arrival of F-86H Sabre fighter-bombers. In 1961 the 104th was called to active duty for the Berlin Crisis and deployed to Phalsbourg AIr Base in France to support NATO forces in Europe on 24/7 alert status.

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In 1965 the F-84F Thunderstreak came on board and later in 1971 the first F-100D flew into Barnes and stayed until 1979. The unit did its first Red Flag in 1976.

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Then in 1979 it finally happened - The 104th got its A-10 Warthogs, and was soon awarded "Outstanding In Mission Ability" and now was in line with USAF front line aircraft and could participate in active Air Force missions as part of the new DoD "Total Force Policy". This opened the door to many missions to Europe in support of NATO operations.

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In 1984 a 104th pilot became a NASA Astronaut as a Payload Specialist on board the Space Shuttle "Columbia". In 1990 the unit almost received F-16A/B as a CAS platform but that conversion was doomed to failure and the USAF continued with using the Fairchild Republic Hogs as a better CAS asset. In 1995 the 131st FS actively participated in the Kosovo/Bosnia War working out of Aviano AFB in Italy flying actual combat missions with their A-10's. Starting in 2003, the Wing deployed about 500 personnel in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Southwest Asia. There the Wing became the lead unit of the 387th Air Expeditionary Wing, a combined unit comprised of both the 104th FW and the 103rd Fighter Wing of the Connecticut Air National Guard based at nearby Bradley Air National Guard Base near Hartford, CT. The 104th FW sent eleven A-10's to the deployed location which flew each day of the deployment, compiling a 98% Mission Effectiveness Rate with no combat losses or damage. The unit continued to rack up many operational awards while they had the A-10's.

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In November 2005, the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Committee became law and the 104th Fighter Wing began its most recent transition, both in aircraft and mission. The unit transitioned from being one of the best A-10 units in the nation to providing Air Dominance as an air sovereignty unit flying F-15C/D Eagles. The first F-15C/D arrived on September 8, 2007. The 104FW eventually received 20 F-15C/D's from 2007 to 2008, many arriving from the 102nd FW on Cape Cod, now closed by BRAC. The Barnes base underwent a facelift through continuous construction projects tied to the F-15C/D arrival and other modernization projects from 2007 to 2010, including the new Air Sovereignty Alert Station, a new Fire and Crash, and new Force Protection around the base as well as the reconstruction of the main runway. On February 1, 2010, the base was identified as "Initial Operation Capable" and on February 15, 2010, the base accepted its first mission in the F-15C/D, providing "Air Sovereignty Alert" capabilities for the Northeast Sector of the US. In 2012, the 131st FS made its first AEF deployment with the F-15's to the Arabian Gulf conducting its first Theatre Security Package mission. In the period 2012 to the present 2017, the 104th FW has deployed with aircraft and personnel to numerous exercises in the US, Europe, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, SE Asia, SW Asia and the Middle East. In that period also, the Wing continued to win numerous awards for unit operational readiness, performance and personnel achievements. Well Done 104th -- Keep Up The Good Work. (PS -- They also do really great Air Shows! See the new story in Photorecon.net on the 2017 Barnes Air Show!!!) Great history Bill!  Now, for a look back at the 2017 Westfield International Air Show's warbird guests that saluted 100 years of airpower, here's a slide show from the ClassicWarbirds team:

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