The legends of Bigfoot go back beyond recorded history and cover the world. In North America – and particularly the Northwest – you can hear tails of seven-foot-tall “hairy men” stalking the woods, occasionally scaring campers, lumberjacks, hikers and the like.
Bigfoot is known by many titles with many different cultures although the name “Bigfoot” is generally attributed to the mountainous Western region of North America. The common name “Sasquatch” comes from the Salish Sasquits, while the Algonquin of the north-central region of the continent refer to a Witiko or Wendigo. Other nations tell of a large creature much like a man but imbued with special powers and characteristics. The Ojibway of the Northern Plains believed the Rugaru appeared in times of danger and other nations agreed that the hairy apparition was a messenger of warning, telling man to change his ways.
North American settlers started reporting sightings during the late 1800s and into the 1900s with the occasional finding of footprints, sporadic encounters and even a few grainy photos and videos adding to the mystery. Those who claim to have seen Bigfoot have described everything from a large, upright ape to an actual hairy human, sometimes standing over eight feet tall and described as “powerfully built.”
The debate and research continue. Entire organizations exist to study and document Bigfoot and prove its existence and groups regularly search the Northwest woods, looking for that ultimate proof.
In one very real sense, however, Bigfoot does exist. The Western Air Defense Sector, Washington Air National Guard adopted the nickname of “Bigfoot” and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week monitoring the skies of the Western United States and Canada. Just like the Bigfoot of legend the sector is rarely seen and rarely heard, but rest assured it continues to observe and – if necessary –serve as a messenger of warning.
During its ten years of operational service the 29th Air Division made two moves, which saw it cover three separate portions of the continental United States.
The division first activated under Air Defense Command at Great Falls AFB, Mont. (the Air Force renamed the base for the late Col. Einar Malmstrom on 15 June 1956) and directed air defense operations in the Upper Rocky Mountain region of the country. In July 1961 the division headquarters transferred to Richards-Gebauer AFB, Mo. and its area of operation expanded substantially, effectively monitoring everything between Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Its assigned air defense sectors included the Grand Forks ADS (Grand Forks AFB, N.D.); Great Falls ADS (Malmstrom AFB); Kansas City ADS (Richards-Gebauer AFB); Minot ADS (Minot AFB, N.D.); Oklahoma City ADS (Oklahoma City AFS, Okla.); and the Sioux City ADS (Sioux City AFS, Iowa). The division’s fighter interceptor squadrons ranged from the 13th FIS at Glasgow AFB, Mont. south to the 331st FIS at Webb AFB, Texas and included several Air National Guard squadrons such as the South Dakota ANG’s 175th FIS at Sioux Falls, the Nebraska ANG’s 173rd FIS at Lincoln AFB and the New Mexico ANG’s 188th FIS at Kirtland AFB.
As part of ADC’s massive reorganization of 1 April 1966, the 29th Air Division headquarters moved to Duluth Airport, Minn. and occupied the former Duluth ADS SAGE direction center. With the transfer the division assumed responsibility for the air defense of eastern North Dakota, Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It gained interceptor squadrons at Duluth, Grand Forks and K.I. Sawyer AFB in Michigan as well as multiple long-range radar sites stretching from Sault Ste Marie AFS, Mich. in the east to Finley AFS, N.D.
ADC reorganized again on 19 November 1969 and the 29th Air Division passed into history, its place at Duluth taken by the 23rd Air Division.
Paine Field is probably best known as the home of the Boeing “wide bodies,” the B747, B767 and B777. However, from February 1952 through September 1969 Paine served as an important Air Defense Command fighter interceptor base, anchoring the defense of the North Puget Sound.
The 83rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron arrived at the field south of Mukilteo, Wash. in early 1952 with F-84Gs but quickly reequipped with F-86D Sabres. On 18 August 1955 the 321st FIS replaced the 83rd and came under the newly activated 326th Fighter Group (Air Defense). The group had spent World War II as an air defense outfit before becoming a P-47 operational training unit at Seymour Johnson Field, N.C. The group inactivated on 10 April 1944.
Initially assigned to the 25th Air Division, the 326th FG(AD) transferred to the operational control of the Seattle Air Defense Sector in February 1960. One month later the 321st FIS inactivated and ADC moved the 64th FIS in from McChord AFB as its replacement. A little over a year later the command inactivated the 326th itself and stood up the 57th Fighter Group (Air Defense) in its place.
During the war the 57th and the 64th, 65th and 66th Fighter Squadrons served in North Africa, Italy and Southern Europe with P-40s and P-47s. Postwar the group reactivated under Alaskan Air Command (AAC) at Shemya Army Airbase at the end of the Aleutians. The group moved to Elmendorf Field in 1947 and the squadrons transitioned from P-51Hs to P-80s in 1948. The 57th Fighter Interceptor Group inactivated on 13 April 1953 and the interceptor force in Alaska passed to AAC’s 10th Air Division.
The reactivation of the 57th Fighter Group (Air Defense) at Paine on 1 April 1961 reunited the 64th FIS with its World War II group. The group and squadron continued F/TF-102A operations from Paine Field through June 1966, when the 64th transferred to the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark Field in the Philippines. In its stead the 57th FG(AD) gained the 498th FIS, up from McChord AFB with F-106s. The group transferred to the 25th Air Division with the inactivation of the Seattle Air Defense Sector on 1 April 1966.
On 30 September 1968 ADC transferred the 498th FIS to Hamilton AFB, Calif. and inactivated the 57th Fighter Group (Air Defense), ending interceptor operations at Paine Field. The unit is now the 57th Operations Group at Nellis AFB, Nev., a component of the 57th Wing. The 57th Wing reactivated at Nellis on 15 October 1969, replacing the 4525th Fighter Weapons Wing.
Two of the fighter interceptor squadrons assigned at Paine AFB. Initially equipped with F-89Ds, the 321st FIS provided air defense alert for the northern Puget Sound, often working with units stationed at McChord AFB. The squadron upgraded to F-89Hs in 1956 and F-89Js in 1957, prior to inactivating on 31 Marcy 1960. The 64th FIS then moved to Paine from McChord with its F-102s and continued alert operations at the installation through June 1966. Notably, when the 64th transferred to the Philippines, it marked only the second overseas deployment of the Delta Dagger using inflight refueling.