America loves pioneers. We are drawn to their passion, ambition, and willingness to risk everything to attempt something new and dangerous. One century ago, a new breed of bold and slightly insane pioneers swept over the face of our country … they were aviators.

Pioneering aviators had plenty of problems, but dying from old age was not one of them. Every pilot danced with death during their career. They witnessed friends perish, or they perished; or at the very least had a few near-death experiences. The technology and mechanics existed to put them into the atmosphere, but not all of the kinks had been worked out. Weather, inexperience, and faulty equipment proved to be a fatal mix for many. Nevertheless, the triumph and tragedy of these aviators changed the world in ways that impact each one of us today.

Major John Thomas Fancher was one of these pioneers. His passion for aviation, expertise as a pilot, and leadership in the National Guard and his community still echo across Washington State today. The heritage of the unit he established and commanded, the 116th Observation Squadron, lives on in the citizen-airmen of the 141st Air Refueling Wing based at Spokane’s Fairchild Air Force Base. Sadly, he would die young and tragically like many of his fellow pioneers, but not before leaving a lasting legacy.

John Fancher was born in May 1891 and grew up on a farm outside of Spokane. His father’s name was John Fancher, as was his grandfather’s, and it seemed that his destiny would be very similar to the John Fanchers who proceeded him. He learned to farm and enjoyed the family business of agriculture. Two things would irrevocably change Fancher’s life: the airplane and World War I.