23rd Fighter Group [23rd FG]
(Base Code: FT)
The 23d Fighter Group is the home of the Air Force's legendary Flying Tigers and is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base, N.C.. The group is a unit of 4th Figher Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, NC; Ninth Air Force, Shaw Air Force Base, SC; and Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, VA. The 23rd Fighter Group's primary mission is forward air control, close-air support, interdiction and combat search and rescue operations.
The 23d Fighter Group, in conjunction with the 43d Wing at Pope Air Force Base, provides the global reach and global power of the United States Air Force - capable of deploying a self-sustaining war fighting package anywhere in the world at a moment's notice, to form our nation's premiere forced entry capability with the United States Army. To carry out this mission, the group has two operational squadrons assigned: the 74th and the 75th Fighter Squadrons flying A-10s. The A-10A is a single-seat tactical fighter and light attack aircraft. It was the first Air Force aircraft specifically designed to perform the close-air support mission. The aircraft assigned to the group have the unique "Shark Teeth" nose art on them. The Flying Tigers are the only Air Force unit authorized to carry this distinctive and historical aircraft marking. The 23d Fighter Group has more than 880 people assigned.
The 23d Fighter Group traces its roots back to the 23d Pursuit Group (Interceptor), which was constituted at Langley Field, VA, December 17, 1941, just 10 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Not knowing its final destination, the unit boarded the converted luxury liner Brazil on March 17, 1942, at Charleston, SC, for a 60-day voyage to Karachi, India. Shortly after its arrival, the unit was redesignated the 23d Fighter Group in May 1942. By June 15, 1942, under orders from 10th Air Force, an advance cadre of the 23d Fighter Group had proceeded over the infamous "Hump" route to Hunmung, China, and without ceremony, the unit was activated July 4, 1942, marking the first such activation of a fighter group on a field of battle. Claire L. Chennault, meanwhile, had been recalled to active duty with the rank of brigadier general and placed at the head of the China Air Task Force (later to become 14th Air Force). The 23d Fighter Group, a component of the CATF, was assigned three squadrons -- the 74th, 75th and 76th.
The group inherited the mission of the American Volunteer Group "Flying Tigers," which was disbanded. Five of Chennault's staff officers, five pilots and 19 ground crewmen became members of the 23d Fighter Group. A larger number, still in civilian status, volunteered to fly with the group for two weeks following the disbanding of their unit. Others from the ranks of the old Flying Tigers left China temporarily, but many returned to duty later with the Army Air Corps in the China-Burma-India theater. In addition to inheriting operational responsibilities from the AVG, the 23d Fighter Group also benefited from the knowledge and experience of the AVG pilots, and took on the nickname of the disbanded unit.
On the very first day of its activation, the 23d Fighter Group engaged three successive waves of enemy aircraft and promptly recorded the destruction of five enemy aircraft with no losses to itself. The next three years saw the 23d Fighter Group involved in much of the action over southeast and southwest Asia. It was made even more combat effective with its conversion to the North American P-51 "Mustang" aircraft in November 1943. Representative of the encounters undertaken by this group was the defense against a major Japanese push down the Hsiang Valley in Hunan Province June 17-25, 1944. Ignoring inhibiting weather conditions and heavy ground fire, the 23d Fighter Group provided air support for Chinese land forces and repeatedly struck at enemy troops and transportation. Its efforts in this instance earned it the Distinguished Unit Citation for "outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy".
Before the 23d Fighter Group returned to the United States in December 1945, it accounted for the destruction of 621 enemy planes in air combat, plus 320 more on the ground. It sank more than 131,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaged another 250,000 tons. It caused an estimated enemy troop loss of more than 20,000. These statistics were compiled through a total of more than 24,000 combat sorties, requiring more than 53,000 flying hours, and at a cost of 110 aircraft lost in aerial combat, 90 shot down by surface defenses and 28 bombed while on the ground.
The 23d Fighter Group was inactivated January 5, 1946, at Fort Lewis Staging Area, WA. The 23d Fighter Group was reactivated October 10, 1946, in Guam, and assigned to the Far East Air Forces (20th Air Force). It was equipped with Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" aircraft. The group moved to Howard Air Force Base, Canal Zone, in April 1949. It was given a complement of Lockheed RF-80 "Shooting Star" aircraft to supplement its P-47 aircraft. The 23d Fighter Group was charged with an air defense mission under the Caribbean Air Command until it was again inactivated September 24, 1949.
When activated once again, January 12, 1951, the unit was redesignated the 23d Fighter-Interceptor Group and assigned to Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine, under the Air Defense Command. It was equipped with North American F-86 "Sabre," P-51 "Mustang" and F-80 "Shooting Star" aircraft. Its mission was to provide air defense for the northeastern United States. Although still retaining two of the three original permanently assigned squadrons -- the 74th and 75th -- the group during this period lost the 76th, which remained on inactive status. It was also during this period that the group conducted basic training for about 500 Air Force recruits.
Another inactivation occurred February 6, 1952, followed by a subsequent reactivation August 18, 1955. Remaining at Presque Isle Air Force Base, the unit was redesignated the 23d Fighter Group (Air Defense) and flew Northrop F-89 "Scorpion" aircraft until it was once again inactivated July 1, 1959. During this period, the 76th was reunited with the 75th, but the 74th was lost by the group.
Following its longest period of inactivation, the Flying Tiger unit was designated the 23d Tactical Fighter Wing upon its reactivation Janurary 28, 1964, at McConnell Air Force Base, KS, under Tactical Air Command and 12th Air Force. Minus the 74th, 75th and 76th Squadrons, the wing was given operational support by the assigned 560th, 561st, 562d and 563d Tactical Fighter Squadrons, flying the Republic Aviation F-105 "Thunderchief" aircraft. The wing maintained proficiency in tactical fighter operations, and later also functioned as a replacement training unit and assisted Air National Guard units in their conversion to the F-105. For the dual role it played from June 1970 to June 1971 as both an operational and a training unit, the wing received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in March 1971. Two subordinate squadrons -- the 562d and 563d -- also received the same award for action in the skies over Vietnam during 1965.
The 23d Tactical Fighter Wing moved without people or equipment to England Air Force Base, LA, July 1, 1972. Assigned under TAC and Ninth Air Force, the wing was reunited for the first time since 1949 with all three of its original World War II fighter units -- the 74th, 75th and 76th Tactical Fighter Squadrons. The wing was equipped with the LTV Aerospace Vought A-7D "Corsair II" aircraft. A year later, the 74th TFS deployed to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, and for seven months supported the air war activities in Vietnam. Until the bombing halt was called August 15, 1973, the unit had accounted for the destruction of 311 enemy structures, 25 ground artillery and missile sites, three bridges and 9,500 cubic meters of supplies.
The wing has taken part extensively in a variety of operational exercises both in the United States and overseas. These include two tactical bombing competitions against the Royal Air Force at Lossiemouth, Scotland, during October 1977 and July 1978. In both events, the Flying Tiger A-7D teams captured the Sir John Mogg Team Trophy.
In December 1980, the 23d TFW accepted its first operational Fairchild Republic A-10A "Thunderbolt II" aircraft, marking the beginning of a new era for the Flying Tigers. In a sense, the "Thunderbolt" had come home, as the original -- the Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" -- was flown by the Flying Tigers in the late 1940s while stationed in the western Pacific. In less than a year's time after accepting its new "Thunderbolt," the wing once again lived up to its tradition of excellence. The Flying Tigers captured top honors in Ninth Air Force's tactical bombing competition, Gunpowder 1981, in July, to advance to TAC's worldwide Gunsmoke 1981 competition at Nellis Air Force Base, NV, in September.
The Flying Tigers won six of nine events in Gunsmoke '81, including top maintenance and munitions awards, and was the top A-10 unit in the shootout. The 23d TFW reappeared in Gunsmoke competitions for the next eight years. The wing's maintenance complex was awarded the 1981 Daedalian runner-up trophy, and earned the 1984 Daedalian Aircraft Maintenance Trophy.
Air Force records were set by the wing for "mission capable" and "fully mission capable" rates during fiscal year 1985. The marks, 93.1 percent in MC and 92.8 percent in FMC, topped records set by the wing in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984. Mission capable means an aircraft can meet any mission tasking. Another milestone occurred in March 1984, when the wing received the last A-10A "Thunderbolt II" aircraft to be built by Fairchild Republic. The wing won its fourth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award following Operations DESERT SHIELD/STORM for the period April 1, 1989, to March 31, 1991. The 23d TFW continued to build on its tradition of service and readiness as its 74th and 76th Tactical Fighter Squadrons deployed with numerous support personnel to Saudi Arabia for Operation DESERT SHIELD in August 1990.
Assigned to King Fahd International Airport, the two squadrons were part of the largest A-10 deployment to date. Two squadrons from Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, SC; one squadron from Naval Air Station, New Orleans; one squadron from RAF Alconbury, UK; and a squadron of OA-10 forward air controllers from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ, completed two provisional wings totaling about 144 aircraft. A-10s made their wartime debut with the start of Operation DESERT STORM on January 7, 1991. In this latest chapter of wartime service, the Flying Tigers flew more than 2,700 combat sorties over Iraq and Kuwait while maintaining a mission-capable rate of 95 percent. The combined efforts of the A-10 units resulted in the confirmed destruction of 987 tanks, 926 artillery pieces, 500 armored personnel carriers, 1,106 trucks, 112 military structures, 96 radars, 72 bunkers, 57 SCUD missile launchers, 50 anti-aircraft artillery batteries, 28 command posts, 11 FROG missiles, nine surface-to-air missile sites, eight fuel tanks and twelve aircraft. Both squadrons returned to England Air Force Base in late March to large crowds of supporters. Support personnel continued to arrive for months after the aircraft redeployment.
In October 1990, it was determined that England Air Force Base would be closed by September 1992. A drawdown of equipment and personnel began almost immediately. On October 1, 1991, the wing designation became 23d Fighter Wing, and on November 1, 1991, the squadrons also dropped "tactical" from their designations.
The Flying Tigers inactivated June 1, 1992, at England Air Force Base and were reactivated as the 23d Wing, part of a composite wing at Pope Air Force Base, NC, the same day. The wing activation coincided with the activation of Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley AFB, VA.
In December 1992, C-130s from the 2d Airlift Squadron deployed to Mombasa, Kenya, to participate in Operation PROVIDE RELIEF. The aircraft and crews delivered tons of food and other relief supplies to small airstrips throughout Somalia. Flying Tiger C-130s have also been tasked to assist in other humanitarian relief efforts, to include Hurricane Andrew in Florida. They also airdropped relief supplies into Bosnia-Herzogovina and flew relief missions into Sarajevo for more than 28 months. In September 1994, Flying Tiger C-130s participated in what was to be the largest combat personnel drop since World War II, Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. They were to assist in dropping more than 3,000 paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division onto Port au Prince Airport, Haiti. The invasion force was recalled at the last minute after word that the Haitian president had resigned upon hearing that the aircraft were on their way.
The 75th Fighter Squadron's A-10s were also involved in UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. The squadron deployed their aircraft to Shaw AFB, SC, where they were scheduled to launch close air support operations for the invasion force before recovering in Puerto Rico. The first operational deployment of a composite wing happened in October 1994, when Iraqui troops began massing near the Kuwaiti Border. Within 72 hours, 56 aircraft and 1,500 people deployed to the Arabian Gulf region for Operation VIGILANT WARRIOR. Eventually, the 75th Fighter Squadron redeployed to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait, becoming the first U.S. fixed-wing aircraft to be stationed in that country since the end of the Gulf War.
In July 1996, the F-16 Fighting Falcons departed from the 74th Fighter Squadron and the unit transitioned to a second squadron of A/OA-10 Thunderbolt IIs. The 23d Wing won its fifth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period of 31 May 1995 through 31 March 1997.
On 1 April 1997, the 23d Wing was deactivated and the C-130s and Pope Air Force Base were realigned to Air Mobility Command under the 43d Airlift Wing designation. On the same day, the 23d Fighter Group was activated at Pope Air Force Base as a tenant unit aligned under the 347th Wing at Moody Air Force Base, GA; remaining in Air Combat Command. The 74th Fighter Squadron, 75th Fighter Squadron, 23d Operations Support Squadron, and the 23d Maintenance Squadron remained part of the group.
The 23rd Fighter Group became part of the 4th Fighter Wing due to the reassignment of the 347th Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (previous parent organization of the 23rd), from Air Combat Command to Air Education and Training Command. The 23rd will continue to operate from Pope. The group flies and maintains 48 A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft. Their primary mission is forward air control, close-air support, interdiction and combat search and rescue operations.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Pope AFB, NC. It would realign the 23d Fighter Group's A-10 aircraft (36 aircraft) to Moody AFB, GA.
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