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1st Reconnaissance Squadron [1st RS]

The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron recruits all Air Force U-2 pilots. Pilots interested in the program are hand-picked from the various commands and sent to Beale for interviews followed by flight screening. Flying abilities are evaluated in the U-2 two-seat trainer. If selected, applicants are assigned to the 1 RS for upgrade training. Initial training takes place in the two-seat U-2ST trainer aircraft. At completion of the initial qualification phase of five dual instructional flights and one dual evaluation flight, the pilot solos in a single-seat U-2. The pilot then continues to the high-altitude mission qualification phases, where all missions except three, are flown solo. At training completion, U-2 pilots are assigned to the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron. The U-2 is a demanding, single-seat, single-engine, high-altitude aircraft that is undoubtedly the most difficult in the Air Force inventory to land. The squadron's outstanding record reflects the dedication and professionalism of the elite group of instructors, enlisted and civilian members of the squadron.

In 1913 General Victoriano Huerta's revolutionary forces threatened the peace and security of our southwestern borders. The Army unofficially organized the 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) at Texas City, Texas on 5 March 1913 as part of its expedition preparing for a possible confrontation with Huerta's forces. Three years later Mexican renegade Pancho Villa staged several raids into the U.S. As part of General Pershing's Punitive Expedition, the 1st Aero Squadron (officially organized in December 1913) became the first tactical aviation unit to participate in an American military action.

Under the command of Captain Benjamin D. Foulois the 1st took eight Curtiss JN-3s into the field. On 16 March 1916 they made their first reconnaissance flight into Mexico, and on 19 March 1916, the entire unit moved across the border. The squadron operated in Mexico until February 1917. But this first tactical use of aircraft was beset by problems, most noticeably the poor quality of these first air machines. The Curtiss "Jennys" could not climb over the 10,000 to 12,000 foot mountains that surrounded the area. Also, high winds and dust storms frequently grounded the Jennys. But the unit did the best it could with the fragile machines. They carried mail, flew limited reconnaissance, moved dispatches, and kept General Pershing in contact with his forward troops. When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917, the 1st Aero Squadron was still at Columbus, New Mexico.

The Army ordered the unit to New York to accompany the 1st Division to France. Ground transportation problems, however, caused the 1st to arrive too late to sail with the division. The squadron eventually arrived in New York in August 1917 and sailed for France on the SS. Lapland. The 1st arrived at Le Havre on 3 September 1917, and, though late, it was the first American squadron in France. From then October until the Armistice, the 1st Aero Squadron was constantly in action. First, flying newer Salmsons over the Champagne-Marne region, the unit aided the stand of U.S. Marines at Chateau-Thierry and prevented the German Army from crossing the Marne River. The squadron also fought at Aisne-Marne (18 July - 6 August 1918), St. Mihiel (12-16 September 1918), and Meusse-Argonne (26 September - 11 November 1918). The four Maltese crosses on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's emblem represent these battles. Although the 1st's primary duties were reconnaissance and artillery surveillance, occasionally unit pilots had to fight.

Squadron pilots scored 13 aerial victories during the war. Thirteen Maltese crosses on the 1st's emblem commemorate these victories. But the victories came at a price. Sixteen squadron officers lost their lives and three more were missing-in-action. Just before the United States became involved in World War II, the War Department sent the 1st to Panama in 1940 to strengthen U.S. defenses around the Panama Canal. After two years of anti-submarine duty, the 1st moved to the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida. There the unit trained other units in formation flying and precision high-altitude bombing in B-17s. In March 1944, the 1st relocated to Dalhart, Texas and began combat training. In May 1944, the squadron moved again, to McCook, Nebraska, where they received B-29s. After finishing B-29 training in December 1944, the 1st transferred to North Field, Tinian, in the Marianas Islands, as part of 20th Air Force, XXI Bomber Command. On 9 February 1945, the squadron saw its first combat of World War II when it joined a B-29 raid on the Japanese seaplane base at Moen, Truk Islands.

Following these missions, the 1st flew high-altitude, precision raids on Japanese aircraft engine plants on 25 February and 4 March 1945. On 9-10 March 1945, B-29s of the 1st were among the 334 bombers Major General Curtis E. LeMay dispatched on low-level, incendiary attacks, which devastated a 15-square mile area of Tokyo. Later, the squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a successful attack on Kawasaki, despite heavy flak and fighter opposition. In May, the 1st won another Distinguished Unit Citation for mining the Shimonoseki Strait and bottling-up Japanese forces in the Inland Sea, preventing their joining defenders on Okinawa during the Allied assault. After the birth of the Air Force in 1947, the unit joined Strategic Air Command as the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic. In May 1949 the squadron moved to Fairfield-Suisun AFB (now Travis AFB), California and joined the 9th Reconnaissance Wing. In April 1950, the Air Force redesignated the unit the 1st Bombardment Squadron and, in October, transferred it to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. For the next several years, the 1st remained at the front of America's nuclear deterrent force, transitioning from B-29s to the B-47 in 1954. The squadron later set a record for a non-stop flight flying B-47s from Idaho to New Zealand. But even as the 1st flew the B-47, Lockheed Aircraft Co. was developing a new plane, cloaked in secrecy. This plane, publicly announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the SR-71, joined the Air Force inventory in 1966.

The 1st moved to Beale AFB, California on 25 June 1966 to fly the SR-71. This new and advanced aircraft gave the Strategic Air Command a reconnaissance capability far greater than any then available in terms of speed, altitude, and increased area coverage. The SR-71 could fly at more than three times the speed of sound and would operate at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet. During the Vietnam era the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron crewmembers gathered photographic and electronic intelligence products of the Southeast Asia. SR-71 crews risked their lives each day to obtain the information that was vitally important for the American war effort. Photos taken from SR-71 missions flown over North Vietnam were used in planning the unsuccessful attempt to rescue American POWs from Son Tay prisoner-of-war camp.Because of budgetary reasons the Air Force retired the SR-71 in July 1990. Following the retirement of the SR-71, on 1 July 1990 the unit became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Training), harkening back to its roots as a training unit at San Diego and Orlando. Today, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron is the Formal Training Unit for the U-2. The squadron recruits and trains all the U-2 pilots that fly high-altitude reconnaissance flights around the world.

For more than three-quarters of a century the 1st Squadron has led the way. The 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) was with General Pershing on his Punitive Expedition in 1916, the first tactical aviation unit to participate in a military action. In 1917, the 1st Aero Squadron was the first U.S. squadron in France. During World War II the 1st Bombardment Squadron won two Distinguished Unit Citations for operations in the Pacific. SR-71s from the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron set speed records in 1974 that still stand. Today the Air Force's oldest squadron continues to play a vital role in America's defense.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:11:10 ZULU