31st Fighter Wing [31st FW]
(Base Code: AV)
The 31st Fighter Wing is home to two F-16 fighter squadrons, the 510th FS and the 555th FS. Both squadrons relocated from Ramstein AB in 1994 and redesignated. The wing was redesignated from the 401st Fighter Wing to the 31st Fighter Wing in 1994 as Aviano took on permanently based aircraft for the first time in over 50 years. Additional sites attached to the 31st Fighter Wing include Ghedi-Torre and Camp Darby, Italy; Araxos, Greece; and Moron Air Base, Spain.
The 31st Fighter Wing maintained its role as the only United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) combat wing permanently stationed south of the Alps. In order to conduct daily operations, the wing utilized a mission statement unchanged since 25 October 1995 reflecting the wing's unique responsibilities: Conducts combat and support operations in Southern Region. Maintains the capability to conduct air combat operations with two F-16 Low Altitude Night Targeting Infrared Navigation (LANTIRN) capable squadrons in counter air missions, close air support, air interdiction, airborne forward air control and offensive missions of strategic nature through assigned forces in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and United States operations. Operates and maintains a theater air control system to provide mobile offensive and defensive radar control, air surveillance and air space management. Supports tactical and strategic airlift operations. Provides weather support for flying operations. Maintains active liaison with Italian representatives.
The 31st Fighter Wing supported national security objectives with two fully trained F-16 fighter squadrons, the 510th and 555th, capable of conducting offensive and defensive air combat operations under NATO and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The 603rd Air Control Squadron (ACS) provided the wing with command and control functions, air surveillance and communications. In an emergency, USAFE, AIRSOUTH, or the Balkan CAOC would task the 31 FW to support operations.
During World War II, the Army Air Forces organized their basic combat elements into groups. The organization of combat elements changed in 1947 after the newly established US Air Force adopted the wing as the basic combat element. The Air Force then established wings with the same numerical designation as the groups of World War II. On 6 November 1947, the Air Force established the 31st Fighter Wing at Turner Field, Georgia. The 31st Fighter Group became subordinate and attached to the 31st Fighter Wing on 20 November 1947, and continued training operations flying the P-51 Mustang. On 27 July 1951, the 31st Fighter Group's three squadrons, the 307th, 308th, and 309th, were assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing. The 31st Fighter Group was inactivated on 16 June 1952 and remained inactive until 1 November 1991, when it was activated as the 31st Operations Group.
The 31st Fighter Wing, activated on 6 November 1947, flew the P/F-51 Mustang, and in August 1948, converted to the F-84 Thunderjet, while assigned to Tactical Air Command and stationed at Turner Field, Georgia. The wing changed designations to the 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing on 20 January 1950, and reassigned to the Strategic Air Command on 1 July 1950. Fifteen days later the 31st Fighter Wing again changed designations to the 31st Fighter Escort Wing. The wing made aviation history on 22 September 1950, when Colonel David Schilling, wing commander, flew an F-84E from Manston, England to Limestone, Maine, in 10 hours and one minute. He earned distinction as the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean in a jet aircraft and received the Harmon Trophy for this feat.
On 26 December 1950, following the outbreak of the Korean War, the wing moved to Manston, England, for a six-month temporary duty tour, providing fighter escort for bombardment units operating from the United Kingdom. During this same period, the 31st converted from F-84Es to F-84Gs. The wing played a leading role in the development of in-flight refueling tactics and the demonstration of the long-range capabilities of jet fighters. On 4 July 1952, the entire 31st Fighter Escort Wing executed Operation FOX PETER ONE, the first and longest, non-stop, air-to-air refueling, jet flight in history. The wing flew from Turner Field, Georgia, to Misawa Air Base, Japan, in the first Trans-Pacific mass flight of jet aircraft. For its accomplishments, the 31st received the first ever Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
On 20 January 1953, the wing's name changed to the 31st Strategic Fighter Wing. Four years later, on 1 April 1957, the wing, redesignated the 31st Fighter-Bomber Wing, transferred from Strategic Air Command to the Tactical Air Command. During this same time, the wing converted from F-84s to the F-100 Super Sabre. On 1 July 1958, the wing's name changed once again, to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing.
On 15 March 1959, the wing moved, without personnel and equipment, from Turner Field, Georgia, to George Air Force Base, California. Three years later, the wing moved to a new home, Homestead AFB, Florida, on 1 June 1962, and played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of that same year. Throughout the crisis, the wing maintained constant air defense alert and for its critical role received its second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award on 10 May 1963. On 8 February 1964, the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing's, 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew nonstop from Homestead AFB, Florida, to Cigli Air Base, Turkey, in 11 hours and 30 minutes. The wing received the Tactical Air Command's Outstanding Fighter Wing Award for 1964, for this longest mass flight (6,000 miles) of jet aircraft across the Atlantic.
On 24 June 1965, the wing's 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, to augment US forces. During its six-month tour, the squadron flew 3,502 F-100 missions without a single combat loss. The 308th replaced the 307th in December 1965. For outstanding service in Vietnam from 1 June to 16 December 1966, the wing received its third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award on 11 May 1967. On 25 December 1966, the entire 31st Tactical Fighter Wing transferred to Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, assigned to Seventh Air Force, Pacific Air Forces. From February to April 1968, the wing provided extensive air support during the TET Offensive and the siege of Khe Sanh.
The wing returned to Homestead AFB on 15 October 1970 and converted from the F-100 to the F-4 Phantom. On 28 April 1972, the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed temporary duty to Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in support of Operation CONSTANT GUARD II. On 13 July 1972, the 307th replaced the 308th and recorded its first air victory on 15 October, when two crewmembers shot down a MiG-21 northeast of Hanoi. From 11 December 1972 to 11 June 1973, the 308th deployed to Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand in continued support of Operation CONSTANT GUARD II.
By 11 June 1973, with Vietnam commitments over, the wing resumed training operations. On 30 March 1981, the wing, redesignated the 31st Tactical Training Wing, continued training aircrews in the F-4. On 7 June 1985, the wing received their first F-16B Falcon. Four months later, on 1 October 1985, the wing returned to its prior designation, the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing. In March 1991, the wing converted from the F-16A/B to the Block 40 F-16C/D models. On 1 October 1991, the wing returned to its original designation, the 31st Fighter Wing. On 24 August 1992, Hurricane Andrew severely damaged and destroyed much of Homestead AFB. Due to the damage sustained, the Secretary of the Air Force recommended the closure of Homestead AFB during the 1993 round of base closures and realignments. As a result of this recommendation, the 31st was relieved of its assignment to Air Combat Command at Homestead AFB on 31 March 1994.
On 1 April 1994, the 31st Fighter Wing (FW) transferred to USAFE and Sixteenth Air Force and moved to its current home, at Aviano AB, Italy. The wing received two new fighter squadrons, the 510th and 555th, flying the F-16C/D Falcon. The 31st replaced the 401st Fighter Wing and provided support to Sixteenth Air Force installations located throughout the Southern Region.
The 31st Fighter Wing's new mission centered on efforts to contain the civil war in Yugoslavia. On 31 March 1993, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed Resolution 816, beginning a UN and NATO military action in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The wing's role in this peacekeeping mission consisted of a series of air operations: DENY FLIGHT, DELIBERATE FORCE, DECISIVE EDGE, DELIBERATE GUARD, DELIBERATE FORGE and JOINT GUARDIAN.
One month after arriving at Aviano AB, the wing began flying contingency operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In May 1994, the 31 FW's 555 FS started operations in support of Operation DENY FLIGHT, and by September of the same year, the 510th joined her sister squadron. Both squadrons conducted daily sorties with other NATO forces, enforcing the "No Fly Zone" over the region. By 28 August 1995, the wing had flown 1,644 sorties in support of Operation DENY FLIGHT.
The 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano Air Base in Italy led the largest air raids in Europe since World War II in the summer of 1995. Aircraft from the wing and from other coalition forces inflicted heavy damage on key Bosnian Serb targets. During Operation Deliberate Force, as the NATO-led bombing offensive of August and September was called, F-16 pilots of the 31st Wing's 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons flew as part of large strike packages with US Navy and Marine Corps pilots as well as with British, French, Dutch, German, Italian, and Turkish aircrews.
On 2 June 1995, Bosnian Serb Forces shot down Captain Scott O'Grady, a 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot, behind enemy lines. Captain O'Grady spent the next six days evading Bosnian Serb Forces by moving during the night and hiding during the day. Finally, on 8 June, a Marine Corps, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, rescued Captain O'Grady unharmed and he returned home to a heroes welcome. On 29 August 1995, in response to the Bosnian Serb's shelling of Sarajevo's central market, NATO initiated Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. This military action resulted in the largest air assault in NATO's history. The 31 FW increased its involvement and support to NATO forces during this 23-day operation, flying an average of 18 sorties a day for a total of 418 sorties. After reducing the threat to Sarajevo and other UN safe havens, NATO and the UN ended Operation DELIBERATE FORCE on 21 September 1995.
On 21 September 1995, with the completion of Operation DELIBERATE FORCE, Operation DENY FLIGHT resumed. The wing continued daily missions to enforce the "No Fly Zone" over Bosnia-Herzegovina, and by 20 December 1995, had flown a total of 303 sorties. On 15 December 1995, the UN Security Council Resolution 816 expired and with it authority for Operation DENY FLIGHT. The UN agreed to terminate the operation and officially turned over authority for the security of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) on 20 December 1995.
On 20 December 1995, NATO's IFOR began Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. The air portion of this mission, called Operation DECISIVE EDGE, ensured Aviano based aircraft continued to maintain the security of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 31 FW continued daily flights over the area and, as of 20 December 1996, had flown a total of 1,088 sorties for this operation.
On 20 December 1996, Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR concluded and NATO forces began operating under Operation JOINT GUARD. This new NATO operation also affected the air mission, which changed from Operation DECISIVE EDGE to Operation DELIBERATE GUARD. This new operation implemented by NATO's Stabilization Forces (SFOR, previously IFOR), became one of stabilization to give civilian agencies the opportunity and time to become functional and operational. The 31 FW continued to fly sorties in support of SFOR requirements, and by the end of Operation DELIBERATE GUARD, 20 June 1998, had flown a total of 1,632 sorties in these ongoing peacekeeping efforts. On 20 June 1998, peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovinia continued under Operation DELIBERATE FORGE.
On 19 February 1999, the 31 FW activated as the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing-NOBLE ANVIL (AEW). Assigned under a Joint Task Force, the 31AEW flew from Aviano and joined with NATO allies and conducted a 78-day air against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia). Aviano units, already in place, received nearly 200 additional aircraft and 4,000 additional personnel. From 24 March - 10 June 1999, the 31 AEW at Aviano, flew in Operation ALLIED FORCE (OAF). The largest expeditionary wing in air force history flew nearly 9,000 combat sorties and accumulated almost 40,000 hours of combat service over the skies of Kosovo, Serbia, and all throughout the Balkan region in support of NATO operations. With zero combat losses, the wing accomplished much during OAF as the two permanently assigned flying squadrons, the 510 FS and 555 FS, combined for nearly 2,400 sorties over 10,000 combat hours. Additionally, as the first Aviano OAF squadrons to fly 1,000 combat sorties, 555 FS reached the 1,000 combat sortie mark on 27 May 1999 and the 510 FS followed suit two days later. Simply, the 31 FW operators, maintainers, and supporters proudly accomplished the NATO mission.
With a seven-year history of flying combat sorties from Aviano into the Balkan Theater, the wing took this combat experience to the Southwest Asia (SWA) Theater of Air Operations. From 3 March until 15 September 2000, the wings' fighter squadrons deployed to SWA in support of the "No Fly Zone" (NFZ) south of the 33 rd parallel north latitude. This Operation, known as SOUTHERN WATCH, required sorties into and around Iraq and other parts of this area. As part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Operations Group, the 510 th and 555 FS deployed to Ahmed Al Jaber AB, Kuwait and supported NFZ enforcement missions. The squadrons accomplished these missions under the auspices of and in compliance with the Air Force Concept of an AEF. While deployed, the wings' fighter squadrons flew over 2,100 hours and 1,320 sorties in the high-threat area with great results - mission accomplished. In 2001, the wing takes on new AEF challenges as the 603d Air Control Squadron deploys to Kuwait for AEF 4 and the 510 FS and 555 FS deploy to Turkey for Operation NORTHERN WATCH.
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