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53rd Airlift Squadron [53rd AS]

The 53rd Airlift Squadron is tasked with producing highly qualified DoD and international C-130 crewmembers through superior aircraft, support, and training, while maintaining a rapidly deployable combat force capability.

The mission of the 53rd AS is, as well, to provide initial qualification, mission qualification (airland and airdrop), and re-qualification C-130 formal training for the United States Air Force, sister services, and 27 allied nations. The squadron also carries out operational support airlift missions as directed by higher authorities. More than 150 select aircrew members, most qualified as either instructors or flight examiners, and approximately 220 maintenance and support personnel comprise the unit. Each instructor is rigorously screened prior to assignment to either Formal Training Unit Squadron, and receives extensive training before interacting with students, ensuring the finest C-130 formal training cadre possible.

Thirty-four separate courses from eleven syllabi are taught by the 53rd and 62nd Airlift Squadrons, including aircraft commander, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, and loadmaster qualification. The two squadrons are projected to train approximately 1,300 students, in four crew positions, to operate the C-130 during Fiscal Year 2000, requiring approximately 8,160 sorties and 20,400 flying hours. The majority of training is accomplished locally using seven high-level navigation routes, 24 tactical low-level training routes, two drop zones and two short field landing zones.

The 53rd Airlift Squadron traces its origins to the 53rd Transport Squadron which was activated on May 30, 1942, at Pope Field, Fort Bragg, NC, at which time it was issued a full complement of brand new C-47 Skytrain aircraft. Just one month later, on July 4, 1942, the squadron was charged with its new primary mission of transporting airborne infantry and paratroops into combat, and re-designated as the 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron.

Five days later, on July 9, 1942, the 53rd entered combat for the first time, participating in Operation HUSKY, a paratroop drop mission over the island of Sicily. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 18 Skytrains of the 53rd dropped paratroops through the exploding flak and shells racing perilously skyward from the Cherbourg Peninsula on the Normandy coast. During the last months of 1944, the Blackjacks kept busy flying resupply and evacuation missions to areas deep behind enemy lines throughout France, Belgium, Holland, and along the western borders of Germany.

In March of 1945, the squadron moved from Barkston, England to Abbeville, France. It later flew many combat missions to Wesel, Germany, carrying the British 6th Airborne Division personnel and equipment instrumental in overcoming enemy resistance to Field Marshall Montgomery's bridgeland across the lower Rhine.

After "the war to end all wars", the 53rd was located at Orly Field, France as part of the European Air Transport Service. In April of 1948, the squadron was transferred to Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany. When Soviet Russia cut off all barge, highway, and rail traffic to West Berlin, the Blackjacks were one of the first USAF units to come to the rescue of the besieged people of Berlin, flying food, fuel, and other vital supplies into the beleaguered city. For the next 14 months, during which time the unit converted to flying the C-54 Skymaster aircraft, the squadron was engaged in Operation VITTLES, also known as "the Berlin Airlift".

At the outbreak of the Korean War, the 53rd was sent on temporary duty to McChord Air Force Base, WA, to participate in airlift operations to Japan. Later, while stationed at Ashiya Air Base, Japan, the squadron was engaged almost exclusively in operations directly related to the war against communist forces in Korea by transporting cargo and evacuating wounded personnel.

Upon the squadron's return to Larson Air Force Base, Washington, in November of 1952, they began flying the C-124 Globemaster. For the next 14 years, until its deactivation in July of 1966, the 53rd flew the Globemaster all over the world providing the airlift needed to move much needed personnel and cargo supporting contingencies and humanitarian aid missions.

On January 8, 1972, the squadron was given new life and reactivated at Norton Air Force Base, CA, with the 63rd Military Airlift Wing, flying the C-141A Starlifter. During the Viet Nam conflict in Southeast Asia, the 53rd flew allied forces from the Saigon area to Da Nang and ammunition from Bien Hoa to Pleiku. Hundreds of Vietnamese refugees' lives were saved as they were airlifted out of Pleiku by 53rd aircrews, who averaged only 20 minutes on the ground per aircraft between lifts. One Blackjack crew was credited with carrying 388 refugees on one mission. In February and March of 1973, the 53rd participated in Operation HOMECOMING, flying the first C-141 into Hanoi on March 3 to pick up returning Prisoners of War.

In April of 1973, history was made once again when a Blackjack crew was selected to airlift passengers and equipment to Peking, China, where the office of the first United States representative to the People's Republic of China was being established. It was the first USAF aircraft to enter China in more than 30 years.

In the latter part of 1973, the Blackjacks flew shuttle missions between Lajes Airfield in the Azores and Lod International Airport in the effort to resupply Israel during the Arab-Israeli War. After the war, the 53rd flew missions in support of the United Nations peacekeeping effort to establish a force between the warring factions and prevent further recurrence of hostilities.

The next ten years saw the Blackjacks deploy all over the world -- the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, famine relief in Zaire, Cyclone relief in Australia, and snow relief in New England, USA. They also participated in Exercise SHABAZZ 77, involving the countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, and Operation OCEAN VENTURE, a Joint Chiefs of Staff exercise involving more than 120,000 personnel, 250 ships, and 1,000 aircraft from 14 countries.

In 1982 and 1985, the 53rd earned high praise as they were selected as the Military Airlift Command's Outstanding Strategic Airlift Squadron of the Year. One Blackjack crew, on the first C-141 to fly into Hanoi since the Operation HOMECOMING, made national headlines when they airlifted the remains of six servicemen who had been missing in action since the war in Southeast Asia.

During December of 1989, the 53rd operated six of the 17 C-141 aircraft to airdrop and six of the seven aircraft to airland US forces into Panama during Operation JUST CAUSE. The Blackjacks also had the distinction of operating the first five aircraft to land at Torrijos International Airport, Panama. The dangerous and challenging mission was flawlessly conducted at night, under cover of darkness, with no navigational aids or lights.

In the early days of Operation DESERT SHIELD, the Blackjacks launched the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade from El Toro, CA and flew F-117 support missions from Tonopah, NV. The 53rd flew more than 93 missions in support of the United Nations effort to defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. Crews staged out of such areas as Rhein-Main and Ramstein Air Bases in Germany; Zaragoza and Torrejon Air Bases in Spain; and Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, and King Fahd in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The countries of Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain were also used.

In January of 1991, as Operation DESERT SHIELD escalated to become Operation DESERT STORM, the Blackjacks airlifted the first shipment of Patriot Missiles to Tel Aviv, Israel to aid in their protection from impending SCUD attacks. The 53rd flew approximately 68 missions, airlifting troops and equipment throughout the Persian Gulf region in support of United Nations coalition forces to expel the Iraqi military from Kuwait.

The end of the Gulf War marked the beginning of the 53rd's participation in a long series of humanitarian relief missions. After the Gulf War ended, in April of 1991, 53rd aircrews were tasked to airlift food and medical supplies to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, the Kurdish relief effort in Iraq. In February of 1992, the Blackjacks were tasked with an emergency humanitarian relief effort to deliver medical supplies and food to the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States. Operation PROVIDE HOPE began on February 10, 1992, with 12 loads of food and medicine delivered to Latvia, Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, and LVon, Ukraine. The effort lasted approximately 21 days.

In April of 1993, as the Air Force began it's force-wide reorganization, the 53rd Airlift Squadron was deactivated at Norton AFB, CA, and in October of 1993, reactivated at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR. Flying the C-130E Hercules aircraft, the mission had changed from one of worldwide deployment to one of training all US Air Force, Department of Defense, and selected foreign national personnel in the operation of the C-130.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:14:09 ZULU