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56th Fighter Wing [56th FW]

The 56th Fighter Wing's mission is to train F-16 pilots and crew chiefs while providing agile combat support for aerospace expeditionary forces. The wing, part of Air Education and Training Command, is home to 196 F-16 aircraft and 26 squadrons of which eight are F-16 fighter squadrons. The 56th Fighter Wing graduates more than 1,000 F-16 pilots and 900 crew chiefs annually.

The wing oversees the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field and is steward of the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a military training range spanning over 1.5 million acres of Sonoran desert. The range, also used by Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson Air National Guard, Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma and the U.S. Navy, is used for air-to-air and air-to-ground training for pilots.

More than 7,300 active-duty and civilian personnel are assigned to or work in the 56th Fighter Wing.

The 56th Fighter Wing was born in Savannah, GA, in January 1941, as the 56th Pursuit Group. Its earliest history was marked by frequent moves; the first to North Carolina in May 1941 and then to New York in 1942. Using P-39 and P-40 aircraft, the unit flew air defense patrols until June 1942, when the unit became the first to train with and fly the P-47 Thunderbolt.

The wing left for England on January 6, 1943. During the following two years, pilots of the 56th destroyed more enemy planes and listed more aces than any other Army Air Force group in the 8th Air Force, including the top two aces in Europe. By the war's end, the wings motto - "Cave Tonitrum," "Beware the Thunderbolt" - was highly respected by both the allies and its enemies.

On October 18, 1945 the unit was inactivated. It was reactivated May 1, 1946 at Selfridge Field, MI, as part of the Strategic Air Command's 15th Air Force. It included the 61st, 62nd and 63rd Fighter Squadrons. In July and August 1948, a major operation of the wing involved 16 of it's F-80's. The flight proceeded to Furstenfeldbruck, Germany, by way of Maine, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland. Although the operation was not connected with the Berlin Airlift, it did focus world attention on the U.S. Air Force's ability to rapidly deploy jet fighters during a crisis.

The wing was transferred from Strategic Air Command to the Continental Air Command's 10th Air Force December 1, 1948 and the mission of the wing's tactical units was shifted to air defense. The unit was redesignated as the 56th Fighter Interceptor Wing on January 20, 1950. Its 61st, 62nd and 63rd Fighter Interceptor Squadrons converted from the F-80 Shooting Star to the F-86 Sabrejet in April 1950.

The wing, with the exception of the four tactical squadrons, was deactivated February 6, 1952. The tactical squadrons were reassigned to the new air defense wings as part of a general reorganization of the Air Defense Command. Almost nine years later, having been redesignated the 56th Fighter Wing (Air Defense), the wing was reactivated at K.I. Sawyer AFB, MI, again with an air defense mission. The wing controlled a single tactical unit, the 62 FIS, flying the F-101 Voodoo.

From February 1, 1961 to October 1, 1963, the wing was part of the Sault Sainte Marie Air Defense Sector. From October 1, 1963 to January 1, 1964, the wing was an important part of the Duluth Air Defense Sector. Under both sectors, the wing participated in many ADC exercises, tactical evaluations and other air defense operations. The single tactical squadron was placed directly under Duluth Air Defense Sector December 16, 1963, leaving the wing without a tactical mission. On January 1, 1964, the wing was assigned to SAC and inactivated.

Slightly more than three years later, the wing was once again activated, this time at Nakon Phanon Royal Thai AFB, Thailand. The unit was designated the 56th Air Commando Wing and had a complex combat mission in the war then raging in Southeast Asia. Assigned to 13th Air Force, the wing received operational direction from 7th Air Force in Saigon. The combat and support operations of the wing in Southeast Asia were numerous and varied. Until August 1, 1968, the wing operated as an air commando organization. Special missions were the rule rather than the exception during the entire period of the wing's stay in Thailand. It strongly supported the Southeast Asia conflict in a wide variety of specialized, as well as general operations, directly carrying the flight to the enemy. The wing and its units participated in every military campaign beginning with the Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase II. The wing headquarters earned unit Awards with the Combat "V" device and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry cross with Palm. Individual units of the wing shared in some of these awards as well as earning others on their own.

On June 30, 1975, the 56th U.S. Air Force Hospital and 56th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, two of the wing's subordinate units, were activated. The wing itself, together with its supply and transportation squadrons and its combat support group (the latter containing its security police and civil engineering squadrons) moved without personnel or equipment to MacDill AFB. The wing was redesignated the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing and assigned to Tactical Air Command's 9th Air Force. The 1 TFW and several newly activated units bearing the "56th" designation also replaced similar units bearing the "1st" designation. The inactive 61st and 62nd FIS were redesignated as tactical fighter squadrons and the 63rd Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron was moved without personnel or equipment from Tyndall AFB, FL, redesignated as a tactical fighter squadron and assigned to the 56h TFW. Finally, the 4501st Tactical Fighter Replacement Squadron, later redesignated the 13th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, and the U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital, MacDill, were reassigned from the 1st to the 56th TFW.

On October 1, 1981, the wing had its designation changed once again. The wing changed from a tactical fighter wing a to tactical training wing. This designation was brought about because of the conversion from the F-4D Phantom II to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The transition process began in November 1979, and was completed in June 1982. With the change in the wing's title, each of its squadrons have also had name changes. The 61st, 62nd and 63rd became tactical fighter training squadrons and the 13th was deactivated July 1, 1982. The 72nd TFTS was activated on the same day and was one of the four squadrons of the 56th Tactical Training Wing.

June 27, 1988, marked another transition for the wing. It began its conversion from the F-16A/B models to the updated F-16C/Ds. With the F-16C/Ds, the wing remains the primary F-16 aircrew and maintenance training wing in the Air Force. The wing was reassigned to Luke AFB April 1, 1994. Under the 56th Fighter Wing, which retains its F-16C/D training mission, is the 21st, 61st, 62nd, 63rd, 308th, 309th, 310th and the 425th Fighter Squadrons.

In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Luke Air Force Base, AZ by retiring the 56th Fighter Wing's F-16 Block 25s (13 aircraft) and F-16 Block 42s (24 aircraft). Combined with another recommendation to realign Fort Smith MAP ANG, DoD claimed that military value, coupled with homeland defense, was the predominant reason for these recommendations. The Air Force recommendation would realign 15 aircraft from Fort Smith (110) to Fresno (87), which would support the homeland defense Air Sovereignty Alert mission. Additionally, this recommendation would help align the eight different F-16 models across the Air Force. Finally, this recommendation would make experienced Airmen available to support the new ANG flying training unit created at Little Rock Air Force Base, AR.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:14:24 ZULU