509th Bomb Wing
The 509th Bomb Wing has historical roots to its World War II ancestor, the 509th Composite Group commanded by Paul W. Tibbets. Tibbets was a World War II bomber pilot of unparalleled fame. Tibbets led the initial B-17 bombing raids in North Africa. Assigned to Twelfth Air Force next, he remained in North Africa until March 1943, and then returned to the United States. When Tibbets returned from Algiers, Algeria, he was put in charge of training pilots for the B-29 program. By late 1943 Manhattan Project scientists were confident enough to tell the Army Air Forces (AAF) to begin preparing for the atomic bomb's use. At that time, the AAF decided that the B-29 Superfortress aircraft would be the delivery vehicle. It also selected one of its most able aviators, Col. Tibbets -- age 29 -- to form and train a group devoted solely to dropping the device. He was soon sent to work on the B-29 program and to train the strike force for the atomic bomb program.
In short order, the colonel selected the 393d Bombardment Squadron (BMS) as the core of the new group. Then he selected the remote Wendover Army Air Field (AAFld), Utah, as the training site. In September 1944, Colonel Tibbets moved the squadron to Wendover. A few short months later, on Dec. 9, 1944, the AAF constituted (created) the squadron's parent unit, the 509th Composite Group. The 509th Composite Wing was activated on 17 December 1944 at Wendover, Utah.
The "Silver Plate" project was the code name of the pilot and crew training program for the coming World War II atomic missions. Fifteen specially-modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers were prepared for "special weapons" delivery. This was the first USAAF bombardment group to be organized, equipped, and trained for atomic warfare. The aircrews of the 509th Composite Group were engaged in intensive training under a cloak of secrecy. During these exhaustive times, Colonel Tibbets emphasized high-altitude flying, long-range navigation and the use of radar. The training program was designed specifically to prepare the crews for a high altitude release of the bomb, including an escape maneuver that would avoid the shock wave that could damage or destroy the aircraft. A 10,000 pound bomb loaded with high explosives was dropped. Nicknamed "pumpkin" bombs because of their shape and orange color, these were the same size and shape as the actual "fat man" atomic bomb dropped at Nagasaki. From November 1944 to June 1945 they trained continually for the first atomic bomb drop. On 26 April 1945, Colonel Tibbets declared the group ready and moved to its new home, North Field, Tinian, the Marianas, only 1,450 miles from Tokyo. By June 1945, the entire group had arrived and once again, it entered a period of intense training.
On 6 August 1945 a B-29 Superfortress from the 509th Composite Group, the "Enola Gay," piloted by Group Commander Colonel Tibbets, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later another B-29, "Bock's Car," piloted by 393rd Squadron Commander Major Sweeney, dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Both cities were completely devastated by the blasts, and Japan announced its unconditional surrender the following day.
President Truman announced the unconditional surrender of the Japanese on 14 August 1945, and Allied occupation troops began to arrive in Japan two weeks later. Representatives from Japan signed the articles of surrender on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. The bloodshed of World War II was finally over.
Upon returning to the United States in late 1945, the group was assigned to Roswell Army Air Base, N.M. It became the core of the newly created Strategic Air Command. In August 1946, the redesignated 509th Bombardment Group returned to the Pacific to participate in Operation Crossroads. During this operation, the B-29 "Dave's Dream" dropped an atomic bomb on an armada of obsolete and captured ships moored off the Bikini Atoll.
SAC activated the 509th Bombardment Wing at Roswell on Nov. 17, 1947, and assigned the bombardment group to the wing. The bombardment group was inactivated five years later with its lineage and honors transferred to the wing. In June 1948, the the 509th Bombardment Wing sent aircraft and crews to the first SAC Bombing Competition. Although it performed well, the 509th did not win the overall award (later called the Fairchild Trophy). Still, 1st Lt. Milton J. Jones and his crew won accolades as the Best Crew.
On 30 June 1948 the Air Force constituted the 509th Air Refueling Squadron (AREFS), and then activated the squadron on 19 July 1948. Although aerial refueling had been accomplished as far back as the 1920s, the Air Force decided to make it a permanent part of its operations. In fact, the 509th AREFS was one of the first two AREFSs ever activated. In the first week of December 1948, the squadron began receiving the KB-29M, modified B-29 bombers capable of providing air-to-air refueling for bombers using a refueling hose [vs. today's standard flying boom]. With the addition of tankers, the 509th's bombers could reach nearly any point on earth.
The dawning of the new decade brought more changes to the wing. In June 1950, the wing received the B-50 and in January 1954, the KC-97 aerial tanker replaced the aging KB-29Ms. The wing entered the jet age in June 1955 when it received the first all-jet bomber, the B-47 Stratojet.
The 509th Bombardment Wing moved to Pease AFB, N.H., in August 1958. Although the B-47s were scheduled for retirement along with the 509th in the early 1960s, SAC kept the 509th alive and equipped the wing with B-52 Stratofortress bombers and KC-135 tankers. It received its first B-52s and KC-135s in March 1966.
During this period the wing's B-52s deployed to Guam and flew Arc Light combat missions over Southeast Asia. In April 1968 and April 1969, the wing began six-month deployments to the Western Pacific.
During its last deployment, SAC informed the 509th that the wing would trade its B-52s for the new FB-111 medium bomber. The wing began receiving the fighter bomber in December 1970. In 1981 the 509th won both the Fairchild Bombing Trophy and the Saunders Tanker Trophy. As part of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's recommendations, Pease AFB was one of several Air Force installations to be closed in 1988. SAC moved the 509th Bombardment Wing on Sept. 30, 1990, without equipment or people to Whiteman AFB, Mo., to become the first B-2 Spirit, (a.k.a. stealth bomber) wing.
While Whiteman AFB was prepared for the new B-2 mission, the wing remained inactive. During this period, SAC redesignated the wing as the 509th Bomb Wing. On June 1, 1992, the Air Force disestablished SAC and the 509th became part of the newly created Air Combat Command.
On April 1, 1993, the Air Force returned the 509th to operational status. It assumed host responsibilities for Whiteman AFB from the 351st Missile Wing on July 1, 1993.
The first fixed-wing aircraft, a T-38 Talon with a B-2-style paint scheme, joined the wing July 20, 1993. The first B-2 Spirit bomber, "The Spirit of Missouri," arrived Dec. 17, 1993, and flew its first operational B-2 mission a week later. Another aircraft arrival event occurred on May 16, 1996 when the eleventh B-2 arrive. Unlike its predecessors, this aircraft was first combat-capable B-2 delivered to the Air Force.
The 509th once again made history when on September 17, 1996, when three B-2s dropped three inert GBU-36 weapons, the highly accurate Global Positioning System-Aided Munitions (GAM) which used the GPS-Aided Targeting System (GATS). The B-2s made the drops at the Nellis AFB, Nevada, bombing range. Range officials, inspecting the area after the releases, were astonished to find that the GBU-36s had fallen seven, four, and four feet, respectively, from the target. A month later, the 509th repeated this impressive feat-only this time, they used live weapons. On October 8, 1996, three B-2s revisited the Nellis range and released 16 2,000 lb. class GBU-36 bombs from an altitude of 40,000 feet. Again, amazed range personnel discovered all sixteen projectiles hit close enough to their targets to be confirmed as 16 kills. The results so impressed USAF Chief of Staff General Ronald Fogleman that he announced at a mid-December press conference the 509th and the B-2 would reach limited (conventional) operational capability on January 1, 1997.
Since its arrival at Whiteman, the 509th underwent inspections, tests, and other challenges to insure it was ready to return as an integral part of the nation's defensive coalition. Throughout 1997, the pace heightened with 509'ers constantly rising to the challenge. By early spring, the hard work paid off and the 509th attained the all-important Initial Operational Capability (IOC). By achieving IOC, the B-2 became a part of America's war plans-ready to respond should the need arise.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list