97th Bomb Wing
The 97th Air Mobility Wing traces its lineage to the 97th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, organized on 1 December 1947 at Mile 26 Air Field, later named Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska. The wing reported to Fifteenth Air Force, Strategic Air Command (SAC), although the Yukon Sector of the Alaskan Air Command controlled its operations.
Throughout its existence the 97th contributed to the deterrence of nuclear war with the former Soviet Union by being prepared to execute Emergency War Order (EWO) taskings. It continually demonstrated its resolve in the same manner as other SAC bombardment wings, primarily by maintaining the CHROME DOME aerial alert capability and by keeping crews on ground alert, capable of generating bomber sorties within minutes. The wing's tankers participated in the Atlantic, Pacific, European, and Alaskan Tanker Task Forces, ensuring the bombers would be able to reach their targets. Until the Soviet Union's demise in 1989 the crews of the 97th trained for war, unless world events demanded their attention.
The 97th was originally a temporary organization, comprised of components of the 97th Bombardment Group and the 519th Air Service Group, deployed from Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Kansas. The Air Force was conducting a service test of a combat wing structure that elevated the wing headquarters to the highest echelon of command on the base. This gave the wing commander the authority to direct activities rather than merely request that his flying mission receive support.
The wing consisted of a combat group, an airdrome group, a maintenance and supply group, and a medical group. The unit's March 1948 history stated: "The mission of the 97th Bombardment Wing (VHB) is to man, train and maintain a self-sustaining strategic bombardment group capable of operations in any theater." While in Alaska the 97th flew B-29 Superfortress training missions over the Arctic Ocean, testing the aircraft and maintenance crews in the harsh climate. At the end of the Alaskan deployment the wing moved to Smoky Hill AFB, near Salina, Kansas, in March 1948.
While at Smoky Hill AFB, the wing was attached to the 301st Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, for further training and to assist the 301st prepare for its upcoming move to Germany. The 301st never moved, hence the 97th moved to Biggs AFB, El Paso, Texas, on 22 May 1948, only two short months later. Meanwhile, the Eighth Air Force assumed control of the wing on 16 May 1948. Eighth Air Force discontinued the 97th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, on 12 July 1948 and subsequently redesignated it the 97th Bombardment Wing, Medium, and activated it on the same date. This made the 97th a permanent combat wing. The combat wing service test was over, leaving the 97th with a combat group, an air base group, a maintenance and supply group, and a medical group.
The 97th, under SAC, took over operation of Biggs AFB from the departing 47th Bombardment Group, Light Jet, a Tactical Air Command unit. Biggs AFB would remain the wing's home for over ten years. As the 1940s ended, changes were on the horizon for the 97th's flying mission.
Early in 1950 the 97th received its first B-50 Superfortress, an improved version of the B-29 capable of delivering atomic weapons. As crews trained and became qualified in the B-50, the wing transferred some of its B-29s to other units. Aerial refueling increased the new bomber's range and brought a new flying mission to the wing.
The 97th Aerial Refueling Squadron, activated in March 1949, saw its manning increase as it received its first KB-29 in January 1950. Its mission, as stated in the wing's history, was: "to extend the range of the strategic bombers." The 97th was the first unit to operate the new boom-type or "American-type" equipment. As such it had the burden of testing the equipment and standardizing the operating procedures. The unit received KC-97 Stratofreighters in 1954 to replace it s KB-29s.
The 97th experienced two mission changes in 1955. First, the 340th Bombardment Squadron, a subordinate unit, started flying RB-50Gs on electronic reconnaissance missions. The 340th went to England and Japan on intelligence gathering missions and operated in this capacity for over a year. Meanwhile, the other bombardment squadrons in the 97th started receiving B-47 Stratojets, replacing their B-50s. The wing conducted training in bombardment and aerial refueling until December 1958 wh en SAC rendered it inoperational. Some of the 97th's crews went to other B-47 units, while others began training for duty in the Air Force's latest bomber, the B-52 Stratofortress.
The 97th moved to Blytheville (later named Eaker) AFB, Arkansas, after SAC reassigned the wing to the 4th Air Division on 1 July 1959. Later that year SAC redesignated it the 97th Bombardment Wing, Heavy; its new mission was "to provide command and staff supervision over assigned combat tactical units that execute bombardment missions designed to destroy enemy forces and facilities." The wing's first B-52G, City of Blytheville, Arkansas, arrived in January 1960. That summer, SAC declared the 97th combat-ready and slightly changed the scope of the mission statement. Now operational, the 97th "was to conduct strategic bombardment operations on a global scale, either independently or in cooperation with land and sea forces." The wing's bomber crews would fly their share of CHROME DOME missions, which kept a number of SAC's B-52s on airborne alert.
In the early 1960s the 97th received missiles that would improve its B-52's survivability during penetration into enemy territory. On 27 September 1960 the 97th deployed its first GAM-77 Hound Dog, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 500 nautical miles from its launch point, to defeat heavy air defenses. Four months later, on 31 January 1961, the GAM-72 Quail entered the 97th's arsenal. The Quail was a decoy that could generate radar and heat signatures resembling those of a B-52, t hereby saturating the enemy's defenses.
The aerial refueling capability of the KC-135 Stratotankers extended the range of the wing's B-52s. On 12 January 1962 the 97th received its first KC-135, christened the Arkansas Traveler before its first mission three days later. Along with refueling the B-52s on training missions, the tankers participated in an ongoing command-wide rotation to bases in Southern Europe to support CHROME DOME bombers.
The political climate grew tense in October 1962 as Cuba began preparing sites for offensive Soviet missiles. On 22 October SAC responded by establishing Defense Condition Three (DEFCON III), and ordered the 97th to place two B-52s on airborne alert. Tension grew and the next day SAC declared DEFCON II, a heightened state of alarm. While a t DEFCON II the 97th maintained two B-52s on airborne alert. These, along with bombers from other SAC wings, were ready to strike targets within the Soviet Union. One of the 97th's bombers carried Hound Dog and Quail missiles, the other carried nuclear and conventional ordnance. No missions were aborted or canceled during the crisis. The 97th and other units deployed more tankers to Spain to refuel the alert force. Reconnaissance photographs taken on 1 November 1962 indicated that the Cubans had begun dismantling the sites. The wing returned to DEFCON III on the 15th and subsequently resumed normal activity on 20 November.
The 97th's involvement in the Southeast Asia conflict started slowly, but would demand the wing's undivided attention before ending. Its involvement began on 14 December 1965 when the wing sent one KC-135 to participate in YOUNG TIGER, the operation to refuel fighters involved in the conflict. At first, the wing's B-52s remained at Blytheville while bomber crews went to Guam to fly ARC LIGHT bombing missions. However, by the summer of 1972 all the 97th's bombers were at Guam. From there wing crews flew LINEBACKER II (sometimes called the "11-Day War" because of its intensity) missions in December 1972. On 18 December 1972 Hanoi's air defenses claimed the lives of nine crew members during this operation, while North Vietnamese ground forces captured another four and held them as prisoners of war. On 15 August 1973, after months of committing most of the w ing's people and resources to the conflict, crew E-21 had the distinction of flying the last mission over a target in Cambodia. This marked the end of the United State's bombing in Southeast Asia.
The 97th resumed its bomber training and refueling missions after the conflict in Southeast Asia ended while it continued to participate in contingency operations and assume new roles. Tanker crews and aircraft refueled other Air Force units supporting the rescue of American citizens in Grenada in October and November 1983. In 1984 the wing upgraded its B-52G force to carry the AGM-86B air launched cruise missile (ALCM). The wing further expanded its mission in 1987 to include conventional bombing, sea search and surveillance, and aerial mining.
After Iraq's August 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the 97th began deploying elements to various locations in the United States and overseas to support Operation DESERT SHIELD. In late December, 97th Bombardment Wing B-52 crews practiced high altitude bombing missions at the Nellis AFB test range in Nevada, anticipating their role in the inevitable war to come.
Once Operation DESERT STORM was underway the nature of the wing's involvement changed. At the end of January 1991 six of the wing's bombers and crews assumed ground alert duty at Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan, allowing the 379th Bombardment Wing, stationed at Wurtsmith, to participate in Operation DESERT STORM. On 1 February 1991 major elements of the 97th deployed to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, forming the 806th Bombardment Wing (Provisional). The wing conducted over 60 conventional bombing sorties and many air-refueling sorties.
As the Air Force began reorganizing in 1991, it redesignated the wing as the 97th Wing on 1 September, and inactivated it on 1 April 1992.
On 1 October 1992 the Air Force activated the wing at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, and redesignated it the 97th Air Mobility Wing under Air Mobility Command. At the same time the Air Force inactivated the 443d Military Airlift Wing, which had been the host wing at Altus AFB since 5 May 1969. Less than a year later, on 1 July 1993, Air Education and Training Command assumed control of the 97th. Th e redesignated wing possessed C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, and KC-135 Stratotankers; it subsequently started to add C-17 Globemaster IIIs in March 1996. The 97th's n ew mission was: to conduct strategic airlift, aerial delivery, aerial refueling training schools, conduct training for AMC aircrews, ...provide strategic aircraft support for Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) and conventional contingencies, provide aerial port of embarkation for US Army, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and accomplish other tasks when assigned by higher authority.
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