56th Fighter Wing: Wikis


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56th Fighter Wing
56th Fighter Wing.svg
56th Wing Shield
Active 15 January 1941
Country United States
Branch Air Force
Part of Air Education and Training Command
Garrison/HQ Luke Air Force Base
Nickname Thunderbolts
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg DUC
Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg PUC
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with V.jpg AFOUA w/ V Device
Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg RVGC w/ Palm
Brigadier General Kurt Neubauer
Ronald Fogleman
George Scratchley Brown
Carrol Chandler
Joseph Ralston
F-16 from the 56th Fighter Wing

The 56th Fighter Wing (56 FW) is a United States Air Force unit assigned to the Air Education and Training Command Nineteenth Air Force. It is stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona where it also is the host unit.

The 56th FW mission is to train the world's greatest F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers, while deploying mission ready warfighters. The wing is home to more than 170 F-16 aircraft and 26 squadrons of which eight are F-16 fighter squadrons. The 56th Fighter Wing graduates more than 400 F-16 pilots and 470 crew chiefs annually. The wing also trains personnel and maintains resources to meet contingency and wartime tasking

The wing one of the most highly decorated aviation units in history, traces its history to the 56th Pursuit Group which was a World War II P-47 Thunderbolt fighter group. Assigned to Ninth Air Force in England, the 56th flew its first combat missions of World War II on April 13, 1943. During its two-year involvement in the air war in Europe, the group damaged or destroyed 1,598.5 enemy aircraft. What seemed incredible was that the 56th posted that record while loosing only 25 fighters in aerial combat. The 56th also produced 39 fighter aces.

The 56th Fighter Wing was activated on Aug. 15, 1947. The wing's mission was air defense. The unit wrote another chapter in aviation history July 14, 1948, when its F-80 Shooting Stars made the first ever west-to-east crossing of the Atlantic by military jets. The flight was a month after the Soviets set up their blockade of Berlin, and put the Soviets on notice that this nation had the capability to deploy a large package of military aircraft across the Atlantic in minimum time. The 56th was reassigned to Thailand on March 16, 1967. While deployed to Southeast Asia, the 56th not only supported but also conducted unconventional combat operations against an opposing armed enemy force in Laos.

The commander of the 56th Fighter Wing is Brig. Gen. Kurt F. Neubauer. The Command Chief Master Sergeant is Chief Master Sgt. Randall A. Raper.



The 56th Fighter Wing consists of:

  • Wing Staff Agencies
  • 56th Maintenance Group (MXG)
    • 56th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
    • 56th Component Maintenance Squadron
    • 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron
    • 56th Maintenance Operations Squadron
    • 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
  • 56th Mission Support Group (MSG)
    • 56th Communications Squadron
    • 56th Security Forces Squadron
    • 56th Services Squadron
    • 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron
    • 56th Civil Engineer Squadron
    • 56th Contracting Squadron
    • 56th Mission Support Squadron
  • 56th Medical Group (MDG)
    • 56th Medical Support Squadron
    • 56th Medical Operations Squadron
    • 56th Dental Squadron
    • 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
    • Flight Medicine Clinic

Unit Shields


For additional history and lineage, see 56th Operations Group


  • Established as 56 Fighter Wing on 28 Jul 1947
Organized on 15 Aug 1947
Redesignated 56 Fighter-Interceptor Wing on 20 Jan 1950
Inactivated on 6 Feb 1952
  • Redesignated 56 Fighter Wing (Air Defense), and activated, on 28 Dec 1960
Organized on 1 Feb 1961
Discontinued, and inactivated, on 1 Jan 1964
  • Redesignated 56 Air Commando Wing, and activated, on 16 Mar 1967
Organized on 8 Apr 1967
Redesignated: 56 Special Operations Wing on 1 Aug 1968
Redesignated: 56 Tactical Fighter Wing on 30 Jun 1975
Redesignated: 56 Tactical Training Wing on 1 Oct 1981
Redesignated: 56 Fighter Wing on 1 Oct 1991.


Attached to 26th Air Division [Defense], 10 Dec 1949-19 Feb 1950
Attached t0 30th Air Division [Defense], 20 Feb 1950-
Remained attached to 30th Air Division [Defense] to 6 Feb 1952
Attached to Seventh Air Force, 8 Apr 1967-26 Feb 1974
Attached to United States Support Activities Group/ Seventh Air Force, 27 Feb 1974-30 Jun 1975





World War II

For complete history see: 56th Operations Group.
Bell P-39 Airacobra

The 56th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was activated on 15 January 1941, being initially equipped with Bell P-39 Airacobras and Curtiss P-40s. The unit trained, participated in maneuvers, served as an air defense organization, and functioned as an operational training unit.

The group was redesignated as the 56th Fighter Group in May 1942. Received Republic P-47 Thundebolts in June and began training for combat. Moved to England, Dec 1942-Jan 1943, and was assigned to Eighth Air Force. Its operational squadrons and fuselage codes were:

Republic P-47D-28-RE Thunderbolt Serial 44-19770, 61st Fighter Squadron

The 56th continued training for several weeks then entered combat with a fighter sweep in the area of Saint-Omer on 13 April 1943, and during the next two years the 56th Fighter Group was the most successful of the Eighth Air Force groups in air-to-air combat, and the second most successful in the USAAF with 665.5 (the 354th FG had 701 while the Pacific-based 49th FG had 664).

It engaged in counter-air and interdictory missions during the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Supported Allied forces for the breakthrough at Saint-Lô in July. Participated in the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944-January 1945. Helped to defend the Remagen bridgehead against air attacks in March 1945.

The group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for strikes against antiaircraft positions while supporting the airborne attack on Holland on September 18, 1944, an operation in which 16 P-47s were shot down or crashlanded in Allied territory.

The commander of the 61st Fighter Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gabreski, destroyed his 28th enemy aircraft in air combat, a record unequalled by any American fighter pilot in Europe. On 20 July 1944, Gabreski had to make a belly landing in his P-47 Thunderbolt after his propellor clipped the ground while strafing an airfield near Koblenz, Germany. Although he avoided capture for five days before being finally arrested and interrogated by the Germans, he was greeted with the words: 'Hello Gabby, we've been waiting for you for a long time!'

The unit flew its last combat mission on 21 April 1945. The 56th remained in England until October when it returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, being deactivated on 18 October 1945.

Strategic Air Command

The 56th Fighter Wing was reactivated 1 May 1946 at Selfridge AAF, Michigan as part of the Strategic Air Command's Fifteenth Air Force. It included the 61st, 62d and 63d Fighter Squadrons flying Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars.

In July and August 1948, the wing pioneered the first west-to-east jet fighter transatlantic crossing along the northern air route from the United States to Europe, involving 16 of its F-80's. The flight proceeded to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, 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.

Air Defense Command

North American F-86F Sabre jet

The wing was transferred from Strategic Air Command to the Continental Air Command's 10th Air Force 1 December 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 20 January 1950. Its 61st, 62d and 63d Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons converted from the F-80 Shooting Star to the North American F-86 Sabrejet in April 1950.

The wing, with the exception of the four tactical squadrons, was deactivated 6 February 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, Michigan again with an air defense mission. The wing controlled a single tactical unit, the 62d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, flying the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo.

From 1 February 1961 to 1 October 1963, the wing was part of the Sault Sainte Marie Air Defense Sector. From 1 October 1963 to 1 January 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 16 December 1963, leaving the wing without a tactical mission.

On 1 January 1964, the wing was assigned to SAC and inactivated.

Vietnam War

Douglas A-1E and H Skyraiders of the 1st and 602nd Special Operations Squadrons at Nakhon Phanom RTAF

Slightly more than three years later, the wing was once again activated, this time at Nakon Phanom 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 (see the Wikipedia article on Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base for more details). Assigned to Thirteenth Air Force, the wing received operational direction from Seventh Air Force in Saigon.

The unit was redesignated the 56th Special Operations Wing in 1968. Attached squadrons of the 56th SOW were:

  • 1st Special Operations: (1967–72) (A-1E/G/H/J Tail Code: TC)
  • 18th Special Operations: (1971–72) (AC–119)
  • 21st Special Operations: (1967–75) (CH-3E, CH-53)
  • 22d Special Operations: (1967–75) (A-1E/G/H/J Tail Code: TS)
  • 602d Special Operations: (1967–70) (A-1E/H/J Tail Code: TT)
  • 606th Special Operations: (1967–71) (U-10D, C-123B, T-28D Tail Code: TO)
  • 609th Special Operations: (1967–69) (A-26A/K, T-28D, UC/C-123K Tail Code: TA)
  • 460th Reconnaissance: (1970–72) (EC-47N/P)
  • 554th Reconnaissance: (1970–72) (QU-22B)
  • 23d Tactical Air Support: (1972–75) (O-2A, OV-10)
  • 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare: (1972–74) (EC-47)
A-26 light tactical bomber, the model flown by the 609th Special Operations Squadron

The wing performed combat in Southeast Asia from April 1967 – August 1973, and combat support until June 1975, employing a wide variety of aircraft to meet specialized missions. Those missions included interdiction, psychological warfare, close air support, search and rescue, forward air control, training Thai and Laotian air forces, and helicopter escort for clandestine insertion and extraction of personnel in Laos and North Vietnam.

During the sieges of Khe Sanh from February – April 1968, and Lima Site 85 from January – March 1968 where it provided close air support. Wing elements participated in the Son Tay Prison raid on 21 November 1970 and continued combat in Vietnam until mid-January 1973, in Laos until 22 February 1973, and in Cambodia until 15 August 1973.

The 56th assisted in Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of Phnom Penh on 12 April 1975 and Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon on 29 and 30 April 1975. During the SS Mayagüez rescue operation on 15 May 1975, it provided forward air control and helicopter insertion/extraction support.

Tactical Air Command

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom Serial 66-0244 of the 61st TFS.
General Dynamics F-16A Block 10B Fighting Falcon Serial 79-0397 of the 61st TFS.

Upon return to the United States on 30 June 1975, the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing absorbed the resources of the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing and operated MacDill Air Force Base and nearby Avon Park Range, Florida. The 56th assumed the F-4E aircraft of the reassigned 1st TFW. Operational squadrons of the wing were:

  • 61st Tactical Fighter Squadron (yellow tail stripe)
  • 62d Tactical Fighter Squadron (blue tail stripe)
  • 63d Tactical Fighter Squadron (red tail stripe)
  • 72d Tactical Fighter Squadron (black tail stripe)
    (F-16A/B/C/D Activated 1 July 1981, deactivated 19 June 1992)

The Tail code of the 56th at MacDill was "MC".

The wing conducted F-4D/E replacement training for pilots, weapon systems officers, and maintenance personnel from July 1975 - Jul 1982. It was equipped with UH-1P helicopters from 1976–1987, to support Avon Range logistics needs, search and rescue efforts, and humanitarian missions.

With conversion to F-16A/B aircraft from 1980 - 1982 the 56th became the designated unit for transitioning USAF and select allied nation pilots into the new fighter, while continuing to augment NORAD's air defense forces in the southeastern US. The wing provided logistic support to US Central Command beginning in 1983 and to US Special Operations Command after 1986. It upgraded to F-16C/D aircraft from 1988–1990, providing support personnel and equipment to units in Southwest Asia from August 1990 - March 1991.

Air Education and Training Command

The wing was reassigned to Luke AFB April 1, 1994. Under the 56th Fighter Wing, which retains its F-16C/D training mission, are the 21st, 61st, 62d, 63d, 308th, 309th, 310th and the 425th Fighter Squadrons.


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Freeman, Roger A. (1978) Airfields of the Eighth: Then and Now 1994. After the Battle ISBN 0900913096
  • Glasser, Jeffrey D. (1998). The Secret Vietnam War: The United States Air Force in Thailand, 1961-1975. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786400846.
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0887405134.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • [1] Air Force Historical Research Agency, 56th Fighter Wing
  • [2] Air Force Historical Research Agency, 56th Operations Group
  • [3] mighty8thaf.preller.us Boxted
  • [4] 56th Fighter Group on www.littlefriends.co.uk
  • [5] USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to present
  • [6] www.armyairforces.com

External links


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