56th Fighter Wing
Active1947–1952; 1961–1964; 1967–present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
RoleFighter Training
Part ofAir Education and Training Command
Garrison/HQLuke Air Force Base
Motto(s)Cave Tonitrum Latin Beware of the Thunderbolt
DecorationsPresidential Unit Citation
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ Palm
Brig Gen. Jason M. Rueschhoff
Deputy CommanderCol. Keagan L. McLeese
Command ChiefCSM Jason Q. Shaffer
Robin Rand
Philip Breedlove
Carrol Chandler
Joseph Ralston
Perry J. Dahl
56th Fighter Wing emblem (approved 19 April 1967)[1]
Tail code at Luke AFBLF

The 56th Fighter Wing is a fighter wing in the United States Air Force. It is the world's largest Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II wing and one of two Air Force F-35 training locations. Additionally, it is one of two active-duty F-16 training bases. The 56th graduates dozens of F-35 and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots and 300 air control professionals annually.[2]

Additionally, the 56th Fighter Wing oversees the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field and the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a military training range spanning more than 1.7 million acres of Sonoran Desert.[2]


Initial activation

Lockheed F-80

The 56th Fighter Wing was activated 15 August 1947 at Selfridge Field, Michigan[1] as part of the United States Air Force's experimental wing base reorganization, in which combat groups and all supporting units on a base were assigned to a single wing.[3] The 56th Fighter Group, flying Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars, became its operational component. The wing base organization was made permanent in 1948.[4]

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,[1] flying 16 of its F-80's from Selfridge to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, Germany, by way of Maine Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.[citation needed]

Air Defense Command

North American F-86F Sabre jet

The wing's mission included the air defense of a large portion of the United States. As this mission became more important, the 56th was transferred from Strategic Air Command (SAC) to Continental Air Command in December 1948, and then to the newly reformed Air Defense Command (ADC) on 1 December 1950. This mission was emphasized when the unit was redesignated 56th Fighter-Interceptor Wing in January 1950.[1] It converted to the North American F-86 Sabre later that year. In a major ADC reorganization, to respond to the command's difficulties under the existing wing base organizational structure in deploying fighter squadrons to best advantage,[5] the 56th was inactivated along with its 56th Fighter-Interceptor Group on 6 February 1952. Its operational squadrons were transferred to the recently organized 4708th Defense Wing.[6]

Almost nine years later the wing was reactivated at K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan, where it replaced the 56th Fighter Group as Sawyer began to grow in size as SAC's 4042d Strategic Wing began to add combat elements, requiring a larger support base. The wing once again had air defense mission.[1] The wing controlled a single tactical unit, the 62d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, flying the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, which was capable of carrying the nuclear armed AIR-2 Genie.[1][7] At the time the wing was activated, it maintained two aircraft on five minute alert status. In February 1962, in addition to these two interceptors, one third of the wing's aircraft were placed on fifteen minute alert.[8]

62d FIS F-101B[note 1]

On 22 October 1962, at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy announced the presence of Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) directed the dispersal of interceptors within the United States. The dispersal plan called for Hector Field, North Dakota to be the wing's dispersal base, but ADC's dispersal plan was incomplete and Phelps Collins Field, Michigan became the wing's "interim" dispersal base. The wing sent one third of its aircraft there. All wing aircraft, including those at home and those at Phelps Collins were armed and placed on fifteen minute alert status. The increased alert posture was maintained through mid-November, when CONAD returned the wing to its normal alert status.[9][10]

The wing was assigned to the Sault Sainte Marie Air Defense Sector until October 1963 when it became part of the Duluth Air Defense Sector. It participated in many ADC exercises, tactical evaluations and other air defense operations.[1] Although the number of ADC interceptor squadrons remained almost constant in the early 1960s, attrition (and the fact that production lines closed in 1961) caused a gradual drop in the number of planes assigned to a squadron, from 24 to typically 18 by 1964. These reductions made it apparent that the primary mission of K.I. Sawyer would be to support SAC.[11] In preparation for K.I. Sawyer becoming a SAC base, the wing's single tactical squadron transferred to the Duluth Air Defense Sector on 16 December 1963,[12] and on 1 January 1964, the wing was transferred to SAC,[13] which inactivated it and transferred its support elements to the 410th Bombardment Wing, which became the base's new host.[14]

Vietnam War

Douglas Skyraiders of the 1st and 602nd Squadrons at Nakhon Phanom
B-26K of the 609th Squadron
Helio U-10

The wing was renamed the 56th Air Commando Wing and activated at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base,[note 2] Thailand in April 1967,[1] replacing the 634th Combat Support Group[15] as the mission there expanded. It was assigned the 606th Air Commando Squadron, a composite unit flying Helio U-10 Couriers, Fairchild C-123 Providers, Douglas A-26 Invader and North American T-28 Trojans, and the 602d Fighter Squadron flying Douglas A-1 Skyraiders at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand.[15] The wing continued to grow, adding the 609th Air Commando Squadron, which took over the T-28s and A-26s of the 606th,[16] the 21st Helicopter Squadron, which was activated in November with Sikorsky CH-3 helicopters[17] and the 1st Air Commando Squadron, another Skyraider squadron, which moved to Nakhon Phanom from Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam in late December.[18] The wing was assigned to Thirteenth Air Force, but was attached Seventh Air Force in Saigon for operational control.[1]

The wing entered combat in Southeast Asia as soon as it was activated. It employed 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 Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Lao Air Force personnel, and helicopter escort for clandestine insertion and extraction of personnel in Laos and North Vietnam.[1]

The Battle of Lima Site 85 began in January 1968 and continued through March. The wing provided close air support for the defending forces. While this battle was continuing in Laos, the Siege of Khe Sanh, just across the border in South Vietnam, began in February. The wing continued to support the defenses of both sites through the end of the battles in April 1968. In the middle of 1968, the wing became the 56th Special Operations Wing and its various air commando, fighter and helicopter squadrons became special operations squadrons at the same time. Operations at Nakhon Phanom continued to expand as the 602d Squadron moved from Udorn in June[citation needed] and a third squadron of A-1s, the 22d Special Operations Squadron, was activated in October 1968.[1]

By late 1969, attrition had reduced the number of A-26 Invaders in the 609th Special Operations Squadron. The squadron was inactivated in December and the remaining planes were returned to the United States.[19]

Wing elements participated in the Operation Ivory Coast, the Son Tay Prison raid on 21 November 1970. The wing continued combat operations until 1973, ending operations in Vietnam in mid-January 1973, in Laos on 22, and in Cambodia on 15 1973. However, after combat operations ended, the wing continued to provide support services at Nakorn Phanom.[1]

Although no longer assigned combat units, 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 Mayagüez incident on 15 May 1975, it provided forward air control and helicopter insertion/extraction support.[1] On 30 June 1975, the wing transferred its assets to the 656th Special Operations Wing and moved on paper to MacDill Air Force Base, where it replaced the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, assuming its mission, personnel and equipment.[20]

Tactical fighter operations

63d Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4D[note 3]
UH-1P used for range support at Avon Park

At MacDill, the wing became the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing and operated McDonnell F-4 Phantom IIs. In addition to acting as host for MacDill, the wing operated nearby Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida.[1]

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

Starting in 1980 the wing began to convert to F-16A and F-16B aircraft, completing the transition in 1982. The 56th became the 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 and F-16D aircraft between 1988 and 1990, providing support personnel and equipment to units in Southwest Asia from August 1990 – March 1991.[1]

The 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission evaluated the Air Force's need for fighter bases it was decided to close MacDill AFB except for a small communications element and transfer it to another service or agency.[21]

This recommendation was later altered and MacDill AFB remained open, being transferred to the Air Mobility Command and eventually becoming home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing and its KC-135R and C-37A aircraft, while the 347th Wing, and later the 23rd Wing, at Moody AFB, Georgia would assume responsibility for the Avon Park Air Force Range and the Deployed Unit Complex (DUC) at MacDill AFB.

The 56th Fighter Wing moved on paper to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona on 1 April 1994,[1] where it assumed the assets of the 58th Fighter Wing.

Flying training

At Luke, the 56th took over the 58th Wing F-16 training mission, but its McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle training mission was transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.[citation needed]

After Hurricane Andrew battered Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, its three F-16 fighter squadrons (307th, 308th, and 309th) dispersed to Moody AFB and Shaw AFB for an interim period. In 1994, the 308th and 309th transferred to Luke and expanded the 56th to become the largest fighter wing in the Air Force. The wing reached its peak in 1997 when the 21st Fighter Squadron was added to train pilots for the Republic of China Air Force. This brought the total number of flying units based at Luke to eight (five active duty F-16 training squadrons, two FMS F-16 squadrons, and one Air Force Reserve F-16 squadron) and over 200 aircraft. This number was reduced by two active duty flying squadrons following the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.[22]

In March 2014, The 54th Fighter Group was activated under the wing[23] to conduct F-16 Fighting Falcon training as the 56th Operations Group transitions to F-35 Lighting II training. The group was established with a single flying squadron, but added a second squadron in 2015.[24] The group consists of approximately 800 personnel, maintains $2.2 billion in F-16 assets and executes a $144 million operations and maintenance budget to carry out F-16 training.[25]

Units in 2016

The 56th Operations Group is the flying element of the wing. It trains and produce F-35 pilots and crew chiefs for the United States and allied forces. It also maintains resources to meet potential contingency and wartime tasking. Finally it trains all operators for air control squadrons which provide ground tactical command and control operations for the United States.[25]
The 54th Fighter Group is located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The group trains an average of 180 students per year on the F-16, averaging more than 10,800 sorties and 14,600 hours per fiscal year.[25]
The 56th Maintenance Group provides aircraft maintenance and generates more than 25,000 sorties compiling 32,000 flight hours per year. It is the largest maintenance group in the Air Force, with 2,200 members. The group also trains more than 3,000 maintenance technicians and 1,000 F-16 crew chiefs each year[25]
The 56th Mission Support Group has 1,965 members and performs the installation management. The base has approximately $396 million in land, building and real property including 4,200 acres at Luke and 1.7 million acres at the Barry M. Goldwater range complex.[25]
The 56th Medical Group is an outpatient only medical treatment facility, which serves more than 90,000 beneficiaries (active duty military members, retirees and their families) in the Phoenix, Arizona area. The Medical Group is accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. It has more than 600 assigned personnel.[26]
The 56th Comptroller Squadron provides financial services, financial analysis, non-appropriated fund oversight and quality assurance for the wing.[27]


Organized on 15 August 1947[note 4]
Redesignated 56th Fighter-Interceptor Wing on 20 January 1950
Inactivated on 6 February 1952
Organized on 1 February 1961
Discontinued and inactivated on 1 January 1964
Organized on 8 April 1967
Redesignated 56th Special Operations Wing on 1 August 1968
Redesignated 56th Tactical Fighter Wing on 30 June 1975
Redesignated 56th Tactical Training Wing on 1 October 1981
Redesignated 56th Fighter Wing on 1 October 1991[1]



Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base until October 1968[15]



Awards and campaigns

(Vietnam): 1 November 1968 – 1 May 1969
1 October 1969 – 30 April 1970
1 April 1972 – 22 February 1973
1 December 1970 – 30 November 1971
1 December 1971 – 29 February 1972
23 February 1973 – 28 February 1974
24 January-2 May 1975
1 January 1977 – 1 January 1979
1 July 1980 – 30 June 1982
1 June 1984 – 31 May 1986
1 May 1987 – 30 April 1989
1 May 1989 – 30 April 1990
1 May 1990 – 30 April 1991
1 July 1994 – 30 June 1996
1 July 1996 – 30 June 1998
1 July 1998 – 30 June 2000
1 July 2001 – 30 June 2003
1 July 2003 – 30 June 2005
1 July 2005 – 30 June 2006
1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007
1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008
8 April 1967 – 28 January 1973
Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase II; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase III; Vietnam Air/Ground; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase IV; TET 69/ Counteroffensive; Vietnam Summer-Fall, 1969; Vietnam Winter-Spring, 1970; Sanctuary Counteroffensive; Southwest Monsoon; Commando Hunt V; Commando Hunt VI; Commando Hunt VII; Vietnam Ceasefire.


  1. ^ Aircraft is McDonnell F-101B-95-MC Voodoo serial 57-386 at K.I. Sawyer AFB.
  2. ^ The base was commonly referred to by its identifier, "NKP", or informally as "Naked Fanny."
  3. ^ Aircraft is McDonnell F-4D-28-MC Phantom serial 65-756 at Dyess Air Force Base in 1979.
  4. ^ The experimental (table of distribution) wing was discontinued on 1 August 1948. The permanent (table of organization) wing was established the same day. The Air Force later consolidated the two wings and considers this to have been a redesignation. Ravenstein, pp. 90–92.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Robertson, Patsy (13 July 2015). "Factsheet 56 Fighter Wing (AETC)". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Luke Trifold" (PDF). 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs. December 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  3. ^ Ravenstein, p. xxi
  4. ^ Ravenstein, pp. 90–92.
  5. ^ Grant, p. 33
  6. ^ Cornett & Johnson, p. 66. An apparent typo in this reference gives the date the 4708th was organized as 1 February 1953, rather than 1952.
  7. ^ Ray, p. 27
  8. ^ Ray, p. 50
  9. ^ NORAD/CONAD Response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, pp. 16, 26
  10. ^ McMullen, pp. 10–12
  11. ^ McMullen, pp. 41, 43–45
  12. ^ Cornett & Johnson, p. 117
  13. ^ Cornett & Johnson, p. 62
  14. ^ Mueller, p. 295
  15. ^ a b c "Abstract, History 56 Air Commando Wing Apr–Jun 1967". Air Force History Index. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  16. ^ Anthony, p. 99
  17. ^ Unsigned (staff historian) (7 January 2008). "Factsheet 21 Special Operations Squadron". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  18. ^ Unsigned (staff historian) (2 January 2008). "Factsheet 1 Special Operations Squadron". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  19. ^ Anthony, p. 106
  20. ^ See Mueller, pp. 345, 354 (transfer of host responsibilities and dates units were at MacDill).
  21. ^ "Appendix F" (PDF). 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. p. F-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 May 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  22. ^ https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/tr/pdf/ADA466177.pdf
  23. ^ a b Robertson, Patsy (21 April 2014). "Factsheet 54 Fighter Group (AETC)". Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  24. ^ "314th FS activation". Air Combat Command Public Affairs. 14 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  25. ^ a b c d e "Luke Air Force Base Units: 54th Fighter Group". 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  26. ^ "Luke Air Force Base Units: 56th Medical Group". 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  27. ^ "Luke Air Force Base Units: 56th Fighter Wing Staff Agencies". 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
  28. ^ Components stationed with wing headquarters, except as noted


Further reading