|56th Fighter Wing|
|Active||1947–1952; 1961–1964; 1967–present|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Part of||Air Education and Training Command|
|Garrison/HQ||Luke Air Force Base|
|Motto(s)||Cave Tonitrum Latin Beware of the Thunderbolt|
|Decorations||Presidential Unit Citation |
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ Palm
|Brigadier General Gregory Kreuder|
|Robin Rand |
|56th Fighter Wing emblem (approved 19 April 1967)|
|Tail code at Luke AFB||LF|
The 56th Fighter Wing is a fighter wing in the United States Air Force. It is the Air Force's only active-duty F-16 training wing and one of two F-35 training wings. The 56th graduates more than 400 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots and 300 air control professionals annually. The wing is also responsible for three additional squadrons under the 54th Fighter Group located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where F-16 training is moving as the wing transitions to become the sole pilot training center for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
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.
The 56th Fighter Wing was activated 15 August 1947 at Selfridge Field, Michigan 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. The 56th Fighter Group, flying Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars, became its operational component. The wing base organization was made permanent in 1948.
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, flying 16 of its F-80's from Selfridge to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, Germany, by way of Maine Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.
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. 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, 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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, and on 1 January 1964, the wing was transferred to SAC, which inactivated it and transferred its support elements to the 410th Bombardment Wing, which became the base's new host.
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, replacing the 634th Combat Support Group 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. The wing continued to grow, adding the 609th Air Commando Squadron, which took over the T-28s and A-26s of the 606th, the 21st Helicopter Squadron, which was activated in November with Sikorsky CH-3 helicopters and the 1st Air Commando Squadron, another Skyraider squadron, which moved to Nakhon Phanom from Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam in late December. The wing was assigned to Thirteenth Air Force, but was attached Seventh Air Force in Saigon for operational control.
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.
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 and a third squadron of A-1s, the 22d Special Operations Squadron, was activated in October 1968.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, where it assumed the assets of the 58th Fighter Wing.
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.
After Hurricane Andrew battered Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, the fighter squadrons at Homestead 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 a squadron was added to train pilots for the Republic of China Air Force and the wing had eight flying squadrons and over 200 aircraft. This number was reduced by two flying squadrons and approximately 70 aircraft following the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
In March 2014, The 54th Fighter Group was activated under the wing 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. 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.