|Country United States|
Branch Air National Guard
|Active June 27, 1924 – March 31, 2011|
Part of Pennsylvania Air National Guard
The 103d Fighter Squadron (103 FS) is an inactive unit of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. It was last assigned to the 111th Fighter Wing, stationed at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The squadron was inactivated on 31 March 2011.
- Pennsylvania National Guard
- World War II
- Pennsylvania Air National Guard
- Korean War Activation
- Cold War Air Defense
- Airlift mission
- Airborne Forward Air Control
- Ground Support
- Global War on Terrorism
- Operation Iraqi Freedom
- BRAC 2005 inactivation
The squadron was a descendant organization of the Pennsylvania National Guard 103d Observation Squadron, formed on 27 June 1924. It was one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.
Pennsylvania National Guard
The Militia board authorized the Pennsylvania National Guard 103d Observation Squadron in June 1924. The 103d was founded and eventually commanded by Major Charles J. Biddle (aviator), who had flown in World War I as part of the famous Lafayette Escadrille (a volunteer group of American pilots flying French aircraft before our country's entry into WWI). This new National Guard squadron was based on the sod fields of Philadelphia Airport as a unit in the Army 28th Division.
The pilots of the 103d flew a wide variety of observation aircraft for the next 18 years. The most well-known of these aircraft was the JN-4 Jenny. The Jenny was an open-cockpit bi-plane; but was replaced in the 1930s and early 1940s with metal-skinned, prop-driven observation monoplanes. The list is long but shows the steady improvement in aircraft: PT-1, BT-1, O-1, O-2H, O-11, O-38, O-46,-47A, O-47B, O-49, O-52, O-57 and P434-1. The squadron also flew liaison type aircraft such as the L-4 and L-1B.
The squadron conducted summer training at Langley Field, Virginia, 1924–27 and Middletown Air Depot, Pennsylvania, 1928-40. They also flew reconnaissance operations in support of the 28th Division and 5nd Cavalry Brigade during summer training; flew tracking missions for the 213th Coast Artillery Regiment (AA); and flew spotter missions for the 107th, 108th, 109th, and 176th Field Artillery Regiments at Tobyhanna Firing Range. The entire squadron was called up to support flood relief efforts in central and eastern Pennsylvania in March–April 1936.
World War II
Inducted into active Federal service 17 February 1941 at Philadelphia, and transferred to the Harrisburg Municipal Airport, arriving there 27 February 1941.
In February 1941, as the war in Europe raged, the unit was ordered to active service, performing antisubmarine patrols off the coast of New England. In 1943, the 103d finally moved into the latest combat aircraft. First, the pilots and maintenance personnel were given steady upgrades in equipment beginning with the P-39 Airacobra, P-40 Warhawks, and then the B-25 Mitchell. Eventually this culminated in training on the P-38 Lightning, or to be more specific, the photo-reconnaissance version called the F-5C. The twin-engine F-5C had all of the P-38's guns replaced by cameras.
After a year's worth of training, the 103d deployed to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of war in 1944 where it operated out of various fields in India and Burma. It was heavily involved in photo reconnaissance activities over Burma, supporting the US Army forces fighting the Japanese in the jungles there. The 103d personnel stayed in that theater until the end of the war.
Pennsylvania Air National Guard
The wartime 40th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was re-designated as the 103d Bombardment Squadron and allotted to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, on 24 May 1946. It was organized at Philadelphia International Airport, and was extended federal recognition on 20 December 1948 by the National Guard Bureau. The 103d Bombardment Squadron was bestowed the history, honors, and colors of the 40th PRS. The squadron was equipped with B-26 Invader light bombers and assigned to the 111th Bombardment Group.
Korean War Activation
The 103d was federalized on 10 October 1950 along with its parent 111th Composite Wing due to the Korean War. Many of the pilots and maintenance personnel were split off and sent for duty overseas as individuals assigned to other combat units there. Eventually the B-26 bombers were sent as reinforcement aircraft to Far East Air Force for use in Korea.
On 10 April 1951 the squadron and Wing were moved to Fairchild AFB, Washington and re-equipped with RB-29 Superfortress reconnaissance aircraft. Based on the World War II B-29 Bomber, the RB-29s were instead configured with multiple aerial cameras for mapping and reconnaissance missions. These RB-29s were used like the reconnaissance satellites of today, except they required actual over flight of the countries to be photographed.
On 13 June 1952, two 111th pilots were flying an RB-29 over the Soviet Union when they were shot down by a pair of MiG-15s. The RB-29 was never recovered, having crashed in the waters off of Vladivostok, Russia. The Pennsylvanian families of the Air Guard pilots were told they had simply "vanished" in a weather-reconnaissance flight near Japan. It wasn't until the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of communist archives that the relatives found out the truth in 1993. It is unknown as to whether any of the pilots or crew of this aircraft were captured by the Soviets at that time.
Cold War Air Defense
The 103d and the 111th were returned to control of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in late November 1952, and the units were re-formed at Philadelphia International Airport by 1 January 1953. The 103d was re-equipped with the F-51D Mustang World War II fighter because of a lack of available jets at the time due to the Korean War. It was re-designated as the 103d Fighter Bomber Squadron and assumed an air defense mission. In 1955, Air Defense Command upgraded the group to the F-84F Thunderstreak, and it received new aircraft. In July 1956, the 103d FIS switched to F-94A and B Starfigher interceptors; to F-94Cs in 1958 and the F-89H Scorpion in 1959.
In 1962, the unit transitioned from the F-89J jet interceptor to a large, heavy transport, the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, a double-decked, four-engine airplane. The new mission moved the wing into the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), and its successor Military Airlift Command (MAC) in 1966.
In 1963, the 111th ended its 39-year history at Philadelphia airport and moved to brand new facilities on the north end of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. From Willow Grove, the C-97 was used to transport troops and cargo all over the world. The unit's flying personnel were used heavily during the Vietnam War and over two hundred members earned Vietnam Service Medals for their flights into that war zone.
Airborne Forward Air Control
In 1969, the unit changed mission yet again, returning to its original roots as an observation unit. The new 111th Tactical Air Support Group initially flew the U-3A Blue Canoe, a Cessna-310, as an intermediate aircraft until it received the aircraft it needed for Airborne Forward Air Control (AFAC): the O-2A Skymaster. The O-2 was a two propeller aircraft used early in the Vietnam War for coordination between ground forces and fighter aircraft (the "O" stands for observation).
The Forward Air Control mission was sustained with the unit's switch to the OA-37 Dragonfly in 1981. The OA-37, was a heavier derivative of the T-37 trainer, and had been developed specifically for the Vietnam conflict. The unit made several deployments to Central America in the 1980s to fly with US allies there, who had been sold the A-37 as part of the US Foreign Military Sales program.
The A-37s were retired in 1988, and the 111th received the A-10A Thunderbolt II ground support aircraft. It was also used as a FAC aircraft (OA-10). Pilots continued their previous mission of providing AFAC and Combat Search and Rescue, although in a much more combat-worthy fighter. The A-10 allowed the wing to take part in the new deployments to Southwest Asia following Operation Desert Storm. The unit was re-designated as the 111th Fighter Group in 1992 and then as the 111th Fighter Wing in 1995.
Participating in Operation Southern Watch, the wing took advantage of this aircraft upgrade by volunteering for a 90-day deployment to Kuwait in 1995, to support joint combat flight operations for Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. Twelve aircraft were deployed to Al Jaber AB - a joint-use base by U.S. and Kuwait Air Forces. The base was fairly austere as it had suffered considerable war-damage from Desert Storm. Missions included Combat Search and Rescue alert, Kill Box flights over Iraq, Airborne Forward Air Control and joint training missions over Kuwait. About 40% of the wing participated in the deployment
Another interesting element was a small side deployment to Qatar. The 111th was the first Air Guard fighter unit deployed to Al Jaber and also the first ANG Wing to volunteer for a solo 3-month Operation Southern Watch deployment. The combat flight missions over Iraq were to enforce United Nations resolutions and occurred during the 1990s post Cold War era.
In 1996, the 111th FW pilots transitioned from the OA-10 AFAC mission to the universal A-10 "attack" mission. Now the pilots' primary task was to provide Close Air Support (CAS) for joint service ground forces, as well as performing AFAC and CSAR duties as before. This change to the normal A-10 role aligned the wing with all the other A-10 units in the active duty and Air Reserve Component (ARC).
The second 111th FW deployment to Al Jaber AB occurred in 1999, again to support joint combat flight operations for Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. Missions included Combat Search and Rescue alert, Kill Box flights over Iraq, Airborne Forward Air Control and joint training missions over Kuwait. Use of the A-10 was more limited than before, due to the aircraft's relative lack of a precision weapon capability [except the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missile].
Global War on Terrorism
Immediately following the 9/11 attacks on NYC and Washington, DC, the 111th FW voluntarily deployed on very short notice back to Al Jaber AB to support joint combat flight operations for Operation Southern Watch over Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan. Missions included Combat Search and Rescue alert and joint training missions over Kuwait. 111th Weapons personnel assisted in the loading of combat ordnance for the first sorties into Afghanistan in November, 2001.
From October 2002 - January 2003, the wing was the lead unit for a short notice, voluntary, out-of-cycle AEF deployment to Bagram AB, Afghanistan. Bagram had been a massive Soviet base during the decade when they occupied Afghanistan (1979–89), but was almost completely destroyed in that period and civil war afterwards. The 111th aircraft supported joint combat flight operations with US Army, Special Forces, and coalition ground forces in Afghanistan. The A-10s were flown and maintained in the most primitive conditions, yet the 111th personnel flew 100% of the assigned tasking for their entire deployment - at four times the normal sortie rate of home. Other unique aspects of the operation were total 'blacked out' night-time operations (no lights on the field or camp - everything was done by night vision goggles); an extensive number of mines/UXOs around and on the air field; extreme weather conditions and enemy shelling using BM-12 107mm rockets.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Upon returning to the U.S. in January 2003, the 111th FW again volunteered to participate in another SWA deployment to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait [fourth visit] from February 2003 - May 2003. The wing deployed for joint combat flight operations, in support of US Army, Marine and British ground forces as part of the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wing personnel were initially stationed at Al Jaber before transferring to Tallil AB, Iraq, midway through the initial campaign. Tallil was a former Iraqi air force base, which had not been used in a decade.
During this campaign, which included direct support for coalition armor forces during the entire invasion from the Kuwait border, through Basra and Baghdad, the wing pilots and maintainers successfully operated at a very high sortie rate. Tallil AB operations set another milestone due to its austere nature and forward location (which was essential to support the armor's thrust toward the capital).
The 111th Fighter Wing's achievement of voluntarily deploying to austere bases in two separate combat operations within a five-month period  was part of the reason the unit was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, with Valor, in 2005. It also was awarded the Reserve Family Readiness Award in 2003 and the ANG Distinguished Flying Unit Award in 2004.
BRAC 2005 inactivation
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended the 111th Fighter Wing be inactivated and its assigned A-10 aircraft reassigned to the 124th Wing (ANG), Boise Air Terminal Air Guard Station, Boise, ID (three primary aircraft); 175th Wing (ANG), Warfield Air National Guard Base, Baltimore, MD, (three primary aircraft); 127th Wing (ANG), Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mount Clemens, MI (three primary aircraft) and retire the remaining aircraft (six primary aircraft).
This recommendation was part of a larger recommendation that would close NAS JRB Willow Grove, PA. DoD claimed that this recommendation would enable Air Force Future Total Force transformation by consolidating the A-10 fleet at installations of higher military value. Despite appeals from Ed Rendell, the Governor of Pennsylvania, the recommendations were upheld and the A-10s departed during 2010. The 103d Fighter Squadron inactivated on 31 March 2011.