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 Strategic Air Command (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, 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, Viet Nam 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 except for a small communications element and transfer it to another agency. Anticipating MacDill's closure, 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 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.56th Operations Group
54th Fighter Group
56th Maintenance Group
56th Mission Support Group
56th Medical Group
56th Comptroller Squadron
Established as the 56th Fighter Wing on 28 July 1947
Organized on 15 August 1947
Redesignated 56th Fighter-Interceptor Wing
on 20 January 1950
Inactivated on 6 February 1952
Redesignated 56th Fighter Wing (Air Defense) and activated on 28 December 1960 (not organized)
Organized on 1 February 1961
Discontinued and inactivated on 1 January 1964
Redesignated 56th Air Commando Wing and activated on 16 March 1967 (not organized)
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
Groups56th Fighter Group (later 56th Fighter-Interceptor, 56th Operations) Group: 15 August 1947 – 6 February 1952; 1 November 1991 – 4 January 1994; 1 April 1994 – present
54th Fighter Group, 1 March 2014 – present
Squadrons1st Air Commando Squadron (later 1st Special Operations Squadron): 20 December 1967 – 15 December 1972
13th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron: 15 January 1976 – 1 July 1982
18th Special Operations Squadron: 25 August 1971 – 31 December 1972 (AC–119)
21st Helicopter Squadron (later 21st Special Operations Squadron): 27 November 1967 – 30 June 1975
22d Special Operations Squadron: 25 October 1968 – 30 September 1970
23d Tactical Air Support Squadron: 15 March 1972 – 30 June 1975 (O-2A, OV-10)
61st Tactical Fighter Squadron (later 61st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron): 30 June 1975 – 1 November 1991
62d Tactical Fighter Squadron (later 62d Tactical Fighter Training Squadron): 1 February 1961 – 16 December 1963; 30 June 1975 – 1 November 1991
63d Tactical Fighter Squadron (later 63d Tactical Fighter Training Squadron): 30 June 1975 – 1 November 1991
72d Tactical Fighter Training Squadron: 1 July 1982 – 1 November 1991
97th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron: attached 1 December 1950 – 20 May 1951
361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron: 1 September 1972 – 30 June 1974 (EC-47N/P)
554th Reconnaissance Squadron: 15 December 1970 – 30 September 1972 (QU-22B)
602d Fighter Squadron (later 602d Special Operations Squadron): 8 April 1967 – 31 December 1970
606th Air Commando Squadron (later 606th Special Operations Squadron): 8 April 1967 – 15 June 1971
609th Air Commando Squadron (later 609th Special Operations Squadron): 15 September 1967 – 1 December 1969
4501st Tactical Fighter Replacement Squadron: 30 June 1975 – 15 January 1976
Selfridge Field (later Selfridge Air Force Base), Michigan, 15 August 1947 – 6 February 1952
K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan, 1 February 1961 – 1 January 1964
Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 8 April 1967 – 30 June 1975
MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, 30 June 1975 – 31 March 1994
Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, 1 April 1994 – present
Presidential Unit Citation:
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device:
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm:
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.