Puneet Varma (Editor)

99th Reconnaissance Squadron

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Country  United States
Size  Squadron
Role  Reconnaissance
Part of  Air Combat Command
99th Reconnaissance Squadron
Active  21 August 1917 – 9 June 1919 2 July 1919 – 31 July 1927 9 November 1928 – 20 October 1948 1 May 1949 – 1 April 1971 1 November 1972 – Present
Branch  United States Air Force

The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (99 RS) is a squadron of the United States Air Force. It is assigned to the 9th Operations Group, Air Combat Command, stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California. The squadron is equipped with the Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft.


The 99 RS is one of the oldest units in the United States Air Force, first being organized as the 99th Aero Squadron on 21 August 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas. The squadron deployed to France and fought on the Western Front during World War I as a Corps observation squadron.

During World War II the unit served both in the Panama Canal Zone as an anti-submarine unit and in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) as part of Twentieth Air Force as a B-29 Superfortress bomber squadron. During the Cold War was part of Strategic Air Command equipped with B-47 Stratojet medium bombers, and later with the SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft.


The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron is responsible for providing critical intelligence for use by the highest levels of the U.S. government. Squadron pilots fly the Lockheed U-2S aircraft as they continuously train to upgrade from normal aircraft commander status to that of instructor pilot status.

Pilots from the squadron frequently rotate overseas to support the wing's various operating locations. The squadron has one of the highest TDY rates in the Air Force, second only to that of the aircrews supporting the E-3 Sentry AWACS. This high operations tempo could not be effectively maintained without the crew chiefs assigned to the squadron who perform routine maintenance to keep the aircraft flying on a daily basis.

In addition to the military reconnaissance mission, U-2 pilots fly many humanitarian, search and rescue and environmental missions.

The current mission statement of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron is "To deploy and employ warrior Airmen and execute effective and sustained U-2 operations globally in support of National Objectives."

World War I

see 99th Aero Squadron for an expanded World War I history of the unit

Organized at Kelly Field, Texas on 21 August 1917, the 99th Aero Squadron moved to Garden City, New York in early November and sailed for France on the fourteenth. After training in the Sopwith Camel and the Salmson 2, the squadron began flying combat missions in June 1918.

Assigned to the V Corps Observation Group, United States First Army Air Service, the 99th Aero Squadron (Corps Observation) was assigned to the Toul Sector of the French Western Front on 22 June. It served as a school squadron with V Army Corps Infantry Liaison School. On 19 July, was assigned to the St. Die sector during which time one flight of unit, operating in Vosges region of Alsace and Lorraine where it participated in combat with French XXXIII Corps.

Between 12 and 16 September the squadron flew reconnaissance missions and directed artillery fire in support French 8th Army and the American V Army Corps during the St. Mihiel offensive. It also participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive between 26 September – 11 November 1918 when the Armistice with Germany was reached.

The 99th Aero Squadron remained in France until 8 May 1919, then moved to Mitchel Field, New York where the unit was demobilized; the men who had served in France were demobilized and returned to civilian life.

Inter-war period

The 99th was retained after World War I as part of the permanent United States Army Air Service, and after a series of administrative moves in which the squadron was an administrative unit, was assigned to Bolling Field, District of Columbia where it was organized as 99th Corps Observation Squadron. It was manned largely with veterans of the AEF who remained in the Air Service and was equipped with war surplus Dayton-Wright DH-4s and some British Royal Aircraft Establishment SE-5s that had been shipped from Britain during the war as engineering models to license produce in the United States. At Bolling Field, the pilots of the squadron trained in aerial reconnaissance and also trained with Army units in Northern Virginia on battlefield observation maneuvers and artillery spotting and adjustments, similar to the combat missions the squadron flew on the Western Front during the way. However lack of funding for training and the general feeling in the United States that the peace lessened the need for a strong military led to many of the combat veterans to leave the service. As a result, the proficiency of squadron aircrews deteriorated until the 99th had no one proficient enough to participate in the 1929 bombing and gunnery matches.

In 1927, the 99th moved to Kelly Field, Texas where it was assigned to the Air Corps Training Center. It was inactivated on 31 July. On 9 November 1928, it was reactivated at Mitchell Field, New York and was eqipped with a series of observation aircraft, and performed operational testing on the planes, and various variants over the next several years. With the creation of the GHQ Air Force on 1 March 1935, the group became the 9th Bombardment Group and the 99th became a bombardment squadron. With the new mission came new airplanes. The new bombardment squadron received American-made Martin B-10s in 1936 and Douglas B-18s in 1938. Squadron members trained hard learning the tactics and maneuvers of their new aircraft and new mission.

Antisubmarine warfare

As part of the buildup of Air Corps forces in the Panama Canal Zone prior to the United States entry into World War II, the 99th was transferred to Rio Hato Field, Panama on 13 November 1940. It was almost immediately re-designated as the 99th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), and equipped with Douglas B-18 Bolos. Its mission was to patrol the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal.

Tragedy struck the 99th early in its Panama assignment. On 27 February 1941, one of its B-18As, piloted by 1st Lieutenant Jack L. Schoch and with six other crew members aboard, crashed into Panama Bay just off Venado Beach, with the loss of all on board. The cause of this mysterious loss were never determined, although rescue efforts continued late into the night. With its remaining four B-18As, the unit continued its intensive training program from its base at Rio Hato until, on 25 August 1941, it received one of the new Boeing B-17B Flying Fortresses assigned to the Command.

Just before the Pearl Harbor Attack, on 3 December, the Squadron was ordered to distant Zandrey Field, Dutch Guiana (by way of Piarco Field, Trinidad) under an agreement with the Netherlands government-in-exile, by which the United States occupied the colony to protect bauxite mines. However, to the disappointment of the crews, the squadron had to leave its B-17 behind. It was, however, reinforced with additional B-18As, bringing squadron strength up to six aircraft. At Zandry, the unit shuttled from Zandery to Atkinson Field, British Guiana and, by January 1942, had eight Curtiss P-40C Warhawks assigned. The P-40s were, in actuality detached for airfield defense by the Trinidad Base Command, under which the 99th fell at the time.

The intensive flying of the first two months of the war soon took its toll, however, and by the end of February 1942, the Squadron was forced to report that it had but three B-18A's operational at Zandery and that " .... none of them are airworthy at this time." Apparently the unit was quickly reinforced and by 1 March strength was back up to six aircraft, and seven combat crews, all of whom had more than 12 months experience.

Operations From Zandry Field consisted of coastal, convoy and anti-submarine patrols until 31 October 1942. Just prior to which time the 4th Antisubmarine Squadron was attached to the Squadron between 9 and 16 October. At this point Antisubmarine Command took over the mission of the 99th and the men and aircraft of the squadron were reassigned. The squadron was detached from Sixth Air Force and reassigned to Orlando AAF, Florida without personnel or equipment, where it became part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics (AAFSAT) in central and northern Florida.

At the AAFSAT, the squadron trained units at various airfields in central and Northern Florida, the squadron trained cadres for 44 bomb groups in organization and operations, performed bombing pattern tests, experimented with 3-plane formations to attack moving ships, and performed over a hundred equipment tests.

B-29 Superfortress era

On 3 March 1944, the squadron was again moved without personnel or equipment to Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas where the 99th was assigned to the 313th Bombardment Wing, with a mission to organize and train for B-29 operations in the Western Pacific. The 99th helped to develop operational bombardment tactics and tested special devices and equipment during this time.

In 1944 the 99th moved to Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas where it began training on the new B-29 Superfortress as part of the 313th Bombardment Wing, to organize and train for B-29 operations in the Western Pacific. The 99th helped to develop operational bombardment tactics and tested special devices and equipment during this time. It then moved to McCook Army Airfield, Nebraska in May 1944 where it trained in earnest for its own combat deployment.

After six months in the new B-29, the 99th transferred to North Field, Tinian, in the Mariana Islands, just east of the Philippines. Arriving at Tinian on 28 December 1944, the 99th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy) flew its first bombing raids on 27, 29 and 31 January 1945, against Japanese installations in the northern Marianas. On 25 February the 99th joined an all-out Allied effort against Tokyo's port and industrial areas.

For the remaining months of the war, squadron B-29s repeatedly struck Japanese aircraft factories, chemical plants, naval bases and airdromes. It also participated in night, low-level incendiary bombing attacks on urban areas.

During these months the 99th won two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first came for 15–16 April 1945 bombing raids on Kawasaki, Japan's industrial center, which furnished components for Tokyo and Yokohama's heavy industry. The squadron won the second award in mine-laying operations beginning in mid May, 1944 in the Shimonoseki Straits, which controlled access to the Inland Seas. This operation crippled Japan's efforts to ship food, raw materials, war supplies, troops, and combat equipment to and from the homeland.

The 99th Bomb Squadron continued its attacks on Japan until flying its last mission, a low-level night incendiary attack on Kumagaya on 14 August 1945. With the end of World War II, the squadron moved to Harmon Air Force Base, Guam on 17 March 1946 and inactivated there on 20 October 1948.

Strategic Air Command

The Air Force established the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Fairfield-Suisun (later Travis) AFB, California on 25 April 1949 and activated it on 1 May as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) unit. 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron flew B/RB-17s and, later, B/RB-29s. RB-29s and a few RB-36s. Their mission was to conduct visual, photographic, electronic, and weather reconnaissance operations.

Squadron reconnaissance operations were short-lived,however, as on 1 April 1950, the Air Force re-designated the wing as the 9th Bombardment Wing and the 99th as a bombardment squadron. The 99th continued to fly B-29s at Fairfield-Suisun AFB until 1 May 1953, when SAC transferred the wing and its squadrons to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. By June 1955, the 99th Bombardment Squadron had replaced its B-29s with new B-47 Stratojets. In November 1955 the 99th and other wing squadrons demonstrated the Strategic Air Command's ability to strike anywhere in the world making several deployments to England and Guam.

Squadron B-47s flew nonstop from the 8,300 miles from Mountain Home AFB to New Zealand. The 99th flew nuclear deterrent missions for ten years. In November 1965, SAC agreed to transfer Mountain Home AFB to the Tactical Air Command. The 99th's B-47s were retired and by 1 February 1966 all squadron aircraft were gone.

In January 1966 the first production SR-71 Blackbirds had landed at Beale AFB, California. This new aircraft gave SAC a reconnaissance capability that far exceeded any then available in terms of speed, altitude, and coverage. The SR-71 flew at more than three times the speed of sound (Mach 3+) at altitudes above 80,000 feet. It carried the most advanced observation equipment in the world. The provisional 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) was activated at Beale AFB on 1 January 1965 as the SR-71’s parent unit. In October 1965 Fifteenth Air Force suggested the Air Force re-designate the 9th Bombardment Wing as the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing to continue the wing’s proud history. The Air Force agreed and on 25 June 1966 the wing became the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and the 99th a strategic reconnaissance squadron. The 9th SRW replaced the 4200th SRW at Beale AFB.

At Beale, the 99th trained with the SR-71 to bring the aircraft and crews to mission-ready status. By March 1967 the aircraft was ready. The SR-71 quickly deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and began flying operational missions over Southeast Asia. Squadron pilots and reconnaissance systems operator gathered photographic and electronic data for U.S. commanders in South Vietnam from 1967 until 1 April 1971 when the squadron inactivated.

In November 1972, the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron was re-activated at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. The squadron was equipped a combination of U-2s, DC-130’s and CH-3s flying classified missions over Southeast Asia until 30 June 1976. When the U-2 joined the SR-71 under the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron returned to Beale.

The U-2, although slower than the SR-71, cost much less to operate and provided more "on-station" time. As intelligence collection increased throughout the 1980s, 99th U-2 pilots manned detachments at sites around the world. With the SR-71’s retirement in 1990, the U-2 assumed responsibility for all of America’s manned high-altitude reconnaissance.

During Operation Desert Shield, 99th Squadron pilots immediately deployed to Saudi Arabia and flew their first missions of 19 August 1990, just 17 days after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Throughout Desert Shield/Storm, squadron pilots provided vital reconnaissance that kept coalition commanders informed on the positions and movement of Iraqi troops. This information made air attacks more effective and helped reduce casualties in the ground war.

Modern era

Operational missions include extensive reconnaissance efforts during Operations Urgent Fury, Just Cause, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and operation Iraqi Freedom as well as humanitarian efforts covering wildfire and earthquake damage in California and Midwestern United States floods. 99 RS personnel are currently temporarily assigned to four overseas detachments.


  • Organized as 99th Aero Squadron on 21 August 1917
  • Re-designated as 99th Aero Squadron (Corps Observation) on 11 March 1918 Re-designated as 99th Aero Squadron on 24 May 1919 Demobilized on 9 June 1919 Re-constituted and organized as 99th Corps Observation Squadron on 2 July 1919 Re-designated: 99th Squadron (Observation) on 14 March 1921 Re-designated: 99th Observation Squadron on 25 Jan 1923 Inactivated on 31 Jul 1927
  • Activated on 9 Nov 1928
  • Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron on 1 Mar 1935 Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) on 6 Dec 1939 Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on 20 Nov 1940 Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron, Very Heavy on 28 Mar 1944 Inactivated on 20 Oct 1948
  • Re-designated 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic, and activated, on 1 May 1949
  • Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, on 1 Apr 1950 Re-designated: 99th Bombardment Squadron, Medium, on 2 Oct 1950 Re-designated: 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron on 25 Jun 1966 Inactivated on 1 Apr 1971
  • Activated on 1 Nov 1972
  • Re-designated: 99th Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 Sep 1991.


    99th Reconnaissance Squadron Wikipedia

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