On 1 August 1968 General William W. Momyer became commander of Tactical Air Command. While he devoted most of his attention to the pressing problems the command faced during the war in Vietnam, General Momyer also concerned himself with the designation of the units under his command. The movement of units to and from Vietnam left TAC with a mixed force. Some of its organizations had long and honorable tactical traditions. Others used four-digit, command-controlled designations that gave them no history or traditions. General Momyer therefore directed the TAC planning staff to replace the four-digit designations with those of units that had a combat record dating from either World War II or Korea. He also directed the staff to "retain illustrious [Air Force controlled] designators for the active tactical forces." This polig, plus the training demands caused by the war in Vietnam, led to the 1st Fighter Wing's return to TAC in October 1970.
Headquarters, United States Air Force authorized the reassignment of the 1st Fighter Wing (Air Defense) from Aerospace Defense Command to Tactical Air Command on 30 July 1970. Three days later, HQ ADC directed the commander of the 26th Air Division to move Headquarters, 1st Fighter Wing (Air Defense); Headquarters, 1st Combat Support Group; the 1st Security Police, 1st Civil Engineering, 1st Transportation, and 1st Sup_pJy Squadrons; and the 1st USAF Hospital from Hamilton AFB, California to MacDill AFB, Florida. All units moved without personnel or equ_ipment. The units were reassigned from ADC to TAC when they arrived at MacDill.
The 15th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill provided personnel and equipment to TAC's newest wing. Four major changes occurred at the Florida base on 1 October 1970.
- HQ TAC redesignated two organizations. Headquarters, 1st Fighter Wing (Air Defense) was redesig11ated Headquarters, 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, and the 1st USAF Hospital was redesignated 1st Tactical Hospital. - The command inactivated HQ 15th TFW. HQ 1st TFW "absorbed" its _p_ersonnel and equipment. fn a similar manner, units of the 1st TFW absorbed the personnel and equipment of Headquarters, 15th Combat Support Group; the 15th S@ply, Civil Engineering, Services, Transportation, and Security Police Squadrons; and tlie 15th Tactical Hospital. - HQ TAC activated the 1st Services Squadron and assigned it to the fst Combat Support Group at MacDill. It also activated the 1st Combat Su_pport Squadron., stationed it at Avon Park Range, Florida, and assigned it to tne 1st CSG. - HQ TAC relieved three support organizations and five flying squadrons from assignment to the 15th TFW and assigned them to tlie 1st TFW. The support organizations included the 15th Field Maintenance Squadron the 589th Air Force Band (assigned to the 1st CSG), and the USAF Regional Hospital, MacDill. The flying squadrons were the 45th, 46th, and 47th Tactical Fighter Squadrons (equipped with F-4 Phantom IIs), the 4530th Tactical Training Squadron (also equipped with F-4s), and the 4424th Combat Crew Training Squadron (equipped with B-57 Canberra bombers).
Finally, the command assigned the wing to the 836th Air Division. The 1st Tactical Fighter Wing assumed its place as one of TAC's frontline fighter units.
The 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, a TAC unit of long standing, with a distinguished history of its own that dated back to 1942, noted the 1st TFW's return to TAC. The 4th announced that it was:
. . . pleased to welcome the 1 TFW into the TAC family. We are cognizant of your illustrious history and the tradition you established while conducting intercept training. We trust that your performance will continue in the same exemplary manner when you commence fighter operations . . . . The 4th TFW has been first in TAC for too long to be aware of the relative ratings of other wings, but we are sure you will find the competition for second stimulating and (hopefully) rewarding.
The 4th TFW signed the greeting with its motto, "Fourth But First." The 1st TFW did not ignore the challenge:
Reference 4 TFW message ... your kind remarks are appreciated, as well as the pathos and poignancy which mark your understandable longing for first place. However, we feel constrained to remind you that neither assertion nor ambition alone can grant position.
The wing signed its message "First, as acknowledged."
The friendly conflict between the 1st and the 4th, both F-4 units, never developed. On 23 December 1970, TAC revised the primary mission of the 1st TFW from that of an operational wing to that of a replacement training unit (RTU). The war in Vietnam had strained TAC training assets, so the command decided that it needed to convert a line unit to augment its training program. The command selected the 1st because the climate and range facilities in the MacDill area (Tampa, Florida) were ideal for the type of flying involved. Colonel Travis R. McNeil, wing commander, concerned that the relegation to RTU status might affect morale, reminded wing personnel that "although in some ways it would seem that the First should be an operational unit, we ... must approach it in the light that you go to the First and the best when you need help, as TAC does. We can do anything we are tasked to do. "
The mission change involved a fundamental shift in the wing's operational responsibilities. A TAC operational fighter wing had a two-fold mission in the early 1970's. Its primary mission was:
To execute tactical fighter missions designed to destroy enemy military forces, supplies, equipment, communications systems, and installations with nuclear or conventional weapons. Engage and destroy enemy air forces in either an offensive or defensive role by visual interception, airborne radar, or air control and warning systems.
The second element of the mission statement directed the operational wing "to provide replacement training of combat aircrews and tactical maintenance personnel in accordance with prescribed syllabi and directives.
The mission of the command's replacement training units was more simple: "to provide combat crew training for aircrew personnel of the US military forces and selected allied military services as determined by Headquarters USAF and directed by Headquarters Tactical Air Command." The mission statement applied to the wing's squadrons shed more light on what the wing's overall mission entailed and introduced a secondary role for units primarily devoted to replacement training. The command directed the squadrons to, first, "conduct combat aircrew academic and flight training in the tactics techniques, and operations of assigned aircraft and associated equipment," and second, to "maintain a state of readiness of personnel and equipment for dispersal and/or augmentation of tactical forces as directed." The 1st Tactical Fighter Wing fulfilled both parts of this mission during the almost five years it was active at MacDill.
The last step in General Momyer's program to reconstitute historic tactical units, at least as far as it concerned the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, came in May 1971. The commanders of the 45th, 46th, and 47th Tactical Fighter squadrons participated in a "shootout" at the Avon Park Gunnery Range on 14 May. The command had decided that the designations of the 27th, 71st and 94th fighter squadrons would be reassigned to the 1st Tactical Fighter wing. The shootout determined the assignment of the historic designations among the wing's three squadrons. Lieutenant Colonel Donald W. Martin, commander of the 47th Tactical Fighter Squadron, scored 113 out of 126 possible points and chose the 94th designation. Lieutenant Colonel David O. Walsh of the 46th finished second; the 46th opted for the 27th. This left the 71st's designation for the 45 TFS. The redesignations became effective on 1 July 1971, when HQ TAC inactivated the 45th, 46th, and 47th Tactical Fighter Squadrons. Their assets transferred to the newly activated 27th, 71st, and 94th Tactical Fighter Squadrons. Another organizational change effective 1 July 1971 transferred the wmg from the 836th Air Division, inactivated on that date, to Ninth Air Force.
By July 1971, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing had reverted to an organization that recalled the 1st Pursuit Group of earlier days. The wing spent the next four years providing advanced tactical training to F-4 and B-57 aircrews, most of whom later saw service in Vietnam. On 1 October 1971, HQ TAC inactivated the 4530th Tactical Training Squadron, which, in addition to other duties, had trained Australian F-4 aircrew members and maintenance personnel during project Peace Reef. The 4501st Tactical Fighter Replacement Squadron, equipped with F-4s, assumed the 4530th's place in the wing's structure on the same date. The command inactivated the 4424th Combat Crew aining Squadron, the wing's B-57 training unit, on 30 June 1972, leaving the wing with four flymg squadrons. All conducted advanced F-4 tactical training. Although it seems unlikely that many people in the 1st TFW were aware of them, discussions underway between HQ TAC and HQ USAF in the spring of 1972 were destined to have a significant impact on the wing's future. McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Company rolled out the first YF-15 Eagle at its St Louis plant on 26 June 1972. About six weeks before, on 2 May 1972, General Momyer had decided that TAC would base its first F-15 wing at Langley AFB, Virginia. When he asked Air Force Chief of Staff General John D. Ryan to, approve this decision, General Momyer noted that Langley, the home of HQ TAC since 1946, was a "traditional home of tactical fighters." He also suggested that Langley's location (near Hampton in southeastern Virginia) provided "an advantageous geographic position for TAC's secondary air defense mission of the eastern United States." It was also an "optimum ... location" for European deployments, while an existing overwater range fifty nautical miles southeast of Langley offered suitable training areas with 'minimum operational constraints and ecological impacts."
On 14 March 1974, HQ USAF announced its plans to station the Air Force's first operational F-15 wing at Langley. (The first F-15 unit, the 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing, was statoned at Luke AFB Arizona.) Neither the Air Force nor TAC had selected a unit to assume this responsibility, so the TAC planning staff began to examine possible candidates. Working from historical research done in 1970 which "identified and ranked fighter wings by historic illustriousness," the planners generated a list of eight possible units. The 1st TFW ranked first, followed by the 4th, 31st, 49th, and 35th TFWs, the 56th Special Operations Wing, and the 347th and 388th TFWs. The top five were already active units, so on 4 April 1974, Brigadier General Jesse M. Allen, TAC Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans, asked the HQ USAF programming staff to assign the 56th TFW designation and the designations of its three original squadrons, the 61st, 62d, and 63d TFSs, to the F-15 wing slated to be activated at Langley in 1976.
After more than a year of deliberation and discussion, the Air Force staff turned down the TAC request. On 14 May 1975 HQ USAF directed the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) staff to move the 56th SOW from N akhon Phanom Airport, Thailand, to MacDill AFB, Florida. The Air Staff had decided that TAC's most historic unit would become the Air Force's first operational F-15 wing.
On 22 May 1975, HQ PACAF directed the movement of the 56th SOW from Thailand to MacDill, without personnel or equipment, effective 30 June. On 6 June, HQ TAC directed Ninth Air Force to move HQ 1st TFW the 27th, 71st, and 94th TFSs; and the 1st Avionics Maintenance, Field Maintenance, Munitions Maintenance, and Organizational Maintenance Squadrons (in active status but without personnel or equipment), from MacDill to Langley, effective 30 June 1975. On that day the organizations at MacDill underwent a series of changes not unlike those experienced on 1 October 1970:
- HQ TAC assigned the 56th SOW to Ninth Air Force. - The command redesignated the 56th SOW the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing. - The command activated two tactical fighter (61st and 63d) and four support. (6th Avioics Maintenance, 56th Field Maitennce, 56th Mumbons Mamtenance, and 56th· Orgamzabonal Maintenance) squadrons at MacDill and assigned them to the 56th TFW. - HQ TAC assigned the USAF Regional Hospital, MacDill, the 4501st Tactical Fighter Replacement Sguadron, the 56th Combat Support Group, the 56th Supply Squadron, and the 56th Transportation Squadrons to the 56tli TFW. - HQ TAC assigned the 56th Civil Engineering S_quadron and the 56th Security Police Squadron to the 56th Combat Support Group. It activated the 56th Services Squadron and assigned it to the 56th CSG at MacDill. It also activated the 56th Combat Support Squadron at Avon Park Range, Florida, and assigned it to the 56th CSG. - The command redesignated the 62d Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron the 62d Tactical Fighter Squadron and assigned it to the 56th TFW.
As the command assembled the 56th TFW, it completed the temporary break up of the 1st TFW. On 30 June 1975, HQ TAC inactivated HQ 1st CSG, and the 1st Transportation, Supply, Civil Engmeering, Security Police, and Services Squadrons at MacDill and the 1st Combat Support Squadron at Avon Park Range, Florida. The organizations activated at MacDill on 30 June absorbed the personnel and equipment of the 1st TFW organizations either inactivated at or moved from MacDill at that time.
To review the changes briefly, 1 July 1975 found the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing and its operational and maintenance squadrons at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, represented by a five-member cadre under Lieutenant Colonel George H. Miller. The 4500th Air Base Wing at Langley provided support services to the newly arrived wing. The personnel and egmpment the 1st TFW left behind at MacDill belonged to the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing. Headquarters, 1st Combat Support Group and its component squadrons were temporarily inactive.
Wing personnel worked for the next six months to prepare facilities at Langley and to learn the skills necessary to bring the wing to fully operational status. Pilots selected to fly the F-15 completed conversion training at Luke AFB, Arizona, while the command built the wing's maintenance squadrons up to strength with personnel trained to support the aircraft. The wing, now under the command of Brigadier General Larry D. Welch, demonstrated flexibility and resilience in its response to the construction, maintenance, operational, and training problems that developed, and by the end of 1975 Langley was ready to begin receiving its Eagles. Lieutenant Colonel John Britt, operations officer of the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew aircraft 74-0137, a two-seat TF-15 (later designated F-15B), into Langley on 18 December 1975. The official welcoming ceremonies, dubbed "Eagle Day," were not held until 9 January 1976, when Lieutenant Colonel Larry Craft commander of the 27th, arrived with a single-seat F-15, 74-0083. Aircraft and aircrews arriving throughout 1976, at a programmed rate of eight aircraft per month, enabled the wing to build toward its authorized strenh of seventy-two aircraft in three twenty-four plane squadrons. The 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron became operationally ready in the F-15 in October 1976. The 71st TFS reached that status in December 1976. In recognition of its accomplishments in introducing the F-15 into the inventory, the United States Air Force, on 1 March 1978, awarded the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for "exceptionally meritorious service" from 1 July 1975 to 31 October 1976.
This left the 94th as the wing's only squadron not yet operationally ready. Both HQ TAC and the wing anticipated this situation, because once the first two squadrons reached operational status, the TAC pilot training pipeline and the wing and its organizations shifted gears to support operation Ready Eagle, a Tactical Air Command/United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) program to provide USAFE with its first operationally ready F-15 wing in the shortest gossible time. The USAFE wing selected to transition to the F-15, the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, stationed at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, established an operating location at Langley to oversee the maintenance and operations training provided by 1st TFW organizations augmented for that purpose. The 1st provided the 36th with eighty-eight operationally ready pilots and 522 maintenance specialists, who later trained an additional 1,100 maintenance personnel at Bitburg. The Ready Eagle schedule called for the 36th to deploy its first squadron to Germany by April 1977, its third by 30 September. The first squadron actually deployed on 27 April and Ready Eagle was completed by 23 September, when the last European-bound F-15s left Langley. The 94th then completed its build-up toward operationally ready status, reaching that point by December 1977. By the end of 1977, then, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing had completed its own transition to a new aircraft while simultaneously providing advanced tactical training for a second F-15 wing.
Organizational changes continued in the interim. On 19 April 1976, HQ TAC relieved the 6th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, which flew Boeing EC-135 airborne command posts in support of the Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Command, from its assignment to the 4500th Air Base Wing and assigned it to the 1st TFW. A year later, on 15 April 1977, the command activated Headquarters, 1st Combat Support Group, and the 1st Services, 1st Supply, 1st Civil Engineering, 1st Security Pohce, and 1st Transportation Squadrons at Langley. Personnel assigned to the newly activated squadrons came from 4500th ABW organizations inactivated on the same date. The 1st TFW became the host unit at Langley Air Force Base with the inactivation of the 4500th ABW.
Mobility became a cornerstone of the wing's mission as it built up its F-15 strength. Tactical Air Command mission relations directed the wing to prepare to deploy and operate its aircraft from locations worldwide. As the Air Force's first F-15 wing, the 1st TFW found itself called upon to demonstrate its ability to deploy forces almost as soon as the wing had the required number of aircraft on hand. The 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron, for example, deployed eight aircraft to Nellis AFB, Nevada, for Red Flag VI on 6 July 1976, only seventeen days after the squadron had received its twenty-fourth aircraft.
HQ TAC levied these demanding requirements on the wing for several reasons. The command wished to expand both the wing's and the command's tactical training base by introducing its most advanced aircraft into its most realistic training environment. The wing enjoyed the opportunity to conduct its training in a challenging training arena. Furthermore, both the command and the wing used the deployments to test the F-15 support system in a demanding yet controlled operational environment. Wing leaders suspected that some of the maintenance and logistics structures erected to support the F-15 were geared more to the environment and pace of the development and training cycle. They feared, therefore, that this situation might leave the wing unable to maintain planned sortie production rates away from its home station. The early deployment cycle "produced beneficial pressures to shift gears and the support system responded." During five deployments conducted from July to December 1976 (four Red Flag's at Nellis and an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System air defense test at McChord AFB Washington), the deployed forces (eight F-15s at Nellis for each of the Red Flag's, twenty-four F-15s at McChord) maintained a sortie production rate of .978, or roughly one sortie per aircraft per day. The mission-capable rate achieved during these deployments average, 74 percent. Both were credible figures for a brand-new, complex weapon system.
The wing's next major structural change came in the ring of 1977, when the maintenance complex was reorganized under TAC's Production Oriented Maintenance Organization (POMO) concept. The command developed the POMO structure to ensure that its wings were organized and trained together in peacetime as they would deploy and fight together in war. To this end, the four-squadron maintenance structure was realigned to three squadrons. After a transitional phase from 1 April to 15 June 1977, HQ TAC formally established the new structure. The 1st Organizational Maintenance Sguadron was redesignated the 1st Aircraft Generation Squadron (AGS), the 1st Field Maintenance Squadron became the 1st Equipment Maintenance Squadron (EMS), and the 1st Avionics Maintenance Squadron was redesignated the 1st Component Repair Squadron (CRS). The 1st Munitions Maintenance Squadron was activated; most of its functions were assumed by the 1st EMS. A further subdivision of the 1st AGS created the 27th, 71st, and 94th Aircraft Maintenance Units, flightline maintenance organizations aligned, as their names implied, with the flying squadron they supported. By 15 June 1977 the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing had assumed its contemporary structure.
After successfully completing several deployments within the United States, the wing was ready to try its hand at more demanding foreign deployments. The 94th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed eight aircraft to Korea, Japan, and the Philippines from 21 January to 4 March 1978. The 94th and the 71st each deployed eighteen F-15s to the Netherlands from 13 September to 20 December 1978, with the 71st replacing the 94th on 27 October. Personnel from the 94th had barely unpacked their bags before they were off again, this time on a short-notice, sixteen-day, twelve-aircraft show-the-flag deployment to Saudi Arabia (Prized Eagle, 12-27 January 1979). The 27th deployed next, sending eight aircraft to Korea and Japan from 1-28 March 1979. Further depl9yments to exercises within the continental United States, and to Europe, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Pacific, have followed since then.
Although the 1st TFW entered the 1980's full of optimism based on its performance since 1976, the early years of the decade proved a difficult time for the wing. On 7 June 1980 a HQ TAC Inspector General (IG) team kicked off an operational readiness inspction (ORI) of the 1st TFW. Five days later on 12 June, a headline in the Hampton Virginia Daily Press reported that " Wing officials aily refused to confirm or deny that interpretation of what transpired, but they did admit that the wing's spare parts situation had deteriorated. As a result, the mission-capable rate of the wing's F-15s had fallen to about forty percent. The wing's problems in 1980 paralleled those of TAC, the Air Force, and the nation's armed services as a whole. Spare parts were in short supply in many places. This grounded aircraft. Pilots who could not fly quickly became unhappy pilots. As morale dropped, retention rates fell too. The situation was not a happy one.
The wing eventually overcame these trials. Improved funding provided more spare parts; this, plus a wide variety of other umt, command, and service initiatives, did much to improve wing morale. Retention rates stabilized, then climbed to peacetime highs. The TAC IG returned to the wing in August 1982. Results achieved this time reflected how the wing's personnel had turned the situation around. At a press conference on 19 August Brigadier General Eugene H. Fischer, wing commander reported that in four days of concentrated operations, wing aircraft had flown almost 1,100 sorties, or twenty-six percent more sorties than the inspection team asked the wing to fly. General Fischer expressed his pride in both the wing and the F-15, which, he noted, had suffered from an unfavorable reputation in the press for some time. He hoped that the wing's performance would dispel any lingering complaints that the aircraft was too complicated to be reliable. He added that the ORI had shown that the wing could perform as expected in a crisis. Wing leaders at all levels supported General Fischer's claim that the wing's performance in 1982 was the result of better planning and training, improved morale, and a greatly improved supply situation.
The 65th anniversary of the organization of the 1st Pursuit Group 5 May 1983, found the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing deployed to Phelps Collins Air National Guard Base, Alpena, Michigan. An area long familiar with the sound of the 1st Pursuit Group's fighters accustomed itself to the sixty F-15s that spent about five weeks in Michigan while contractors repaved the main runway at Langley.
The 1982 ORI and events that followed served notice that the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing had completed the difficult climb back to peak capability. The wing completed a series of scheduled and unscheduled deployments that proved that the results achieved during the ORI were no fluke. The Air Force, too, noted that the wing was back. On 11 January 1985, it presented the wing with its second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, which cited the win for "exceptionally meritorious service from 15 June 1982 to 15 June 1984.' The award noted the wing's "conspicuously outstanding performance " in a variety of operations that "contributed significantly to the international reputation of the United States and the Air Force as dynamic symbols of freedom throughout the world." The most telling accolade was the award's acknowledgement that the wing had "established the reputation ... as the premier F-15 wing in Tactical Air Command." In 1970, the wing claimed for itself the title "First, as acknowledged." Fifteen years later, the Air Force acknowledged it too.
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, MacDill AFB, Florida
McDonnel Douglas F-15A, 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, Langley AFB, Virginia
The flightline at Langley AFB during READY EAGLE. The F-15s with the FF tail codes belong to the 1st TFW. Those with the BT tail codes belong to the 36th TFW, Bitburg AB, Germany.
McDonnell Douglas TF-15A 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, Langley AFB, Virginia 20 March 1976