20th Reconnaissance Squadron

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20th Reconnaissance Squadron
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.jpg
MQ-1B Predator
Active 1940–1949; 1965–1973; 1973–1984;[1] 1990–1991; 2011–present
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Reconnaissance
Size Squadron
Part of Air Combat Command
Garrison/HQ Whiteman Air Force Base
Motto First on Target
Engagements World War II
Vietnam
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg PUC
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with V.jpg AFOUA w/V Device
Vietnam gallantry cross unit award-3d.svg RVGC w/ Palm
Insignia
Emblem of the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron 20th Reconnaissance Squadron - Emblem.png
20th Transport Squadron aircraft – Howard Field, Panama, 1943

The 20th Reconnaissance Squadron is a United States Air Force unit, based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. It currently flies the MQ-1 Predator and is currently assigned to the 432d Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

It was originally activated as the 20th Transport Squadron in 1940 and served as a troop carrier unit in Panama during and after World War II, until it was inactivated in 1949.

Activated in 1965 as the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS), it served notably for seven and a half years of combat duty during the Vietnam War, and was inactivated in 1973. While in inactive status, the two squadrons were consolidated into a single unit. The 20th TASS was reactivated at Shaw Air Force Base in 1990, and again inactivated on 31 December 1991.

The unit was redesignated as the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron and its reactivation at Whiteman AFB took place on 14 January 2011.

History[edit]

Emblem of the World War II 20th Troop Carrier Squadron
German Junkers Ju 52/3m 42-52883 at Howard Field Zone, late 1942. The aircraft was designated as a C-79 in USAAF service

World War II[edit]

The 20th Transport Squadron activated at France Field, Panama Canal Zone, on 15 December 1940, but had only one officer and no airplanes until February 1941. The squadron became operational by March 1941 when the Squadron obtained its first aircraft from France Field's 16th Air Base Squadron, a Douglas C-33. With this solitary aircraft, the Squadron undertook daily flights to Albrook Field and, from there, on to Rio Hato Field and return.

Flying with two or three airplanes, the Squadron began the first of a seemingly never ending series of cross-country flights to Trinidad in the British West Indies (some 1,200 air miles east of the Canal Zone) on 2 June 1941 to support the construction of the outer defense ring of air bases in the Caribbean after the United States obtained basing rights as part of the Destroyers for Bases Agreement with the British.

By the time of the Pearl Harbor Attack on 7 December 1941, the unit had received six Douglas C-49s (commercial DC-3's had been impressed under this designation) from the United States. On 22 November 1941, six of the C-49's were detached to Howard Field in the Canal Zone as part of what came to be known as Flight "B" (Reinforced) of the Squadron to work specifically with the Army 501st Parachute Battalion and the 550th Airborne Infantry, which were training to act as a kind of rapid deployment force in the Panama Canal defense scheme.

The 20th TCS flew many different types of aircraft between 1941 and 1949, several being one of a kind. The Squadron was transferred from France Field to Howard Field on 19 February 1942. Some aircraft to be detached to Waller Field, Trinidad (Flight "A") and Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico (Flight "C"). Flight "A" left the parent Squadron entirely on 22 December 1941 when it was detached to the 92d Air Base Group at Waller Field, Trinidad. The C-47s were followed on 19 June by two Consolidated OA-10 Catalina amphibians and a locally procured Stinson UC-91 trimotor. In September, another 0A-10 on 12 October, none other than a single Junkers Ju 52 trimotor on 7 November a former Brazilian and Ecuadorean Ju-52/3m, which was given USAAF serial 42-52883, and which had nominally been assigned to Flight "A" and a Hamilton UC-89, a former Panamanian registered single¬engined plane.[clarification needed] These "local" acquisitions were a measure of the near desperate need for transport aircraft being felt by the squadron and the Sixth Air Force at the time. In March 1943, a pilot was dispatched to Santiago, Chile, to fly an Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 tri-motor (lately of the Italian airline LATI) back to the Canal Zone. These odd additions were necessary by the demands made on the Squadron as the Sixth Air Force and Antilles Air Command. On 5 July 1942, the unit was formally re-designated as the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron.

Boeing XB-15 at Howard Field, Panama, 1943. The aircraft had yet to undergo the modifications that resulted in its designation as XC-105. It was scrapped in 1945.

By early 1943, the unit had 30 officers and 234 other ranks and, as of January 1943, all of the 0A-10's were transferred to other units and, the C-79, C-89 and C-91 were all occasionally grounded for extended periods as the ground crews attempted to deal with these highly non-standard aircraft. By June 1943, all had been reassigned out of the Squadron. Replacement aircraft received by the Squadron was the huge Boeing XC-105 assigned 2 April 1943 which was converted from bomber to heavy transport configuration to meet some of the Sixth Air Force's peculiar requirements – most notably the long and frequent over-water re-supply flights to Seymour Field in the Galapagos Islands. But the unit also got the first two Fairchild UC-61 Forwarders, a new Douglas C-47A and conducted long distance flights with cargo and personnel to resupply and evacuation of the small radar sites spotted around the periphery of the Canal.

As Howard Field became ever more crowded with bomber units, the Squadron was moved in June 1943 to Albrook Field. By December 1943, the detachments in the Antilles (Flights "B" and "C"), which had been leading essentially a separate existence from the "home" based Flight "A" in the Canal Zone, were finally detached from the Squadron completely, and became assets of the Antilles Air Command, and were based loosely out of Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, and their dispersal throughout the Antilles as far as Trinidad and the Guianas continued. The unit was redesignated as the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron (Special) on 1 January 1944.

By November 1944, the unit had finally started benefiting from the massive aircraft production of transport types at home, and could finally approach some semblance of standardization in its fleet, although this was still very assorted. The last year of the war, with the general wind-down of the size and breadth of the Sixth Air Force, saw a gradual reduction in the previously hectic flight schedules for 20th TCS crews. By this time, the Squadron had also received some Curtiss C-46 Commandos. Routine transport operations within Panama, South and Central America continued, with a C-47 aiding a forest fire in the Peten region of Guatemala.

After the end of the war, the squadron continued being the transport arm of the USAF Caribbean Air Command, being equipped with C-54 Skymasters in 1946 and C-82 Packet transports in 1948.

Postwar era[edit]

The 20th TCS moved in September 1948 from Panama to Bergstrom AFB, Texas. It left all aircraft and equipment at Albrook, except for a detachment of C-54s that had left Albrook in July 1948 to participate in the Berlin Airlift. At Bergstrom, the 20th TCS received Fairchild C-82 Packet medium transports in November 1948 and began transition training. In early January 1949, the squadron's air echelon deployed seven C-82s on temporary duty to Kearney AFB, Nebraska, to transport supplies to snowbound ranchers and farmers, while the rest of the squadron moved at the end of January 1949 to Smyrna AFB, Tennessee. The C-82s and aircrews arrived at Smyrna in late February 1949. While at Smyrna, the 20th trained with U.S. Army paratroopers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky in airborne tactics and carried cargo about the United States. The squadron inactivated on 20 October 1949 due to budget reductions.

Combat Operations in Vietnam 1965 to 1973[edit]

Main article: Operation Tiger Hound
Emblem of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (Vietnam Era)
0–1 Bird Dogs, flightline of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang Air Base RVN, in December 1966.
O-2A of the 20th TASS taxiing for takeoff, Huế Citadel Air Field, July 1967.
0–1 Bird Dog of the 20th TASS taking off from La Vang Airfield, Quảng Trị Province RVN, August 1967.

The 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (20th TASS) was organized at Da Nang AB, Vietnam, on 8 May 1965. It received its first Cessna O-1 Bird Dog later that month.

The squadron was fully operational by August 1965. It ran check flights for newly assigned aircrews, as well as flew visual reconnaissance and forward air control missions under various call signs. As it expanded, it stationed pilots and ground crews at several forward operating locations.[2] However, it did not receive its full complement of over 30 Bird Dogs until the end of the year, as the turnover process from the U. S. Army was a slow one. The army was reluctant to surrender the FAC role, but had agreed to do so under an inter-service agreement that allowed them to have helicopters.

By the end of 1965, the 20th TASS was assigned the mission of directing interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh trail; this was dubbed Operation Tiger Hound. The squadron's original forward operating bases were at Khe Sanh, Kham Duc, and Kon Tum, which were very close to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, unlike Da Nang, which was the width of the country away. Other forward sites were added later for additional missions assigned to the squadron – Đông Hà, Quảng Trị City (La Vang Airfield), Huế Citadel Air Field, Huế/Phú Bài, Tam Kỳ, Quảng Ngãi, Đắk Tô, Pleiku, and the large U.S. Marine combat base at Ai Tu in Quảng Trị Province.

In mid-July 1966, the squadron was tasked with a second area of operations. It was within North Vietnam, from the Demilitarized Zone 30 miles northward. Most of these Tally Ho missions were flown from Đông Hà and Khe Sanh. During this period, it was decided that all cross-border flights would use call sign Covey and "Tally Ho" was dropped. In country missions carried a variety of call signs, including "Jake" and "Trail".

By this time, the Bird Dog's shortcomings were becoming apparent. It was a simple plane, easily maintained, highly maneuverable, and had good visibility. The fore and aft seating allowed both pilot and observer good views on both sides, and the high wing allowed a nearly unobstructed panorama. Vietnam People's Army (PAVN) and Viet Cong antiaircraft defenses were increasingly sophisticated and dangerous, however, and the slow, unarmored O-1 was ever more vulnerable to ground fire. In addition, its operational times were limited by its unsophisticated instrumentation and navigational equipment, which made flying in bad weather or at night difficult (night missions were particularly challenging and dangerous). Its lack of weaponry was also frustrating, as FACs could watch the enemy disappear while the strike aircraft were still en route. Frustrated FACs sometimes resorted to strafing the enemy with M-16 rifles fired out of the plane's windows.[3]

As a result, the 20th TASS began receiving Cessna O-2 Skymasters in 1967. The O-2 was a temporary solution, meant to serve until the OV-10 Bronco came on line. The O-2 was a modified Cessna 337 civilian plane. It was dual engined, with one engine at either end of the fuselage. The 20th was the first FAC squadron in Vietnam to receive it.[4] The aircraft carried more ordnance, was capable of longer loiter times, had more power, and featured improved conventional navigation aids and in-flight instrumentation. Nevertheless, it had its own limitations.[3][4] During this period, the squadron continued to fly 0-1s.

In January 1969, the squadron began the transition from O-1s to the OV-10 Bronco. By July, the last O-1 was history, though the squadron continued to fly 0-2s. As of October 1969, 20th TASS aircraft, pilots and ground crews were assigned to 11 forward locations, five supporting the U. S. Army and six supporting the ARVN. Its headquarters remained at Da Nang.

As the war wound down from 1970 through 1972, the squadron withdrew from its forward locations. The Easter Offensive by the PAVN in April 1972 made the 20th TASS return to FAC support from forward locations. It also temporarily tripled the squadron's sortie rate. When the North Vietnamese began to rocket Da Nang, the pilots of the 20th used their armed OV-10s to retaliate directly with rockets, strafing, and small bombs in addition to calling in air strikes.

In January 1973, the squadron ceased combat. It turned over its O-2s to the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) and passed its Broncos along to other USAF units. On 15 January, the 20th was transferred as a paper unit to George AFB, California. On 1 April 1973, it was inactivated. Its service in Vietnam was over.[2] In its nearly eight years in Vietnam, it had earned five Presidential Unit Citations, four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards (with Combat 'V' Device), and three Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Crosses with Palm.[5] In addition, its pilots and crews earned many personal decorations.

Losses and awards for Gallantry in Action[edit]

The 20th TASS lost more than 70 pilots during the Vietnam War with a large number of aircraft destroyed or damaged.[6] Its pilots and ground personnel also earned many other awards, citations, and distinctions.

On 19 August 1967, Captain Donald D. Stevens, flying an O–2, risked heavy ground fire, which damaged his aircraft, for eight hours during the medical evacuation of a wounded American soldier and the extraction of a ground team sent in to help him. His gallantry won him the Air Force Cross.[7]

Four months later, on Christmas Day, Major Jerry Allan Sellers was killed when his O–2 was shot down during a night mission in which he saved a ground patrol from being overrun by illuminating ground targets with his landing lights so that gunships could direct accurate fire at the enemy. His lights drew heavy anti-aircraft fire, and he was shot down. He also earned an Air Force Cross.[8]

On 29 June 1972, Captain Steven L. Bennett's OV-10 was hit by a surface to air missile. Rather than leave his observer to his fate, Bennett crash landed in the Tonkin Gulf. The observer escaped the sinking plane, but Bennett drowned. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, one of only two awarded to FACs in the war.[9]

On 11 July 1972 Major John Leonard Carroll a 20th TASS pilot on temporary duty with the 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base and flying an O-1G Bird Dog as a Raven FAC, earned the squadron's third Air Force Cross. His aircraft was shot down over the Plaine des Jarres, Xiang Khoang Province Laos, and he was killed on the ground shooting it out with two PAVN companies attempting to capture him.[10]

The squadron's aircraft losses over the course of the war amounted to 31 O-1 Bird Dogs, 55 Cessna O-2 Skymasters, and 22 OV10 Broncos.[11]

Post Vietnam Operations[edit]

Emblem of the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (Post-Vietnam Era)

On 1 October 1973 the 20th TASS activated at Wiesbaden AB, West Germany, to provide forward tactical air control for U.S. Army, Europe, and Seventh Army operations. The squadron had only three 0-2A aircraft available until July 1974, when it began flying OV-10A aircraft. Engaged in close air support training during USAFE, NATO, and U.S. Army exercises, its pilots served as both ground and airborne forward air controllers. During training exercises, the 20th deployed to and flew from bases in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Turkey, England, Belgium, West Germany, and The Netherlands. In January 1976, the squadron moved with the 601st Tactical Control Wing to Sembach AB, West Germany. In May 1981, it added search and rescue missions to its tasks. In 1984, it lost all OV-10 aircraft, squadron aircrews ferrying them to George AFB, Calif, June–August 1984. squadron inactivated on 30 September 1984.

20th TASS OV-10 Broncos flying in formation at Shaw AFB in 1990

The 20th TASS was activated again on 1 April 1990 at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, as part of the 507th Tactical Air Control Wing, it was inactivated 31 December 1991.

Activation 2011[edit]

The USAF again activated the unit as the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron (20th RS) on 1 Jan 2011 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, under the command of Lt. Col. Travis "Flare" Burdine. A geographically separated unit, the squadron is assigned to the 432d Operations Group of the 432d Wing, both of which are located at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. The 20th RS flies General Atomics MQ-1B Predator remotely piloted aircraft on missions that include route reconnaissance, target marking, on-scene commander, intelligence-surveillance-and-reconnaissance, close air support and generally providing eyes, ears, and voice above the battlefield.[12]

The activation ceremony for the 20th RS, held on 14 Jan 2011 at Whiteman, was attended by Ms. Angela Engele-Bennett, daughter of 20th TASS Medal of Honor recipient Steven Bennett, and her family.

Lineage[edit]

20th Troop Carrier Squadron

  • Constituted as 20th Transport Squadron on 22 November 1940.
Activated on 15 December 1940
Redesignated 20th Troop Carrier Squadron on 5 July 1942
Redesignated 20th Troop Carrier Squadron (Special) on 13 November 1943
Redesignated 20th Troop Carrier Squadron on 12 April 1944
Redesignated 20th Troop Carrier Squadron, Heavy on 17 June 1948
Redesignated 20th Troop Carrier Squadron, Medium on 4 October 1948
Inactivated on 20 October 1949
  • Consolidated with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron as the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron on 19 September 1985. (remained inactive)[13]

20th Reconnaissance Squadron

  • Constituted as the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron (Light) and activated, on 26 April 1965 (not organized)
  • Organized on 8 May 1965
Inactivated on 1 April 1973
Redesignated 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, and activated on 1 October 1973.
Inactivated on 30 September 1984
  • Consolidated with the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron on 19 September 1985. (remained inactive)
  • Activated on 1 April 1990
Inactivated 31 December 1991
  • Activated and Redesignated 20th Reconnaissance Squadron on 14 Jan 2011[13]

Assignments[edit]

  • Panama Canal Department, 15 December 1940
  • Panama Air Depot, 1 February 1941
  • 6th Air Force Base Command (later 6th Air Force Service; VI Air Force Service Command), 5 June 1942
  • Panama Air Depot, 1 December 1944
  • Sixth Air Force (later, Caribbean Air Command), 5 May 1945 (attached to 314th Troop Carrier Group c. November 1946-16 June 1948)
  • 314th Troop Carrier Group, 17 June 1948 – 20 October 1949 (detachment attached to: United States Air Forces in Europe 1–29 July 1948, Airlift Task Force [Provisional] 29 July-19 October 1948)
  • Pacific Air Forces, 26 April 1965 (not organized)
  • 2d Air Division, 8 May 1965 (attached to Tactical Air Support Group, Provisional, 6250th 1 August-7 November 1965)
  • 505th Tactical Control Group, 8 November 1965 (attached to Tactical Air Support Group, Provisional, 6250th 1–8 September 1966 and Tactical Air Support Group, Provisional, 6253d, 9 September-7 December 1966)
  • 504th Tactical Air Support Group, 8 December 1966
  • 366th Tactical Fighter Wing, 15 March 1972
  • 6498th Air Base Wing, 27 June 1972
  • 71st Tactical Air Support Group, 15 January-1 April 1973
  • 601st Tactical Air Support Group, 1 October 1973
  • 601st Tactical Control Wing, 1 November 1975
  • 601st Tactical Air Support Group, 1 May 1977 – 30 September 1984
  • 507th Tactical Air Control Wing, 1 April 1990 – 31 December 1991
  • 432d Wing, 14 Jan 2011–present[13]

Stations[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency. See Also

  • Maurer, Maurer (1969), Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II, Air Force Historical Studies Office, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. ISBN 0-89201-097-5
  • Hagdedorn, Dan (1995), Alae Supra Canalem: Wings Over the Canal, Turner Publishing, ISBN 1-56311-153-5
  • Hobson, Chris (2001). Vietnam Air Losses: United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961–1973. Midland Publications. ISBN 1857801156, 9781857801156.

External links[edit]