417th Weapons Squadron

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417th Weapons Squadron
F-117A GBU-28.JPEG
An F-117 Nighthawk engages its target and drops a GBU-28 guided bomb
Active 1943–2006
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Squadron
Role Advanced F-111 Stealth Fighter Training
Part of USAF Weapons School
Engagements European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Streamer.jpg
World War II (EAME Theater)
Vietnam Service Streamer.jpg
Vietnam War
Southwest Asia Service Streamer.png
1991 Gulf War (Defense of Saudi Arabia; Liberation of Kuwait)
Decorations Streamer PUC Army.PNG
Distinguished Unit Citation
AFOUA with Valor.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device
US Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - Stremer.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (2x)
Vietnam Gallantry Cross - Streamer.jpg
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Chuck Yeager (May 1955-July 1957)[1]
Insignia
417th Weapons Squadron emblem 417 Weapons Squadron.png

The 417th Weapons Squadron is an inactive United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with the USAF Weapons School based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. It was inactivated on 14 September 2006.

The squadron was originally activated as the 417th Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. During World War II, the squadron saw action in the European theater, flying both the British Beaufighter and the P-61 Black Widow night fighters.

In 1966 the unit transitioned to the F-4 Phantom II as the 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron and was engaged in combat during the Vietnam War, being part of two combat deployments. In 1989 as the 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, it was responsible for the replacement training of new F-117A Stealth Fighter pilots.

History[edit]

World War II[edit]

The squadron was established in February 1943 as the 417th Night Fighter Squadron[2] and trained with the 481st Night Fighter Operational Training Group at Orlando Army Air Base. The 417th was the fourth USAAF dedicated night fighter squadron formed.[3] The unit trained in the Douglas P-70, a modified A-20 Havoc bomber using a U.S. version of the British Mk IV radar. At the time the P-70 was the only American night fighter available.[4] Besides routine transition training in the night fighter, the pilots also completed calibration, instrument, navigation flights, and numerous target missions in this period.[5]

417th Night Fighter Squadron P-61 In Flight over the Bavarian Alps.

The squadron moved to England ans was reassigned to VIII Fighter Command in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) in May 1943.[2] Because the P-70 was not suitable for night combat in Europe, the squadron was equipped with RAF Bristol Beaufighters that were becoming available as RAF units equipped with the De Havilland Mosquito[3] through a "reverse Lend-Lease" program until an American aircraft could be produced. The squadron received additional training with Royal Air Force night fighter units at several bases in early 1943 achieving the first victory on 24 July. Through the summer, they conducted daytime convoy escort and strike missions, but thereafter flew primarily at night.[4]

The squadron was reassigned to Twelfth Air Force and deployed to Algeria in August 1943. Most of the ex-RAF aircraft they had inherited were battle weary and no supplies of spares were available through the US supply chain. The squadron scrounged a North American B-25 Mitchell, which it named the “Strawberry Roan,” and used it to ranged throughout the Mediterranean in search of Beaufighter parts.[3] The 417th carried out defensive night patrols over Allied held territory during the North African campaign, also conducted night interdiction raids on German positions in Algeria and Tunisia. In April 1944, the 417th transferred to Corsica and resumed patrol activities. In August 1944, the unit supported the Allied invasion of southern France before taking up duty to fly patrol, intruder, and interceptor missions.[4][5]

The 417th moved to Belgium, operating from bases in the Low Countries, and moving into northern Germany in early 1944.[4] During March and April 1945, the 417th converted from the Beaufighter to the P-61 Black Widow aircraft. It last major combat operations in the first week of May consisted of nightly patrols and intruder missions against enemy aircraft attempting to harass Seventh Army troops and their bridgeheads across the Rhine River at Ulm, Donauworth, and Dillengen, Germany.[5]

The squadron remained in Germany after the war as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe. It performed occupation duty for over a year, returning to the United States and inactivating in November 1946.[4]

Cold War[edit]

In November 1952, the Air Force redesignated the unit as the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron and activated it on 1 January 1953 at Clovis Air Force Base, New Mexico, for training in F-51D Mustang aircraft. Soon thereafter, the squadron converted to the F-86F Sabre jet, but the transition period extended over a long period due to an acute shortage of trained people. In the Summer, the 417th transferred to Hahn Air Base, West Germany, to become a unit in the United States Air Forces in Europe. The aircraft was deployed to Hahn during Operation Fox Able 20. This marked the first mass flight of an entire tactical wing from the U.S. to continental Europe.[6] At Hahn, the squadron trained in air-to-ground and air-to-air gunnery at places like Furstenfeldbruck Air Base and Giebelstadt Air Base in West Germany and Wheelus Air Base, Libya.[5]

North American F-86F-30-NA Sabres of the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron flying over Germany. Serial 52-4656 is in front.
417th TFS F-4D 66-7587

During early 1958, the 417th turned in its F-86 Sabrejets, and then deployed to Wheelus, where it received F-100 Super Sabre aircraft. The unit remained in Libya for nearly 60 days where its completed transition training in the new aircraft. At Hahn, the unit's mission was the delivery of tactical nuclear weapons against Warsaw Pact forces in the event of an invasion of Western Europe. Its secondary missions were tactical air defense and support for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ground forces. Due to the vulnerability of West Germany to Soviet attack, Air Force planners did not want their tactical nuclear weapons in locations that could be quickly overrun by Warsaw Pact forces. When construction was completed at Toul-Rosières Air Base France, the squadron was moved there in July 1956.[6]

On 8 July 1958, the Air Force redesignated the squadron as the 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Disagreements arose concerning atomic storage and custody issues within NATO, resulting in a decision to remove United States Air Force atomic-capable units from French soil. The squadron was moved back to Hahn Air Base in December 1959.[6] It remained in West Germany as a tactical fighter squadron, equipped with the F-100 Super Sabre, until 1966, upgrading to the F-4D Phantom II until its inactivation on 30 April 1967.[5]

The 417th returned from Europe for reassignment at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on 15 July 68 with the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. From there, it deployed for training at Hahn AB, West Germany 15 January to 3 April 1969 and 11 September to 9 October 1970.[5]

The return from West Germany, however, brought with it a move to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where the 417th remained until 30 April 1977. This time included several deployments: Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand from 10 May to 30 September 1972; Hahn AB, West Germany, from 3 February to 14 March 1973, 6 March to 5 April 1974, 3 October to 5 November 1975, and 24 August to 26 September 1976; and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, 29 November to 19 December 1975. The tours in Thailand led to two honors for Vietnam War service.[5]

The 417th resumed service when it activated on 1 October 1978 at Zweibrucken Air Base, West Germany, as part of the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. At that time, however, the squadron only received a few people and one F-4D Phantom II aircraft. The unit transferred to Ramstein Air Base, West Germany on 1 November 1978, but evidently lost its personnel and aircraft to become a paper organization. Moreover, the 417th also transferred from the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing to the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing on 15 November 1981, remaining a paper organization until it inactivated on 15 September 1987.[5]

F-117 Development/Operations[edit]

F-117A aircraft from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley AFB, Virginia, prior to being deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield

The I-Unit was activated by Tactical Air Command at Tonopah Test Range Airport, Nevada as a classified unit on 1 October 1985.[clarification needed] It began receiving Full-Scale Development F-117A stealth fighters from Lockheed for testing. It was redesignated as the 4453d Test and Evaluation Squadron as part of the 4450th Tactical Group, performing training missions with the F-117A in a clandestine environment. All Tonopah training flights were conducted at night under the cover of darkness until late 1988. On 10 November 1988, the Air Force brought the F-117A from behind a "black veil" by publicly acknowledging its existence, but provided few details about it. The official confirmation of the F-117A's existence, however, had little impact on Tonopah operations. Pilots began occasionally flying the F-117A during the day, but personnel were still ferried to and from work each Monday and Friday from Nellis. Everyone associated with the project was still forbidden to talk about what they did for a living, and the program remained shrouded in secrecy.[7]

The 4453d was inactivated and its personnel and equipment transferred to the 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron on 5 October 1989 when the 4450th was inactivated and replaced by the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing. It became responsible for the replacement training of new F-117A stealth fighter pilots. In the realignment of F-117A squadrons, the 415th and 416th were assigned production F-117As; the 417th was assigned pre-production F-117As, along with T-38 Talon trainers for pilot transition training to the F-117.[7]

In January 1991, the F-117As of the 417th were deployed to deployed to King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia, where they saw combat during Operation Desert Storm. After combat ended, the squadron returned home to Tonopah in early April 1991.[8] After Desert Storm, the 417th was assigned to the new 37th Operations Group and redesignated the 417th Fighter Squadron as part of the wing's adoption of the Air Force Objective Wing organization.[5]

In 1992, as part of the post Cold War budget cutbacks in the Air Force, the F-117As were moved to Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The 37th Fighter Wing and its subordinate organizations were inactivated and the aircraft, equipment, personnel and mission of the squadron were assigned to the 49th Operations Group. In 1993, squadron transferred its F-117s to the 7th Fighter Squadron and inactivated for budgetary reasons.[8]

USAF Weapons School[edit]

The Air Force Chief of Staff directed the creation of the F-117 Division, USAF Weapons School in May 2002 at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The initial cadre class began in January 2003, and the validation class began their training in July 2003. On 13 August 2003, the F-117 Division was replacec by the 417th Weapons Squadron. The 417th WS was a Geographically Separated Unit of the 57th Wing.

The squadron provided advanced training to F-117A instructor pilots. The course included 26 syllabus sorties, seven simulator missions, four mission planning exercises and more than 400 hours of academics. It was inactivated along with F-117A in September 2006.

Lineage[edit]

Pre-F-117 USAF squadron emblem
World War II 417th Night Fighter Squadron Emblem
  • Constituted as the 417th Night Fighter Squadron on 17 February 1943
Activated on 20 February 1943
Inactivated on 9 November 1946
  • Redesignated 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 15 November 1952
Activated on 1 January 1953
Redesignated 417th Tactical Fighter Squadron on 8 July 1958[2]
Inactivated on 30 April 1977
  • Activated on 1 October 1978
Inactivated on 15 September 1987
Redesignated 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron on 15 September 1989
Activated on 5 October 1989
Redesignated 417th Fighter Squadron on 1 November 1991
Inactivated on 1 December 1993
  • Redesignated 417th Weapons Squadron on 11 August 2003
Activated on 13 August 2003[9]
Inactivated on 14 September 2006
  • Established as Tactical Air Command "Z-Unit", 1 October 1985[8]
Redesignated 4453d Test and Evaluation Squadron, 30 May 1989
Discontinued on 25 September 1989[10]

Assignments[edit]

Attached to 2689 Air Defense Region [Prov.], Northwest African Coastal Air Force, 9 August 1943
Attached to 337 Wing, RAF, 3 January 1944
Attached to Mediterranean Allied Coastal Air Force, 3 October 1944 – 24 March 1945
Air echelon attached to 422d Night Fighter Squadron, 6–22 January 1945
Attached to All Weather Group [Prov.], 64th Fighter Wing, 15 August – 9 November 1946
Attached to 50th Tactical Fighter Wing, 15 January - 3 April 1969 and 11 September - 9 October 1970

Stations[edit]

Aircraft[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "1954-1961 Squadron Leader". chuckyeager.com. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556. 
  3. ^ a b c Pen and Sword: Beaufighters in the Night Retrieved December 14, 2013
  4. ^ a b c d e Pape, Garry R.; Campbell, John M.; Campbell, Donna (1991). Northrop P-61 Black Widow: The Complete History and Combat Record. Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks International. ISBN 978-0-879385-09-5. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Office of History, Headquarters 37th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force, Tactical Air Command, (December 1991) History and Lineage of the F-117A Stealth Fighter Organizations, Special Study HO-91-2
  6. ^ a b c Schriever AFB Factsheet, 50th Space Wing
  7. ^ a b "F-117A: The Black Jet". f-117a.com. 2011. Retrieved November 9, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Peebles, Curtis (1999) [1995]. Dark Eagles (revised ed.). Novato, CA: Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-89141-696-8. 
  9. ^ The squadron assumed the resources of the F-117 Division, USAF Weapons School
  10. ^ Mission, personnel and equipment transferred to the 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron.

Bibliography[edit]

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

  • Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556. 
  • Pape, Garry R.; Campbell, John M. & Campbell, Donna (1991). Northrop P-61 Black Widow: The Complete History and Combat Record. Minneapolis, MN: Motorbooks International. ISBN 978-0-879385-09-5. 
  • Peebles, Curtis (1999) [1995]. Dark Eagles (revised ed.). Novato, CA: Presidio Press. ISBN 978-0-89141-696-8. 
  • Office of History, Headquarters 37th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force, Tactical Air Command, (December 1991) History and Lineage of the F-117A Stealth Fighter Organizations, Special Study HO-91-2

Further reading[edit]

  • Eisel, Lt Col “Brick” (2007). Beaufighters in the Night: 417th Night Fighter Squadron USAAF. Bainsley, England, UK: Pen and Sword Aviation. ISBN 978-1-844154-83-8.