117th Air Refueling Wing
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|117th Air Refueling Wing|
106th ARS KC-135 with refueling boom extended
|Active||October 1, 1947 – present|
|Branch||Air National Guard|
|Part of||Alabama Air National Guard|
|Garrison/HQ||Birmingham Air National Guard Base, Alabama|
|Nickname(s)||"Dixie Refuelers", formerly "Recce Rebels"|
|Tail Code||White tail stripe, "Alabama" in red letters|
|117th Air Refueling Wing emblem|
The 117th Air Refueling Wing (117 ARW) is a unit of the Alabama Air National Guard, stationed at Birmingham Air National Guard Base, Alabama. If activated to federal service, it is gained by the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command.
The 106th Air Refueling Squadron, assigned to the Wings 117th Operations Group, is a descendant organization of the World War I 107th Aero Squadron, established on 27 August 1917. It was reformed on 7 May 1926, as the 106th Observation Squadron, and is one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.
The 117th Air Refueling Wing flies the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker. Its mission is to train and equip combat ready aircrews and support personnel to perform worldwide aerial refueling and airlift missions. Combat ready civil engineering, support services, medical, personnel, communications and Intelligence technical support UTCs are available for worldwide assignment. the 117 ARW unit supports state and local contingencies when directed by the Governor of Alabama.
The 117th Air Refueling Wing consists of the following units:
- 117th Operations Group
- 117th Maintenance Group
- 117th Mission Support Group
- 117th Medical Group
- 99th Air Refueling Squadron
- The 99th Air Refueling Squadron is an Active Associate Unit; an active duty component assigned with the 117th Air Refueling Wing. The 99th Air Refueling Squadron works with, supports and flies the 117th Air Refueling Wing's aircraft.
In September 1956, Tactical Air Command requested the 117th redesignation be revoked so that the 354th could be activated as a regular unit. The United States Air Force retroactively revoked the allotment of the 354th to the National Guard and constituted the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group on 26 September 1956, effective 24 March 1946. The 117th Air Refueling Wing, thus is not related in any way to the present-day 354th Operations Group or any of its predecessor units.
The 117th Fighter Group was extended federal recognition by the National Guard Bureau on 1 October 1947 at Birmingham Municipal Airport, Alabama. Upon recognition, the B-26C Invader 106th Bombardment Squadron (Light) was reassigned to the new unit from the Georgia ANG 54th Fighter Wing, an umbrella organization formed in the postwar years that provided administrative and logistical support for Air National Guard units in the Southeastern United States. The 106th Bombardment Squadron was the group's flying squadron. Other squadrons assigned into the group were the 117th Headquarters, 117th Material Squadron (Maintenance), 117th Combat Support Squadron, and the 117th USAF Dispensary.
The 106th Bombardment Squadron practiced formation bombing as well as low-level intrusion and strafing. Parts for the B-26s were no problem with the massive amount of supplies still stored in wartime warehouses, and many of the maintenance personnel were World War II veterans so readiness was quite high and the planes were often much better maintained than their USAF counterparts. On 1 October 1947 the squadron came under the control of the new 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group at Birmingham, and in 1950, the B-26 Invader light bombers were exchanged for RB-26C Invader reconnaissance aircraft which were unarmed and carried cameras and flash flares for night photography.
Korean War activation
During the Korean War, the 117th was federalized and ordered to active service on 2 October 1950. The Group's 106th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was reassigned to the 363d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Shaw AFB, South Carolina where it replaced a squadron which was deployed to combat in the Korean War. With the 106th reassigned, Tactical Air Command assigned other federalized Air Air National Guard squadrons to the unit. The Ohio ANG 112th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron; South Carolina ANG, 157th Fighter Squadron and the Montgomery-based 160th Fighter Squadron were assigned to the Group. The organization of the 117th TRG was elevated to a Wing level, and the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was activated with the 117th TRG; the 117th Maintenance and Supply Group; 117th Air Base Group and 117th Medical Group. Once organized, the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was moved to Lawson AFB, Georgia
At Lawson AFB, the 112th retained its existing RB-26C Invaders, becoming the wing's night reconnaissance unit. Tactical Air Command equipped the 157th and 160th squadrons with RF-80A Shooting Star daylight photo-reconnaissance jet aircraft, re-designating them both as Tactical Reconnaissance squadrons. The wing then began what was then believed to be a short transition training period. The original plan was to deploy the 117th to France and reinforce the United States Air Forces in Europe at a new base in France, Toul-Rosières Air Base. However Toul Air Base was still under construction, and delays in France for several reasons forced the 117th to remain at Lawson AFB for over a year until finally receiving deployment orders in January 1952.
The 117th arrived at Toul Air Base on 27 January 1952. However at the time of the Wing's arrival, Toul AB consisted of a sea of mud, and the new jet runway was breaking up and could not support safe flying. The commander of the 117th deemed it uninhabitable and its flying squadrons of the wing were ordered dispersed to West Germany. The 112th TRS was transferred to Wiesbaden AB, the 157th TRS deployed to Furstenfeldbruck AB, and the 160th deployed to Neubiberg AB. The non-flying Headquarters and Support organizations were assigned to Toul.
The mission of the 117 TRW was to provide tactical, visual, photographic and electronic reconnaissance by both day and night, as was required by the military forces within the European command. The RF-80's were responsible for the daylight operations; the RB-26s for night photography. In June 1952, the 117th was involved in Exercise 'June Primer'. This exercise took place in an area bordered by a line drawn from Cherbourg to Geneva in the east and in the west by this Swiss, Austrian and Russian occupation zone borders.
The two RF-80 squadrons of the 117th had to complete a number of varying missions, including vertical photography of prospective paratroop air drop zones, oblique photos of the Rhine and Danube river bridges, vertical photography of the airfields of Jever, Fassburg, Celle, Sundorf and Gütersloh and various visual missions on behalf of the seventh army, including artillery adjustment for the 816th field artillery. The 157 TRS had had wire recorders fitted to five of its RF-80's prior to June Primer and these greatly facilitated the latter missions.
By July 1952 the facilities at Wiesbaden AB were becoming very crowded, and it was felt that the B-26's could fly from the primitive conditions at Toul. The 112 TRS returned to Toul, however the jet-engined RF-80's remained in West Germany until a new runway was constructed.
On 9 July 1952 the activated Air National Guard 117 TRW was released from active duty and inactivated in place and its mission was taken over by the newly activated 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. All of the aircraft and support equipment remained at Toul and was transferred to the 10th TRW.
Returning to its previous Group status upon return to Birmingham, the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group was re-formed with the 106th Tactical Fighter Squadron returned to its control. The 106th's RB-26C Invaders were transferred from Shaw AFB and the unit returned to its previous Air National Guard training mission.
The 106th Tactical Fighter Squadron continued its previous Air National Guard training mission. The 106th continued to fly the RB-26C until 1957 when the aircraft was reaching its end of operational service and was retired. Replacing the Invader in May 1957 were new RF-84F Thunderstreak jet reconnaissance aircraft, manufactured by Republic for Air National Guard service. The squadron continued to train in tactical reconnaissance missions throughout the 1950s with the Thunderstreaks.
1961 Berlin Crisis
The squadron was federalized a second time on 1 October 1961 as a result of the 1961 Berlin Crisis. The 117th TRG was again federalized, which consisted of the 160th TRS from Montgomery; the 106th TRS at Birmingham; the 153d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Mississippi ANG), and the 184th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Arizona ANG). Due to federal budget restrictions, only the 106th TRS was deployed to Dreux-Louvilliers AB, France, however elements of all three other squadrons rotated to France as part of the USAFE 7117th Tactical Wing over the next year and 106th pilots returned to the United States.
On 27 October twenty 106th TRS RF-84F's were deployed to Dreux, arriving on 3 November. In addition, two T-33A Shooting Star jet trainers and one C-47 Skytrain were deployed as support aircraft. By 22 November, the wing reassembled at the newly reactivated Dreux for an estimated stay of ten months. However, problems developed immediately after their arrival at Dreux. The base had been in standby status for about a year and no longer was used for operational flights. Possibly the French forgot to take into account the fact that the base could be re-opened for exercises and deployments such as was now the case.
In any event, the more than one thousand airmen of the 106th TRS arrived at a base that had been stripped clean. The French had taken away office desks, telephones and typewriters. The kitchens had not been used for some time, a fact that the quartermasters had not taken into account, so getting the base operational again in the short time available took an all-out effort. A few days after the ground units arrived from Alabama, the first aircraft were prepared for a practice flight. The French Air Traffic Controllers, however, refused permission for take-off. Only after a lot of negotiation were several aircraft allowed to take to the air.
Dreux AB came within the Paris Air Traffic Control area, as did the busy Le Bourget Airport and Orly Airports, and an extra squadron of jet aircraft had not been allowed in the French air traffic controllers' staffing levels. The safety of civilian air traffic was used to justify denying the Americans permission to fly out of Dreux AB. Notwithstanding stormy protests by the United States, every form of co-operation was refused and the RF-84s stayed on the ground. The pilots who had only just completed a risky Atlantic crossing of several thousand kilometers, had to wait in the operations room. In the United States, the Birmingham News daily newspaper reported that 'their boys', after the sudden mobilization and the weeks of preparation, had not been sent to Europe to sit around a French airfield doing nothing.
However, as strongly the Pentagon protested, the French answer remained 'non!'. Eventually General Reid Doster, commander of the Alabama deployment could do little else but take his aircraft elsewhere. At the end of November 1961 he received permission from the French traffic controllers to go with his aircraft to Chaumont-Semoutiers AB, another USAFE-controlled base in France. Permission was received from the French to move the 7117th TRW on 8 December 1961, however HQ USAFE insisted that the 7117th Wing HQ remain at Dreux AB for airlift traffic. Thus the 106th TRS operated from Chaumont AB, while Wing HQ remained at Dreux.
On 22 July 1962 the 106th TRS returned to Alabama leaving its F-84Fs in France. Dreux AB was placed back in standby status by USAFE, and never really used again until it was turned over to the French in 1966.
Vietnam and late Cold War era
After the squadron re-formed in Birmingham, the 106th TRS was again re-equipped with RF-84Fs from active-duty squadrons that were receiving the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo. It continued to fly the Thunderstreak reconnaissance aircraft throughout the 1960s.
On 9 December 1974 the 117th was expanded to a Wing, and the 117th Combat Support Group, 117th Medical Group and 117th Maintenance Groups were established under the then USAF Tripartite organization plan. The 106th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was assigned to the new 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing.
As the RF-84F was not used during the Vietnam War, the 117th TRG was not activated for duty in Southeast Asia, although some pilots from the 106th went though transition training to the RF-101C and RF-4C and were deployed for combat duty.
In November 1971 the Thundersteaks were retired as they reached the end of their service life and the 117th TRG was chosen to be the first Air National Guard squadron to receive the RF-4C Phantom II tactical reconnaissance aircraft. The squadron received aircraft directly being withdrawn from Southeast Asia as part of the United States pullout from the Vietnam War.
Many awards were earned by the 117th; for having the best National Guard Publication; for achieving flying milestones; for service to the United States Secret Service; and for outstanding accomplishments on Operational Readiness Inspections. The 117th also earned awards for having the best ANG flying unit in the United States.
Operation Desert Shield
By early 1989, the operational lifetime of the F-4 Phantom was ending, and the number of RF-4C squadrons serving both on active-duty as well as in Air National Guard units was being reduced. In large part, the RF-4C was being replaced by the ability of the Lockheed U-2 TR-1A and TR-1B variant, which had taken over the tactical reconnaissance mission. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact led to accelerated retirement plans, and the retirement of the last of the RF-4Cs was in the planning stages when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and further inactivation plans were put on hold. Consequently, the RF-4C was still in service with the USAF at the time of Operation Desert Shield.
When the United States military build-up in the Middle East began following Saddam Hussein’s 2 August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, six RF-4Cs of the 117th TRW equipped with a camera upgrade called the HIAC-1 LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photography) deployed on 24 August 1990 to Shaikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain. Their journey to the war zone may have been the longest nonstop flight made by operational warplanes at that time, requiring 16 air-to-air refuelings and spanning 8,000 nautical miles in 15.5 hours. Initially assigned to HQ United States Central Command Air Forces, the 106th TRS was later further assigned to the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional).
LOROP was capable of high-resolution images of objects 100 miles away using a high-resolution 66-inch focal length camera that was carried in a centerline pod underneath the aircraft. It was used to conduct prewar surveillance and photo-reconnaissance mapping of Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait as well as those deployed along the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. In support of RF-4C operations, numerous airmen and aircraft were used, among them C-21 Learjets, to move finished imagery around the theater. In the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia known as the "Black Hole," coalition air commander Lt. Gen. (later Gen.) Charles "Chuck" Horner scrutinized the RF-4C images of Iraq’s forces every day.
Unfortunately, 64-1044 crewed by Major Barry K. Henderson and Lt. Col. Stephen G. Schraam was lost in an operational accident on 8 October 1990.
The 106th TRS, however, did not engage in combat operations during Operation Desert Storm, being relieved on 18 December 1990 by the 192d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the Nevada ANG. Later, RF-4Cs taken from the USAF's 12th TRS/67th TRW and the 38th TRS/26th TRW were deployed and were engaged in combat during Desert Storm.
After the end of Desert Storm, the phaseout of the RF-4C with the ANG was accelerated. On 16 March 1992, the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing adopted the USAF "objective wing" and was re-designated the 117th Reconnaissance Wing; on 1 June 1992, Tactical Air Command was inactivated, being replaced by the new Air Combat Command (ACC). During 1994, the RF-4Cs were sent to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona for retirement at AMARC. On 1 October, the 117th Reconnaissance Wing was re-designated as the 117th Air Refueling Wing, the mission now becoming aerial refueling with KC-135 Stratotankers, the first tanker arriving later that month.
After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the 117th ARW was deployed to MacDill AFB, Florida and began refueling F-15 and F-16 aircraft flying Combat Air Patrol missions over major cities in the Southeastern United States as part of Operation Noble Eagle.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended closing the 117th ARW and reassigning its aircraft to other National Guard units. This decision was ultimately reversed.
- Designated 117th Fighter Group on 26 September 1956 retroactive to 24 May 1946 and allotted to the National Guard
- Extended federal recognition on 1 October 1947
- Redesignated 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group on 1 November 1950
- Federalized and ordered to active service on 25 October 1950
- Inactivated, relieved from active duty and returned to Alabama State Control on 10 July 1952
- Activated on 10 July 1952
- Federalized and ordered to active service on 1 October 1961
- Relieved from active duty and returned to Alabama State Control on 22 July 1962
- Redesignated 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing on 9 December 1974
- Redesignated 117th Reconnaissance Wing on 15 March 1992
- Redesignated 117th Air Refueling Wing on 16 October 1994
- 54th Fighter Wing, 1 October 1947
- Alabama Air National Guard, 11 October 1950
- Gained by: Tactical Air Command
- 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing*, 1 April 1951
- Alabama Air National Guard, 15 November 1952
- Gained by: Tactical Air Command
- Alabama Air National Guard, 26 September 1956
- Gained by: Tactical Air Command
- 7117th Tactical Wing, 1 October 1961
- Alabama Air National Guard, 31 August 1962
Note: The 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (1 April 1951 – 15 November 1952) has no linage or history with the present-day 117th Air Refueling Wing
- 117th Operations Group, 16 October 1994 – Present
- 106th Fighter (later Tactical Reconnaissance, Reconnaissance, Air Refueling) Squadron, 1 October 1947 – 1 April 1951; 15 November 1952 – Present
- 112th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 April 1951 – 15 November 1952
- 157th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 April 1951 – 15 November 1952
- 160th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 April 1951 – 15 November 1952; 1 October 1961 – 31 August 1962
- 153d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 October 1961 – 31 August 1962
- 180th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 October 1961 – 31 August 1962
- Birmingham MAP (Sumpter Smith Field, later ANGB), Alabama, 25 November 1947
- B-26C Invader, 1947-1951
- RB-26C Invader, 1951-1957
- RF-80C Shooting Star, 1951-1952
- RF-84F Thunderstreak, 1957-1971
- RF-4C Phantom II, 1971-1993
- KC-135R Stratotanker, 1994–Present
- Simultaneously, the redesignation of the 354th Fighter Group as the 117th Fighter Group and allotment to the National Guard was revoked.
- 117th Air Refueling Wing history page
- 117th Air Refueling Wing@globalsecurity.org
- Rogers, B. (2006). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. ISBN 1-85780-197-0