38th Reconnaissance Squadron

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This article is about the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron. For other units with this designation, see 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (disambiguation).
38th Reconnaissance Squadron
Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint 64-14846 Electronic Intelligence Aircraft.jpg
38 RS Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint 64-14846 Electronic Intelligence Aircraft
Active 15 January 1941 – 20 August 1946
15 March 1947 – 14 October 1949
1 November 1950 – 1 April 1970
1 April 1979–present
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Type Reconnaissance and Surveillance
Part of Air Combat Command
12th Air Force
55th Wing
55th Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Offutt Air Force Base
Motto(s) We lead, others follow.
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg DUC
Outstanding Unit ribbon.svg AFOUA
38th RS emblem 38th Reconnaissance Squadron.png

The 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (38 RS) is part of the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. It operates the RC-135 aircraft conducting reconnaissance missions.


The mission of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron is to provide RC-135 aircraft and personnel to conduct global reconnaissance for national intelligence agencies, key decision makers and warfighters.


Established in late 1942 as a P-38 Lightning fighter squadron, trained under Second Air Force in the pacific northwest. Deployed to the European Theater of Operations (ETO), assigned to VIII Fighter Command in England in late 1943. Squadron's mission was to provide long range fighter escort for B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers on strategic bombing missions over Occupied Europe and Nazi Germany. In April 1944 received P-51D Mustang fighter aircraft and continuing its primary task of escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers that attacked such targets as industries and marshalling yards in Germany, and airfields and V-weapon sites in France.

The squadron flew air patrols over the English Channel and bombed bridges in the Tours area during the Invasion of France in June 1944. In July the squadron attacked gun emplacements during the Saint-Lô breakthrough. The unit patrolled the Arnhem sector to support the Airborne invasion of the Netherlands in September 1944, and later in December, transportation facilities during the Battle of the Bulge. During the Western Allied invasion of Germany, the squadron flew ground support missions by strafing trucks, locomotives, and oil depots near Wesel when the Allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945 and continued offensive operations until 21 April 1945.

P-38Hs of the 38th Fighter Squadron.
P-38s of the 38th Fighter Squadron. 78th Fighter Group, based at RAF Wormingford, England. Serial 42-67074 is to the right.

After the German Capitulation, became part of the United States Air Forces in Europe Army of Occupation, at AAF Station Kaufbeuren, then moved to AAF Station Giebelstadt in early 1946 where it received its first jet aircraft, the P-80A Shooting Star. Inactivated in August 1946 when personnel were demobilized and aircraft were transferred to the 31st Fighter Group.

Reactivated by Strategic Air Command in 1947 as a reconnaissance squadron, equipped with RB-17 Flying Fortress aircraft. Flew aerial photography, mapping, charting, and photo reconnaissance missions, some of which flew around borders of the Soviet Union and over the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany. Little was known about the air defense capability of the Soviet Union at this time and the most effective way of determining their capability was to probe the borders and see whether they would respond. Gradually the RB-17s and other aircraft mapped the perimeter of the Soviet Air Defenses from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan.

Upgraded to RB-29 Superfotress aircraft in 1949 and continued its reconnaissance mission, however inactivated in 1949 due to budget reductions. Reactivated in 1950 at Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico, again flying RB-29s performing strategic reconnaissance, charting photography, precise electronic geodetic mapping, and electronic reconnaissance missions, upgrading to RB-50 Superfortresses in 1952.

Equipped in 1953 with RB-47E Stratojets and conducted a variety of classified overflights of the Soviet Union during the 1950s. Some of these flights were mounted from Thule in Greenland and probed deep into the heart of the Soviet Union, taking a photographic and radar recording of the route attacking SAC bombers would follow to reach their targets. Flights which involved penetrating mainland Russia were termed SENSINT (Sensitive Intelligence) missions. One RB-47 even managed to fly 450 miles inland and photograph the city of Igarka in Siberia. Beginning in 1958, used 3 specially modified Stratojets, known as EB-47E’s (Tell Two), in Operation Iron Work to monitor Soviet missile tests from Baikonur, Tyuratam and Kapustin Yar. The early EB-47E ‘Tell Two’ was easily recognizable as the aircraft were equipped with 2 large telemetry pods attached to either side of the fuselage, just aft of the nose, which intercepted data from Soviet data from missile tests. A later version of the ‘Tell Two’ housed the telemetry pods internally and had a streamlined nose. The USAF long range radar site at Samsum in Turkey, on the south coast of the Black Sea, also assisted in this activity.

Missions flown on a reduced scale after February 1958 when events showed the vulnerability of the RB-47 to Soviet air defenses and the development of the U-2 aircraft.

When the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing relocated to Offutt AFB on 16 August 1966, the 38th took over the Operation Looking Glass mission from the 34th Air Refueling Squadron and operated EC-135C as well as operating 3 KC-135R Rivit Stand reconnaissance aircraft. On 1 April 1970 SAC reorganized the Post Attack Command and Control mission and the 38th inactivated and turned the mission over to the newly 2d Airborne Command and Control Squadron.

The squadron flew worldwide strategic reconnaissance including in support of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Operation Urgent Fury in October 1983, Operation El Dorado Canyon in April 1986, Operation Just Cause in December 1989, and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from January–February 1991.[1]


Emblem of the SAC 38th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron
  • Constituted as 38 Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 20 Nov 1940
Activated on 15 Jan 1941
Re-designated: 38 Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) (Twin Engine), on 31 Jan 1942
Re-designated: 38 Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine), on 15 May 1942
Re-designated: 38 Fighter Squadron, Twin Engine, on 20 Aug 1943
Re-designated: 38 Fighter Squadron, Single Engine, on 5 Sep 1944
Inactivated on 20 Aug 1946
  • Re-designated 38 Reconnaissance Squadron, Very Long Range, Mapping, on 3 Feb 1947
Activated on 15 Mar 1947
Re-designated 38 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Photo-Mapping, on 1 Jul 1949
Inactivated on 14 Oct 1949
  • Re-designated 38 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Photo, on 27 Oct 1950
Activated on 1 Nov 1950
Re-designated: 38 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, on 16 Jun 1952
Re-designated: 38 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron on 16 Aug 1966
Inactivated on 1 Apr 1970
  • Activated on 1 Apr 1979
Re-designated 38 Reconnaissance Squadron on 1 Sep 1991.[1]


Attached to 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, 26 May-1 Jun 1949
Attached to: 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, 1 Nov 1950 – 6 Jan 1951
Attached to: 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, 6 Jan 1951 – 15 Jun 1952
Further attached to: 3d Air Division, 15 Jan-28 May 1951
Further attached to: 7th Air Division, 5 Apr 1952-
Remained attached to 7th Air Division to 9 Aug 1952




 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

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