61st Fighter Squadron

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61st Fighter Squadron
61st Fighter Squadron F-35 Lightning II.jpg
A 61st Fighter Squadron F-35 Lightning II arrives at Luke AFB, April 2014
Active 15 January 1941 – 18 October 1945
1 May 1946 – 25 July 1960
30 June 1975 – 12 August 1993
1 April 1994 – 27 August 2010
27 October 2013 –
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Fighter Training
Part of Air Education and Training Command
56th Fighter Wing
56th Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Luke Air Force Base
Nickname(s) Top Dogs
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Streamer.jpg
    EAME Theater World War II
  • Streamer PUC Army.PNG
    Distinguished Unit Citation
  • US Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - Stremer.jpg
    Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Gabby Gabreski
Michael Ryan
Emblem of the 61st Fighter Squadron 61st Fighter Squadron.jpg

The 61st Fighter Squadron (61 FS) is an active United States Air Force unit, assigned to the 56th Operations Group, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. It operates the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, conducting Instructor Pilot training.

The 61 FS, known as the 'Top Dogs', fly F-35A aircraft, to train instructor pilots and initial qualification pilots for Air Combat Command assignments.


World War II[edit]

see 56th Operations Group for an expansive history of the squadron's World War II history

The 61st Fighter Squadron was constituted as the 61st Pursuit Squadron as part of the 56th Pursuit Group at Savannah, Georgia, on 15 January 1941. The squadron immediately began training for its wartime missions under III Fighter Command, rapidly transitioning through the P-35, P-36, P-39, and P-40 aircraft. On 7 December 1941, the 61st stepped up to defend the Southeastern United States from anticipated enemy air attack while it converted to the P-47 aircraft and prepared to deploy overseas. In November 1942, P-47 Thunderbolt dive test pilots achieved 725 mph, faster than the speed of sound.

P-47 of the 61st Fighter Squadron

It was re-designated 61st Fighter Squadron on 15 May 1942, and deployed to RAF Kings Cliffe (AAF-367), England on 9 January 1943. It was declared operationally ready two months later and flew its first combat missions 13 April. The squadron was given fuselage code "HV" and operated from several RAF stations during the war, flying the P-47C Thunderbolt as an VIII Fighter Command bomber-escort unit initially for B-17 Flying Fortresses and beginning in 1944 for B-24 Liberators attacking enemy targets in Occupied Europe. From 1943 to 1945, the 61st produced 19 Aces, the highest of any squadron in Europe, destroying 248 aircraft in the air and 67.5 aircraft on the ground. In 1944, it was recognized as the first fighter squadron in the European theater to score over 100 victories. After the end of the war in Europe, the squadron demobilized in England, and was inactivated as an administrative unit on 18 October 1945.[1]

Cold War[edit]

61st FIS F-94B 50-0888 at Selfridge AFB, about 1951

The squadron was reactivated on 1 May 1946 as a Strategic Air Command escort fighter group, being assigned to Fifteenth Air Force at Selfridge Army Air Base, Michigan. Initially equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts, being replaced with long-range P-51H Mustangs, originally developed for Twentieth Air Force bomber escort missions in the Pacific Theater. The mission of the squadron was to provide fighter escort of SAC's B-29 Superfortress bombers on intercontinental strategic bombardment missions, deploying to Alaska and Europe in this role. In 1947, the squadron was upgraded to Lockheed P-80C Shooting Stars, as SAC introduced the B-50 in the late 1940s. The squadron trained to maintain proficiency as a mobile strike force; including bomber escort mission until transferred from Strategic Air Command to Continental Air Command on 1 Dec 1948.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom Serial 66-0244 of the 61st TFS.
Convair F-102A-75-CO Delta Dagger 56-1399, about 1958

With the reassignment to ConAC, the squadron began performing air defense missions and being re-equipped with the F-86A Sabre. The squadron was re-designated as the 63d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron on 20 Jan 1950. In April 1950, the 61st transitioned to the F-94 modified with radar, operated by a RO (Radar Observer) to serve as an All Weather fighter Interceptor.

It was assigned to Air Defense Command 4708th Defense Wing in February 1952. In 1953 the Squadron was relocate to Ernest Harmon AFB in Newfoundland where it became part of the DEW (Defense Early Warning) system. The F-94 all weather fighter interceptors were later replaced with the F-89 all weather fighter interceptors. In 1957 the squadron was relocated to Truax Field. The 61st transitioned to the F-80 Shooting Star and later was the first squadron to fly the F-86 Sabre. The 61st was inactivated on 25 July 1960, at Truax Field, Wisconsin flying the F-102 Delta Dagger.

When the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing took over from the 1st TFW at MacDill AFB, Florida in June 1975, the 61st was reactivated, assuming the assets of the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying the F-4E Phantom II. Its mission was to train pilots and weapons systems officers. Changed equipment to the F-4D in 1978, sending the "E" models to operational squadrons.

In April 1980, the flying mission changed to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. During this conversion the squadron was redesignated the 61st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron which better reflected its training role even though that did not change even from the Phantom days. In April 1989 the squadron began a transition to the F-16C/D bock 30 big inlet F-16.

Modern era[edit]

On 1 November 1991, the host 56th Tactical Training Wing at MacDill implemented the Objective organization plan, and the subsequent re-designation of units led to the 61st becoming simply the 61st Fighter Squadron, and being assigned to the new 56th Operations Group. The end of the Cold War led to the BRAC commissions, and the downsizing of the Air Force to a smaller organization. As a result, it was decided first to close MacDill AFB, although under political pressure later it was realigned to a new mission.[1]

61st FS F-16C Block 25B 83-1161

Like its two sister squadrons, the 62d and 63d FS, the 61st Fighter Squadron was reassigned to Luke AFB, Arizona flying Block 25 F-16C/Ds. When the squadron moved to Luke AFB, Arizona, the squadron continued in its duties in a training role as Luke AFB became the primary F-16 training unit for the United States Air Force.[1]

In February 2008, it was announced that due to BRAC 2005, Luke AFB give up twenty-five block 25 F-16s. It was decided that the 63d Fighter Squadron would inactivate and transfer its Block 42s to the 61st FS, and which, due to its seniority and historical heritage, would remain active. The first block 25 F-16s left Luke AFB in November 2008 with oldest and highest airframe hour aircraft leaving first, although as the squadron received the Block 42s, some 61st FS block 25s did go to the other Luke AFB block 25 squadrons.[1] Nevertheless, the 61st FS was eventually marked for inactivation in early 2010. It was inactivated on 27 August 2010 in spite of converting to the block 42. A four-ship fly-by marked the occasion and beach-themed party followed to mark the occasion.[1]

On 27 October 2013 the 61st Fighter Squadron was reactivated. It is the first Luke AFB squadron to take up the F-35A training mission.[1]


61st FIS (Air Defense Command)
  • Constituted as 61st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 20 Nov 1940
Activated on 15 Jan 1941
Re-designated: 61st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) (Twin Engine) on 31 Jan 1942
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine) on 15 May 1942
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron on 1 Jun 1942
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron, Single Engine, on 28 Feb 1944
Inactivated on 18 Oct 1945
  • Activated on 1 May 1946
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron, Jet Propelled, on 24 Apr 1947
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron, Jet, on 14 Jun 1948
Re-designated: 61st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron on 20 Jan 1950
Discontinued, and inactivated, on 25 Jul 1960
  • Re-constituted and re-designated as 61st Tactical Fighter Squadron on 12 May 1975
Activated on 30 Jun 1975
Re-designated: 61st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron on 1 Jan 1980
Re-designated: 61st Fighter Squadron on 1 Nov 1991
Inactivated on 12 Aug 1993
  • Activated on 1 Apr 1994
Inactivated on 27 August 2010
  • Activated on 27 October 2013[2]





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

See also[edit]