71st Fighter Squadron

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71st Fighter Squadron
F-15, 71st Fighter Squadron, in flight.JPG
McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle of the 71st Fighter Squadron in flight
Active 1940-1945; 1946-2010
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Role Fighter
Part of 1st Operations Group
1st Fighter Wing
Garrison/HQ Langley Air Force Base
Nickname(s) "The Ironmen"
Engagements World War II
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Decorations Distinguished Unit Citation
Ronald Keys
71st Fighter Squadron Emblem
(approved 10 October 1947)[1][2]
71st Fighter Squadron.png

The 71st Fighter Squadron (71st FS) was a squadron of the United States Air Force, and part of the 1st Operations Group in the 1st Fighter Wing, and stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The squadron was equipped with the F-15C Eagle, the last squadron of the 1st Fighter Wing to fly the F-15, with the 27th and 94th already flying the F-22 Raptor. The squadron is known as "The Ironmen", and also as "Cragmore".


World War II[edit]

The 71st Fighter Squadron has a tradition of outstanding performance since its foundation in December 1940 as the 71st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor). Initial activation to the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan on 1 January 1941 was definite evidence of America's impending direct involvement in World War II. Initial activation training was accomplished in the P-35. This was changed to the YP-43 Lancer when the squadron was redesignated as the 71st Pursuit Squadron (Fighter) on 12 March 1941. The squadron gained proficiency in the aircraft and the anti-submarine mission while training on the Great Lakes. On 9 December 1941, just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the squadron reported to NAS San Diego in defense of the important Southern California coast. Two months later, the 71st moved north to Los Angeles to transition to the P-38 Lightning and was renamed the 71st Fighter Squadron. June 1942 saw the 71st become the first single-seat, twin engine fighter unit to deploy to England during World War II.

The 71st established themselves with outstanding performance as the first P-38 unit in combat. Capt John D. Eiland was credited with the squadron's first-ever combat kill after downing a German FW-190 on 4 December 1942. The pilots were continuously at the forefront of the air battles. Outstanding performance, heroism, and combat victories were the accepted standard. Seventeen Campaign Participation Credits were awarded to the 71st and they earned three Distinguished Unit Citations. The squadron claimed 102 kills and produced 5 aces, including one pilot who became an ace in one mission. The 71st Squadron flew under the "Cragmore" callsign during World War II, and its original patch included a skull with lightning bolts in the shape of 71. In June 1943, General Carl Spaatz and General James H. Doolittle traveled to the deployed location to present decorations earned in combat. This award ceremony was soon followed by Distinguished Unit Citations presented on 25 August 1943 and 30 August 1943 for escort missions against Italian targets. The squadron was presented another Distinguished Unit Citation by General Nathan Twining in May 1944 for an escort of B-17s against oil installations at Ploieşti, Romania. On 10 June 1944, during an otherwise disastrous low-level bombing mission against the oil refineries by two groups of P-38's, 2nd Lt Herbert "Stub" Hatch, Jr. achieved 5 kills in one mission, all within one minute, and caused the gun barrels of his P-38 to melt. Upon completion of its tour in Europe, the squadron was inactivated in Italy on 16 October 1945.

Air Defense Command[edit]

71st FIS patch
North American F-86A Sabre, at Griffiss AFB, New York, 1950

On 3 July 1946 the 71st was reactivated as part of the 1st Fighter Group at March Field, California[1] where it took over the personnel, mission and new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Stars of the 31st Fighter Squadron, which was inactivated.[3] The squadron flew the P-80 until 1949 when it converted to North American F-86A Sabre swept-wing fighters. The following year, as Air Defense Command(ADC) began to deploy its fighter force the squadron was detached from the group and moved twice, finally locating at Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pennsylvania in October.[1] However ADC was having difficulty under the existing wing base organizational structure in deploying fighter squadrons to best advantage.[4] As a result, the squadron was reassigned to the geographically oriented 4708th Defense Wing and support elements at Greater Pittsburgh were organized into the 81st Air Base Squadron.

In 1953 ADC again reorganized its deployed squadrons and organized the 500th Air Defense Group at Pittsburgh, with the 71st becoming its operational element. In the summer of 1955 ADC implemented Project Arrow, which was designed to bring back on the active list the fighter units which had compiled memorable records in the two world wars.[5] As a result, the 71st moved on paper to Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, where it was reunited with the 1st Fighter Group.

At Selfridge, the squadron re-equipped with HVAR rocket armed and airborne intercept radar equipped F-86D Sabre Interceptors. In 1957 began upgrading to the North American F-86L Sabre, an improved version of the F-86D which incorporated data link to communicatge directly with the Semi Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE analog computer-controlled direction system for intercepts. The 71st then converted to the supersonic F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor from 1958 to 1960 and the F-106 Delta Dart from 1960 to 1971.

F-106s of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, about 1970
Squadron personnel photo, about 1964. F-106 58-0773 in background

In 1965, the unit won the F-106 category in the William Tell Interceptor Competition. The 71st has been awarded the Presidential Unit Citation 3 times and the Outstanding Unit Award 5 times. In December 1969, the 71st was awarded the 1969 Hughes Achievement Award, presented annually to the most outstanding Fighter Interceptor Squadron in the world. In 1970, one of the F-106's of the 71st glided onto a field in Montana and subsequently became known as the Cornfield Bomber.

Tactical Air Command[edit]

A major change occurred in July 1971 which encompassed changing aircraft, location, and designation. The squadron was redesignated the as the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron and joined the Tactical Air Command with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida. It was there that the 71st was equipped with the McDonnell F-4E Phantom II aircraft. During the time the squadron was at MacDill AFB it trained combat fighter crews in the complex F-4 weapon system for deployment to tactical units stationed worldwide. Graduates of the 71st bore the brunt of the battle and participated in the final operations against North Vietnam which terminated the war in Southeast Asia. While graduating over 370 fighter crew members from a complex and demanding combat training environment involving day, night, and all-weather operation, the 71st maintained the high standards of its heritage, receiving three consecutive Tactical Air Command Unit Achievement Awards for a record 4 years of accident-free flying through October 1974. In July 1975, the 71st transferred with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing to Langley AFB, where it was equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter.

In 1976 the 71 TFS assumed the name of "Ironmen" as a result of the fist of mail (knight's armored glove) on the squadron's patch. 1982 saw the 71st become the first TAC squadron fully equipped with the factory new F-15C Eagle aircraft. The 71st routinely deployed throughout the US and Europe to hone its skills during the Cold War.

On 7 August 1990, the 71st deployed to Saudi Arabia with 24 F-15C air-superiority fighter aircraft as the first US combat force to land in support of Operation Desert Shield. Over the next 5 months, the Ironmen flew nearly a year's worth of flying hours, over 13,000 hours and 3,300 sorties—all a prelude to war. In the early morning hours of 17 January 1991, while sweeping the skies near Baghdad, the 71st achieved one of the first aerial victories of Operation Desert Storm and helped pave the way for one of the most significant events in the history of the USAF: complete and total air domination of an adversary, the 71st having flown 1091 missions and 5881 hours in six short weeks. On 7 March 1991, the 71st redeployed to Langley AFB, Virginia.

Modern era[edit]

Since the first Gulf War, the 71st successfully supported the UN-sanctioned Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch in Iraq with many deployments to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. 71 FS pilots defeated dozens of Iraqi surface-to-air missiles (SAM) attacks, and hundreds of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) attacks while enforcing UN sanctions, without loss or damage to a single aircraft.

In 1992 the 71st FS set the all time flying safety record for the F-15 with 124,790 hours of accident free flying.

Minutes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the 71st launched its F-15s to patrol the skies of the US east coast, intercepting and escorting dozens of airliners to safe landings at airports around the country. The 71st also had aircraft deployed to Nellis AFB, Nevada at the time of the attacks, and were the first fighters to take to the skies to patrol Las Vegas and southern California.

During the second Gulf War in 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 71 FS deployed to Tabuk, KSA and flew Combat Air Patrols for the first part of the war, and helped to gain total air superiority for the duration of the conflict.

In 2006, the 71st Fighter Squadron was awarded the coveted Hughes/Raytheon Trophy for Outstanding Aerial Achievement for a record 5th time.

On 1 September 2010 the last F-15s assigned to the 71st departed Langley AFB (slightly ahead of schedule) as a prelude to unit inactivation programmed for the end of September 2010, ending the association of the F-15 at Langley AFB.

On 30 September 2010 the 71st Fighter Squadron was inactivated in a ceremony held in the 71st Fighter Squadron/AMU Hangar at Langley AFB Virginia.


  • Constituted as 71st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 14 December 1940
Activated on 1 January 1941
Redesignated: 71st Pursuit Squadron (Fighter) on 12 March 1941
Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine) on 15 May 1942
Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron, Two Engine on 28 February 1944
Inactivated on 16 October 1945
  • Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron, Single Engine on 5 April 1946
Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron, Jet Propelled on 20 June 1946
Activated on 3 July 1946
Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron, Jet on 15 June 1948
Redesignated: 71st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron on 16 April 1950
Redesignated: 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron on 1 July 1971
Redesignated: 71st Fighter Squadron on 1 November 1991.





  • World War II: Antisubmarine, American Theater; Egypt-Libya; Air Offensive, Europe; Algeria-French Morocco; Tunisia; Sicily; Naples-Foggia; Anzio; Rome-Arno; Normandy; Northern France; Southern France; North Apennines; Rhineland; Central Europe; Po Valley; Air Combat, EAME Theater.
  • Southwest Asia: Defense of Saudi Arabia; Liberation and Defense of Kuwait

Popular culture[edit]

In the 2007 movie Transformers, the Decepticon Starscream, disguised as an F-22 Raptor, bears the fuselage and tail markings of the Air Combat Command, the 1st Fighter Wing the 71st, 94th and 27th; All current Air Force fighter aircraft unit Wing Flagship aircraft display all squadrons contained within the wing; however, as previously noted, the 71st has not switched to the F-22.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (PDF) (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. p. 99. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556. 
  2. ^ The emblem is descrobed: "Over and through a medium blue disk with a yellow border, a winged mailed fist." The mailed fist symbolizes the solidarity of purpose of the 71st Fighter Squadron. The red flame represents valor. The blue background, the color of the sky, stands for honor and the golden ring represents unity of purpose.
  3. ^ Maurer, Combat Squadrons, p. 33
  4. ^ Grant, C.L., (1961) The Development of Continental Air Defense to 1 September 1954, USAF Historical Study No. 126
  5. ^ Buss, Lydus H.(ed), Sturm, Thomas A., Volan, Denys, and McMullen, Richard F., History of Continental Air Defense Command and Air Defense Command July to December 1955, Directorate of Historical Services, Air Defense Command, Ent AFB, CO, 1956, p.6
  6. ^ Chavana, Jarrod (3 September 2010). "Final F-15 departs Langley, 71st FS prepares to inactivate". 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs. Archived from the original on 12 September 2010. Retrieved 4 September 2010. 


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

Further reading

  • USAF Aerospace Defense Command publication, The Interceptor, January 1979 (Volume 21, Number 1).

External links[edit]