Air Force

April 12, 2012

History of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

Charles Lindbergh dedicates Davis Monthan Field: September 23, 1927

In 1925, Tucson’s City Council purchased 1,280 acres of land southeast of town to relocate the city’s municipal airport. Unknown at that time this new site would become the nucleus of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Six years earlier Tucson had the proud distinction of opening the first municipal-owned airport in the nation. Located four miles south of the city on Nogales Highway, the present day location of the Rodeo Grounds, the 82.64 acres was designated Tucson Municipal Flying Field after several name changes. Following years of stalled negotiations with the War Department, city planners elected to purchase the larger site and transfer airport operations in hopes that the military would reconsider establishing an aviation branch in Tucson.

Construction at the new site was completed in late 1927, and on Sept. 23 of the same year, Charles Lindbergh, who months earlier crossed the Atlantic in the “Spirit of St. Louis”, formally dedicated the site in honor of Lieutenants Samuel H. Davis and Oscar Monthan, two Tucson aviators whom died in separate plane crashes after World War I. The city shared another proud moment with the opening; Davis-Monthan Field immediately became the largest municipal-owned airport in the nation.

Military presence at the new Davis-Monthan Field began Oct. 6, 1927 when Staff Sergeant Dewey Simpson transferred the military aircraft refueling and service operations from the old municipal airport. He also brought something very unique with him, a log book that was signed by the field’s patrons. Early aviation greats such as Foulois, Arnold, Spaatz, Vandenberg, Earhart, and Doolittle took the liberty of signing the registry as a record of service. (Currently the Registry is on display at DM’s Base Operations). With only two military personnel assigned to the field, negotiations between the War Department and Tucson would remain at a stand-still until 1940.

Davis-Monthan transitions to full military operations: 1940

As a result of the expanding conflict in Europe, the War Department officially announced a decision to establish an Army Air Base in Tucson on Sept. 29, 1940. Initially named Army Air Base, Tucson, Ariz., work began with the arrival of Lt. Col Ames S. Albro on Feb. 4, 1941. Two months later on April 17 Army Air Base, Tucson officially activated and on May 1 the 1st Bombardment Wing Headquarters assumed command of the field. In late May personnel and aircraft from the first assigned units, 1st Bombardment Wing, 41st Bombardment Group, and 31st Air Base Group, began arriving. The first aircraft assigned were mostly obsolete Douglas B-18 Bolos, LB-30s, A-29s, and Stearman PT-17 trainers. The new Base Commander, Brigadier General Frank D. Lackland, arrived on May 30 and assumed command the next day, June 1. Exactly six months later on December 1 The base was formally named Davis-Monthan Field.

The outbreak of World War II brought major changes to Davis-Monthan, beginning with elements of the 1st Bombardment Wing and 41st Bombardment Group departing for the Pacific. In January 1942 jurisdiction of the field transferred from Fourth Air Force to Second Air Force. The following month the 39th Bombardment Group (BG) arrived and immediately began training B-17 Fortress and B-24 Liberator units and crews, initially as an Operational Training Unit (OTU) and later as a Replacement Training Unit (RTU). By mid-year B-24 Liberator training became the sole mission of the 39 BG as all other flight training was phased out. B-24 Liberators would fill the skies over the old pueblo until late 1944 when the Army Air Force’s latest bomber arrived. In December Davis-Monthan became home to the B-29 Superfortess until V-J Day (Victory over Japan) in August. With the Japanese surrender came drastic mission changes for Davis-Monthan Field.

Davis-Monthan enters the Cold War

Non-stop flightline operations fell silent with the war’s end as Davis-Monthan’s mission transitioned from training to separation and aircraft storage. In late September Davis-Monthan became one of three installations in Second Air Force responsible for separation processing, 9,435 personnel processed through the center before its closure on Nov. 30, 1945. It was also during November that the 4105th Army Air Force Base Unit activated with the mission of extended aircraft storage for Army Air Force planes. Tucson’s dry climate and alkali soil made it an ideal location for aircraft storage and preservation, a mission that has continued to this day. The unit also inherited the duties of maintaining the installation’s inactive flightline and plethora of empty buildings.

D-M’s period of inactivity ended in March 1946 with the newly activated Strategic Air Command (SAC) assuming control of the base. Two months later two B-29 Bombardment Groups, the 40th and 444th, arrived and once again the sights and sounds of the B-29 Superfortress filled the skies of Tucson. On October 1, both units inactivated and their personnel and aircraft were transferred to the newly activated 43rd Bombardment Group (BG). In September 1947 the Air Force became a separate branch of service and the 43 BG achieved “Wing” Status. On Jan. 13, 1948 Davis-Monthan Field was officially redesignated Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The following month on Feb. 20 the first B-50 Superfortress II, A-Model serial number 46-017, arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB and was delivered to the 43 BW. On June 18, the 43rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) was assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB. The 43 ARS had the honor of being one of the first two air refueling squadrons in the Air Force, flying the KB-29M.

While assigned to Davis-Monthan AFB personnel of the 43rd BW set numerous records, including formation, distance, and speed flights. The height of these records came on March 2, 1949 when the Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A Superfortress II completed the first nonstop round-the-world flight covering 23,452 miles in 94 hours and 1 minute. The Lucky Lady II launched and recovered to Carswell AFB, Texas while being refueled four times in air by KB-29M tankers assigned to the 43rd ARS. Two and-a-half years later on September 4, 1951 the 43rd was joined by another B-29 unit, the 303rd BW. It was also on this date that the first Air Division, the 36th, activated on Davis-Monthan.

The “Jet Age” arrives at Davis-Monthan: 1953

Davis-Monthan AFB entered the “Jet Age” in Feb. 1953 when the 303rd BW received four Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars training jets. Just one month prior construction on the new 200 feet wide by 11,500 feet long runway was completed in preparation for the arrival of the first jet bomber, the B-47 Stratojet. The first three Stratojets appeared in late March and were also assigned to the 303rd BW. The following month fighter interceptor jets arrived when the Air Defense Command (ADC) activated and assigned the 15th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) to Davis-Monthan. Initially the unit was equipped with the F-86A Sabres until it upgraded to the modern supersonic capable “D” model one year later. The F-86D remained the squadron’s primary weapon system until 1959 when the F-89 Scorpion replaced it. The final aircraft change occurred in 1960 when the F-101B Voodoo became the units’ interceptor. The Voodoos remained in this role until the 15th FIS inactivated on Dec. 24, 1964.

Three strategic wings

The decade of the 1960s brought sweeping changes to Davis-Monthan AFB. Within the first few months of the decade the 36 AD was inactivated and the 43 BW departed DM to become the Air Force’s first B-58 Hustler Wing. DM was also selected to become home to an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) wing. In April it was publicly announced that 18 sites around Tucson had been selected for the construction of Titan II missile silos. Divided into three phases, the Titan II construction program officially began with Phase I on Dec. 7, 1960 with the ground breaking ceremony at the site of Complex 570-2.

This phase which was completed just over a year later, Dec. 20, 1961, consisted of all heavy construction including the installation of the blast lock doors. Days after its completion on Jan. 1, 1962 the 390th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) was activated. The second part, Phase II, began on July 13, 1961 and covered the completion of all heavy construction and the installation of electrical equipment such as air conditioning and the power systems. Ten months into the second phase on May 7, 1962 the third and final phase, missile installation and final hardware check began. On December 8, 1962 just six days prior to the completion of Phase II the first missile was installed at Complex 570-2.

Six months later on June 13, 1963 the ninth missile was installed activating the first Titan II missile squadron in the U.S. Air Force, the 570th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS). The Titan II Missile Construction program ended on Oct. 14 with the conclusion of Phase III. Another milestone was reached on Nov. 30 when the 18th and final missile went on alert.

The following day the 571 SMS and 390 SMW were declared operational. With this accomplishment, The 390 SMW became the first operational Titan II missile wing in the U.S. Air Force.

Davis-Monthan history would also repeat itself in the 1960s with the return of two missions not witnessed since World War II, Reconnaissance and Combat Crew Training (CCT). Transferring from Laughlin AFB, Texas on July 1, 1963 the 4080th Strategic Wing (SW) brought D-M its’ first reconnaissance unit since December 1941 when the B-18 Bolos of the 41st BG departed for the Pacific. As the sole SAC unit operating the WU-2 high-altitude aircraft the 4080 SW was responsible for conducting global strategic reconnaissance functions. The unit’s relocation resulted in D-M becoming a three wing installation with three diverse missions, Strategic Bombardment, Strategic Reconnaissance, and Strategic Missile alert. This time however was short lived for D-M’s Strategic Bombardment mission.

In early 1964, SAC Programming Plan 1-64 was released detailing inactivation procedures for the 303rd BW. The plan outlined the phase out of all operations, reassignment of the wing’s 60 B-47 aircraft to other units, and the preparation of the unit’s facilities for turnover to the inbound wing, Tactical Air Command’s (TAC) 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing (CCTW). Beginning Mar. 1 the 303 BW began transferring its 60 aircraft to other units. The plan directed the transfer of 15 aircraft per month through June. During this four month period as components of the 303 BW departed, elements of the 4453 CCTW began occupying the vacant facilities. On June 11, 1964 the last B-47 departed for Pease AFB, New Hampshire, four days later the 303 BW inactivated. Just weeks later on July 1, 1964 Combat Crew Training (CCT) officially returned to DM with the activation of the 4453 CCTW. DM’s initial CCT program had ended suddenly with the abrupt ending of World War II in August 1945. Relocating from MacDill AFB, Florida with nearly 50 F-4 Phantom II aircraft, the primary mission of the wing was to train all aircrews for the conversion of 12 tactical wings to the F-4C fighter-bomber jet. The 4453 CCTW trained a majority of F-4 crews for the conflict in Southeast Asia.

Before the end of the decade DM would have one more unit change. On June 25, 1966 the 4080 SRW inactivated while at the same time the 100 SRW activated. All personnel and equipment from the 4080 SRW transferred to the new unit, including the recently assigned DC-130As, CH-3C helicopters, and the remote piloted drones. The special order that directed the redesignation also specified that the 100 SRW would continue the U-2 reconnaissance missions of the 4080 SRW. As a result of the conflict escalating in Vietnam more forward operating locations were set up throughout Southeast Asia for reconnaissance and drone missions.

Tactical Air Command moves to Davis-Monthan

Davis-Monthan’s operations tempo during the 1970s was as busy as the three previous decades. On July 1, 1971 the Air Force reactivated the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Davis-Monthan with the Vought A-7D Corsair II as the primary weapon system. The wing was initially composed of the 11th Tactical Drone Squadron (TDS), 333rd, 354th, 357th, and 40th Tactical Fighter Squadrons (TFS). The primary mission of the 355 TFW consisted of training pilots and maintenance personnel for combat deployments world-wide. In September 1971 the 355 TFW became the major TAC unit on base with the 4453 CCTW inactivating and relocating its F-4s to Luke AFB. The 358th TFS, one of the 355th’s original WW II squadrons rejoined the wing upon reactivation on June 1, 1972. The same day, the 40 TFS was relocated to George AFB, California.

In August 1972, the 355 TFW was declared “combat ready” and began deploying to Thailand augmenting the 354 TFW, which was flying combat missions in support of the Cambodian government. The wing also augmented a detachment at Howard AFB, Panama with personnel and aircraft while maintaining A-7D training and drone operations. Another DM unit made history in March 1974, this time it was unmanned flight. The 11 TDS conducted the first launch of a live AGM-65 Maverick missile from a remotely piloted vehicle, scoring a direct hit at Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah.

In early 1975, the 355 TFW prepared for conversation to the nameless Fairchild Republic A-10. It would be three years before the name Thunderbolt II was officially selected for the A-10. In October 1975 the 355th Tactical Training Squadron activated to conduct A-10 academic training. Four months later, on Mar. 2, 1976 the wing received the first A-10. In the midst of constant change, jurisdiction of DM was officially transferred from the Strategic Air Command to Tactical Air Command on Sept. 30, 1976. It was also on this day that the 355 TFW became DM’s host wing. Before the close of the decade two additional changes would occur. On Sept. 1, 1979 the 355 TFW was redesignated the 355th Tactical Training Wing and on Oct. 2, the last A-7D mission was flown ending an eight years presents at D-M.

Arms Reduction and Davis-Monthan: 1980 – 1990

The 1980s brought new missions to Davis-Monthan. On Oct. 1, 1981 the 836th Air Division activated. The base also welcomed the 868th Tactical Missile Training Group, which trained crews to operate, maintain, and defend Ground Launch Cruise Missile (GLCM) systems through the European Theater. The 41st Electronic Combat Squadron equipped with the EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, arrived on July 1, 1980, and reported to the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing. Finally, the 602nd Tactical Air Control Wing, responsible for the Air Force’s tactical air control system west of the Mississippi River, activated at D-M in September 1982. In 1984 the 390th Strategic Missile Wing inactivated and the cruise missile mission terminated in 1990. Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreements between Russia and the U.S. concerning cruise missiles opened the base to Russian inspections.

Davis-Monthan deploys in an Air Expeditionary Force

In the 1990s, the 355 TTW continued to train A-10 crews for assignments to units in the United States, England and Korea. During this period, the 355 TTW deployed Airborne Forward Air Controllers (FAC) in their OA-10 aircraft to OPERATION Desert Storm, providing nearly 100% of this capability to the war. During the campaign A-10s flew 8,100 sorties destroying more than 1,000 Iraqi tanks, 2,000 military vehicles, and 1,200 artillery pieces. The A-10s also maintained a mission capability rated of 95.7% while launching 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles in the conflict. On Oct. 1, 1991 the 355 TTW was redesignated as the 355th Fighter Wing (FW). As a result of the Gulf War, Air Force Leadership deemed it appropriate to remove all Tactical and Strategic terms from unit designations.

The next change occurred on May 1, 1992 when the Air Force policy of “one base-one boss” was implemented. This resulted in all Air Divisions, including the 836 AD, beginning inactivated. With this action, the 355 FW was once again D-M’s host wing. Other changes occurred on this day with the 41st Electronic Control Squadron (ECS) and 43 ECS, flying EC-130E Compass Call aircraft being assigned to the 355 FW, this resulted in its’ redesignation as the 355th Wing (WG). The EC-130E Hercules aircraft carried an airborne battlefield command and control center capsule that provides continuous control of tactical air operations in the forward battle area and behind enemy lines. This capability added yet more strength to the wing’s combat capability.

In 1995, the 355th Wing began supporting Operation SOUTHERN WATCH with deployments to Al Jaber, Kuwait to ensure compliance of the 32rd parallel southern no-fly zone. 12 A-10s were deployed in 1995 followed in 1997 with 24 A-10s. In 1998 the wing deployed 16 A-10s, and in 1999 14 A-10s were deployed. As part of the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) concept the wing was tasked with a deployment every 15 to 18 months.

Global War on Terror

The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, led to the initiation of three ongoing missions–Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in Afghanistan, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, which Davis-Monthan currently continues to support, and Operation NOBLE EAGLE. After the execution of OEF eight A-10s from the 355th Wing were deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan to fly close air support missions supporting multinational ground forces.

In September 2002, the 48th, 55th, and the 79th Rescue Squadrons (RQS) transferred under control of the 355th Wing, equipped with HC-130 aircraft and HH-60 helicopters. At the same time, the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons were realigned under the control of the 55th Electronic Combat Group (55 ECG). While personnel and aircraft remained on Davis-Monthan AFB operational control of the 55 ECG was assumed by the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. Another wing realignment occurred on Oct. 1, 2003 with the activation of the 563rd Rescue Group on Davis-Monthan AFB. Control of the 48, 55, and 79 Rescue Squadrons (RQS) was passed to the new group with the 23rd Wing assuming operational command of the unit.

In 2003 and 2005, the 354th Fighter Squadron “Bulldogs” deployed on five-month deployments to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. During these deployments, the Bulldogs provided 24-hour air presence to reassure the Afghan population as it struggled with its emergent democracy. The unit also provided key support during national elections. While the 2003 deployment saw limited action, the Bulldogs employed over 22,000 rounds of 30mm during 130 troops-in-contact (TIC) situations during the 2005 deployment.

The 354th Fighter Squadron returned to Afghanistan in April 2007 for a six-month deployment. Again, they provided 24-hour presence and Close Air Support to coalition forces of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. During this period, insurgent activity level was the highest recorded to date in OEF. The Bulldogs employed over 150,000 rounds of 30mm in supporting over 400 troops-in-contact situations.

Another major change occurred on April 26, 2007. With only A-10 fighter aircraft assigned, the 355th WG was redesignated once again as the 355th Fighter Wing. Today, the 355th Fighter Wing is composed of four groups: the 355th Operations Group, the 355th Maintenance Group, the 355th Mission Support Group and the 355th Medical Group. Together, along with their tenant organizations, they make up the 6,000 Airmen and 1,700 civilian personnel at Davis-Monthan AFB.




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