The 56th Fighter Wing, one of the most highly decorated aviation units in history, traces its heritage to the 56th Pursuit Group which first activated on Jan. 15, 1941, at Savannah Air Base, Ga. The unit was redesignated a fighter group and equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt when it was reassigned to England. The 56th flew its first combat missions of World War II on April 13, 1943. During its two-year involvement in the air war in Europe, the group damaged or destroyed just short of 1,600 enemy aircraft. What seems incredible is the 56th posted that record while losing only 25 fighters in aerial combat. The group also produced 40 fighter aces.
After World War II, the 56th Fighter Group was assigned at Selfridge Field, Mich. The 56th Fighter Wing was activated with the 56th Fighter Group as a subordinate unit Aug. 15, 1947. The wing’s mission was air defense.
The unit wrote another chapter in aviation history when its F-80 Shooting Stars made the first-ever west-to-east Atlantic crossing by military jets July 14, 1948. The flight was a month after the Soviets set up their blockade of Berlin and put them on notice that this nation had the capability to deploy a large package of military aircraft across the Atlantic in minimum time. The wing was inactivated Jan. 1, 1964.
The 56th activated as the 56th Air Commando Wing in Southeast Asia March 16, 1967, and redesignated as the 56th Special Operations Wing Aug. 1, 1968. While there, the 56th supported and conducted combat operations against opposing armed enemy forces.
Renamed the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing, the wing was reassigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. June 1, 1975, and conducted combat aircrew training in the F-4 and later fighter training in the F-16.
When the military downsized in the early 1990s, one step removed the fighter aircraft from MacDill. However, the renamed 56th Fighter Wing would remain part of the active fighter force and was reassigned to Luke AFB April 1, 1994.
Today, the 56th Fighter Wing, a unit which has had some of the world’s greatest fighter pilots, continues the mission that has been identified with Luke since 1941: “Training the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots and maintainers while deploying mission-ready warfighters.”