Local

March 15, 2013

Luke Field rises out of desert

RICHARD GRISET
56th Fighter Wing historian

The Battle of Britain began Aug. 8, 1940, and the same day, President Franklin Roosevelt directed the military to start producing 12,000 pilots annually. In response to that order, the Army Air Corps conducted feasibility studies for the construction of eight new air fields.

Phoenix City Manager Donald Scott announced the War Department had approved a site Feb. 13, 1941, for the construction of an advanced single engine flying training base two miles north of the town of Litchfield Park. The site not only had almost year-round flying weather, but it also enjoyed proximity to vast stretches of Sonoran Desert that were ideal for bombing and gunnery practice.

Two days later, Lt. Col. Ennis Whitehead arrived in the area to supervise construction of the base and act as its first commander.

Ground was broken for Litchfield Park Air Base March 31 of that year and was renamed Luke Field June 6 for 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr., a Phoenix native who was a World War I ace and the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The first student pilot class began training the next day. During World War II, Luke Field produced 17,321 graduates from fighter training programs for the U.S. and its allies. The base was closed Nov. 30, 1946.

Luke was redesignated an air force base when it reopened Feb. 1, 1951, in response to a need for fighter aircrews generated by the Korean Conflict.

The base was initially equipped with F-51 Mustang and F-84 Thunderjet aircraft. Luke Air Force Base joined the supersonic age in 1957 when the North American F-100 Super Sabre was assigned to the installation. That was followed in 1964 by foreign military sales programs in the F-104 Starfighter and the F-5A Freedom Fighter.

The A-7D Corsair arrived in 1969, but was reassigned when the decision was made to make Luke the Air Force’s primary F-4 Phantom II training base. The first F-4 was assigned in 1971.

The first of the super fighters, the F-15 Eagle, was assigned to the base in 1974 followed in 1982 by the second super fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The first F-15E Strike Eagle arrived in 1988. Three years later, in 1991, a decision to make Luke Air Force Base the service’s primary F-16 training base led to the reassignment of the F-15, and four years later, in 1995, the F-15E was reassigned.

Prior to the reassignment of the F-15E, the real world political and military situation resulted in a perceived lessening of international tensions and resulted in a down-sizing of the nation’s military. Senior Air Force leadership moved to ensure the most highly decorated units in Air Force history remained part of the active force during the drawdown. That led to the reassignment of one of the most highly decorated units in Air Force history, the 56th Fighter Wing, from then scheduled-to-close MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., to Luke April 1, 1994. Since 1941, Luke has produced more than 57,500 graduates from fighter training programs for the U.S. and its allies and is truly: “The Home of the Fighter Pilot.”




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