By Dan Wheaton, 57th Wing Historian
/ Published October 11, 2017
Since the 57th Wing activated in 1948 – nearly one year to the day after the Air Force activation – it has taken the lead in a variety of advanced air, space, and cyberspace training and testing missions. Currently, the wing is composed of innovative professionals leading advanced, realistic, multi-domain training focused on winning the high-end fight.
During the beginnings of the Cold War, as geopolitical mistrust between the World War II powers intensified, U.S. leaders directed a major buildup of air defense forces in Alaska. Many believed the territory would likely be the flashpoint of an armed conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In conjunction with the military buildup, Air Force officials established the then 57th Fighter-Interceptor Wing March 15, 1948, assigned personnel to the wing April 20, 1948, and activated the wing Sept. 20, 1948, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, within the Alaskan Air Command.
As the first commander, Col. Thomas L. Mosley direct the wing’s primary mission of air defense over Alaska. The 57th FIW utilized the F-51 Mustang and, later, F-80 Shooting Star aircraft, becoming the very first all-jet wing. The unit also provided intra-theater troop carrier and airlift support, using many attached troop carrier squadrons at Elmendorf AFB and several satellite bases, which flew Douglas C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster aircrafts as well as Fairchild C-82 Packet aircraft.
When the 57th FIW activated, the then 57th Fighter Group aligned beneath it. The highly-decorated World War II Group had inactivated following the war on Nov. 7, 1945. Squadrons of the Group included the 64th Fighter Squadron, 65 FS and 66 FS. The 39th Air Depot Wing replaced the wing when it inactivated Jan. 1, 1951.
The wing reactivated Oct. 15, 1969, at Nellis AFB, Nevada as the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing beneath the then U.S. Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons Center. Commanded by Col. William B. Williamson, the 57th FWW took over the primary mission of advanced fighter pilot training, and the testing, development, evaluation and demonstration of tactical fighter weapons systems and tactics. Soon after activating, the wing assumed host unit responsibilities of the base, taking control of base functions, personnel and equipment.
The Air Force redesignated the wing April 1, 1977, as the 57th Tactical Training Wing. On March 1, 1980, the Air Force activated the 554th Operations Support Wing to assume host responsibilities, allowing the 57th TTW to concentrate on its principal mission. Simultaneously, the wing’s designation reverted back to the 57th FWW and managed all flying activities, to include Red Flag exercises, which began in 1975 under the control of the 4440th Tactical Fighter Training Group.
The wing’s training exercises continued to evolve during the 1980s, providing Air Force and allied pilots with the most realistic training available. The 1990s brought new challenges and changes for the wing; the 57th FWW gained the Air Warrior close-air-support training mission in January 1990, operating from Nellis AFB, Fort Irwin in California, and Fort Polk and Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. The wing also supported Operation Desert Storm, deploying personnel, conducting weapons testing and accomplishing numerous U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School combat studies. Redesignated as the 57th Fighter Wing Oct. 1, 1991, the wing soon experienced a major reorganization as the addition of the 57th Operations Group, 57th Logistics Group and 57th Test Group, which inactivated in 1996.
The Air Force redesignated the wing June 15, 1993, as the 57th Wing, the year the unit gained the then 561st Fighter Squadron, Douglas F-4 Phantom II aircraft and the 66th Rescue Squadron Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters. The 53d Wing assigned to Eglin AFB, Florida later gained the wing’s testing mission, which was later assigned to the 561st Joint Fighter Squadron in 1996.
On July 29, 1995, the 57th WG activated the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, the Air Force’s first unmanned aerial vehicle unit, beneath the 57th OG at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada later renamed Creech AFB in 2005. Several like units followed in the ensuing years in response to the rising demand for unmanned reconnaissance and strike platforms. Air Force leadership announced plans to build the auxiliary field into a full-sized Air Force base to support the rapidly growing MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAV operations.
The Air Force activated the 64th Aggressor Squadron Oct. 3, 2003, to fly the F-16 Falcon fighter jet, illustrating the growth and importance of the Aggressor mission. Air Force leaders envisioned a Threats Central at Nellis AFB; the 57th Adversary Tactics Group activated Sept. 15, 2005, to manage this emergent, vital enterprise. Simultaneously, the 65th AGRS activated to fly the F-15C Eagle fighter jet, while several units transferred from the 57th OG to the new group. As the 57th ATG managed the developing Aggressor undertaking, the 57th OG focused on the evolving Predator mission and flying combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. On May, 1, 2007, the 432nd WG activated at Creech AFB to realign unmanned aerial system units from the 57th WG to the 432th WG.
The U.S. Air Force Weapons School activated briefly in 1966 before coming into existence Dec. 30, 1981. The school cadre importantly trains tactical experts skilled in the art of integrated multi-domain dominance, honing the talents of virtually every unit in the Air Force. Since early 2000, the school’s duties expanded dramatically, with key courses including intelligence, special operations, fighters, bombers, rescue, space, cyber.
The U.S. Air Force Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Officer School activated July 15, 2004, after a year of operation at Nellis. The school was responsible for developing exceptional leaders in aircraft maintenance, munitions and logistics readiness, using responsive and realistic agile combat support training.
The Air-Ground Operations School evolved since its arrival at the base in 1997. Shortly after the school arrived, the Joint Firepower Control Course moved to Nellis as well, instructing forward air controllers and air liaison officers on advanced close-air-support techniques and procedures. The Air Force re-designated the school as the Joint Air-Ground Operations Group July 5, 2005.
In late 2006, Air Warrior I and II exercises were renamed as Green Flag-West and Green Flag-East, as members of the 57th WG continued to provide valuable close-air-support training. Finally, units aligned beneath the JAGOG aligned beneath the 57th OG in 2007.
In 2010, the 561st Joint Tactics Squadron transferred from the USAF Warfare Center to the 57th WG, bringing the wing to its present organizational structure. Unit members connect Airmen and members of other services and countries to key lessons learned through tactics, techniques and procedures, bulletins and newsletters.
On Feb. 15, 1974, the wing gained the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, Thunderbirds, which was flying the T-38 Talon jet. Today, the Thunderbirds mission remains the same: to demonstrate to the public the professional competence of Air Force personnel, reinforcing Air Force community relations, and supporting Air Force recruiting and retention programs. The team meets these objectives through the planning and presentation of approximately 70 air demonstrations per season. Taking flight in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the team’s shows span the world, giving millions of viewers a show in the skies.
The 57th WG continues as one of the Air Force’s more prominent and influential units. The wing provides world-class training to today’s Air Force and allied operators, managing and instructing 27 weapons systems that monitor space, intelligence and cyberspace. In addition, the wing spans 35 squadrons, and three schools across 13 states to provide combat Air Force commanders capable of dominating future conflicts.
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