The U.S. Army Air Force activated the 366th Fighter Group at Richmond Army Air Base, Virginia, on June 10, 1943. At Richmond, and later at Bluethenthal Air Field, North Carolina, the group trained its pilots for combat in the P-47 Thunderbolt. By December 1943, with basic training complete, the group left for the war.
In January 1944, the group arrived in England. For the next several weeks, the group's pilots learned combat techniques from experienced veterans of the air war with Nazi Germany. The group moved to Thruxton, England, on March 1, 1944, and flew its first combat mission as a group on March 14. Early operations involved fighter sweeps over France until the June 1944 D-Day invasion when the group shifted to a ground support mission. Three days later, the 366th served as the lead air unit attacking German positions near St. Lo, France. The invasion established an Allied foothold in Europe and soon the 366th Fighter Group moved to a base on French soil.
The group then followed Allied ground advances, periodically moving to new bases in freshly conquered territory, to remain close to the action. In December 1944, the group participated in the Battle of the Bulge attacking German forces and flying armed reconnaissance missions.
After Victory in Europe Day in May 1945, the group remained in Germany as part of the occupation forces, staying at three different bases until its inactivation on August 20, 1946. During its fourteen months of fighting in the European Theater, the 366th Fighter Group earned confirmed kills on 78 enemy aircraft. Today's 366th Wing flag carries the six campaign streamers and the distinguished unit citation earned by the 366th Fighter Group in World War II. The officially approved wing emblem worn today reflects these honors as well. It displays a small escutcheon, a small inner shield that contains six crosses.
366th Fighter Bomber Wing (1953-1958)
After World War II, the "366th" designation remained inactive until January 1, 1953, when the Air Force activated the 366th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Alexandria AFB, Louisiana. At first, the new wing operated the F-51 Mustang, the same aircraft that had served so well in World War II as the "P-51." Soon, however, the wing entered the jet age, converting to the F-86 Sabre before the end of 1953. In September 1954, the wing began deploying squadrons of Sabres to Europe, operating for six-month stretches in France and Italy. As it did so, the wing also began converting to the F-84F Thunderstreak. In 1957, the wing also added the F-100 Super Sabre to its inventory while continuing to operate the F-84.
366th Tactical Fighter Wing (1958-1972)
On 1 July 1958, as part of an Air Force-wide renaming of units, Air Force redesignated the 366th Fighter-Bomber Wing as the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. Shortly thereafter, however, a general drawdown in U.S. forces prompted the wing's second inactivation, which occurred April 1, 1959. But the intensification of the Cold War in the early 1960s brought the 366th TFW back to life at Chaumont AB, France, in April 1962. This marked the first peacetime activation of a wing at an overseas location. Throughout its time in France, the wing flew the F-84F, deploying regularly to Libya for gunnery training.
The wing returned to the United States in July 1963 and its new home at Holloman AFB, New Mexico as a result of French president Charles DeGaulle's deep suspicion of "supranational organizations" and his country's shift away from the NATO orbit in the early 1960s that ultimately led to the closure of American air bases in France. At Holloman, the wing began converting to the new F-4C Phantom II in February 1965. Later that year, the wing sent its first squadron to the Republic of Vietnam. The 390th Fighter Squadron was assigned to Da Nang AB, Republic of Vietnam, and the 391st went to Cam Ranh Bay AB in early 1966. By March, the rest of the wing entered the conflict and moved to Phan Rang AB, Republic of Vietnam.
The 366th TFW moved to Da Nang AB, Republic of Vietnam and regained the 390th FS in October 1966. While at Da Nang, pilots noted they were missing opportunities to shoot down enemy MiGs because the F-4C lacked a cannon and its missiles were ineffective at short ranges. So wing maintainers mounted an external 20-millimeter Gatling gun pod on the F-4Cs, and in less than a month the wing's pilots had scored four MiG kills. The gun pod innovation and the MiG kills that followed earned the wing the nickname it carries today, the "Gunfighters." During this period, the wing earned a Presidential Unit Citation for shooting down 11 enemy aircraft in a three-month period.
By May 1968, the wing had upgraded to the F-4D aircraft, and then in 1969, two squadrons of F-4Es joined the wing. After this, the F-4Ds assumed forward air control duties, while the more advanced F-4Es concentrated on aircraft escort duties and conducted ground attack missions. By November 1971, the 366th was the only United States tactical fighter wing still stationed in Vietnam.
Between 1966 and 1972, the Gunfighters logged 18 confirmed MiG kills in Vietnam. Upon the wing's returned to the United States in October 1972, Captain Lance P. Sijan, a 366th pilot shot down in 1967, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a prisoner of war.
366th Tactical Fighter Wing At Mountain Home AFB (1972-1991)
Before the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing's arrival at Mountain Home, the 389th, 390th, and 391st Tactical Fighter Squadrons had returned from Vietnam, joined the 347th, and began converting to F-111F aircraft. For the first time since it left for Vietnam, the wing once again had its three original flying units.
Operations continued unchanged for several years. The wing tested its readiness in August 1976 when a border incident in Korea prompted the United States to augment its military contingent in South Korea as a show of force. The 366th deployed a squadron of 20 F-111 fighters. They reached Korea only 31 hours after receiving launch notification. Tensions eased shortly afterward and the detachment returned home.
Later, the Air Force sent the F-111F aircraft from Mountain Home to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England, in a move to modernize its European forces. In return, the 366th received F-111A aircraft from Nellis AFB, Nevada.
In March 1980, the Air Force announced plans to base EF-111A Raven electronic combat aircraft at Mountain Home. The Raven variant was specifically design to blind enemy radars with powerful electronic signals. The 366th gradually sent part of its F-111A fleet to the Grumman Aerospace Corporation where they underwent extensive modification and were converted to the EF-111A configuration. In support of these changes, on July 1, 1981, Air Force activated the 388th Electronic Combat Squadron to receive the newly modified Ravens. However, a year later, Air Force redesignated 390th Tactical Fighter Squadron as the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron, which replaced the 388th and began serving as the wing's only EF-111A squadron.
Operations throughout the early 1980s remained stable with the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing training F-111A and EF-111A aircrews while maintaining combat readiness in both aircraft. The aging F-111A fleet was retired in the early '90s, which prompted the inactivation of the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron in June 1990 and of the 389th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron in June 1991.
But as the F-111As were being retired, the wing's Ravens saw extensive service. In December 1989, the 366th deployed its EF-111As in support of Operation Just Cause in Panama. The 390th Electronic Combat Squadron contributed a small force of EF-111A aircraft to jam enemy radars during the brief invasion.
Likewise, in August 1990, most of the 390th ECS deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. The wing also deployed people to many different locations in the Middle East as forces were built up to defend against Iraqi aggression. The largest of the wing's contingents was the 390th ECS at King Fahad AB near Taif, Saudi Arabia. Here, the wing's EF-111A aircraft served with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional) which flew the F-111F.
In January 1991 coalition forces began Operation Desert Storm, initiating offensive operations against Iraqi forces. The deployed 390th flew electronic jamming missions during the six-week war, protecting coalition aircraft from Iraqi air defenses and contributing to the Allies' overwhelming control of the air. The deployed Ravens and most of the deployed Gunfighters returned to Mountain Home AFB in late March 1991.
The 366th Wing At Mountain Home AFB (1991-2002)
In early 1991, the Air Force announced that the 366th would become the Air Force's premier "air intervention" composite wing. The wing would grow from a single-squadron of EF-111As to a dynamic, five squadron wing with the ability to deploy rapidly and deliver integrated combat airpower. This resulted from General Merrill A. McPeak, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) and his belief that creating standing composite wings, wherein one commander would control all types of aircraft to defeat an enemy, would streamline and shorten tactical planning. General McPeak expressed that a composite wing would make "smaller mistakes because it works and trains together in peacetime...it knows the playbook...in other words, it can exploit the inherent flexibility of airpower."
The air intervention composite wing's rapid transition from concept to reality began in October of 1991 when redesignated as the 366th Wing. The wing's newly reactivated "fighter squadrons" became part of the composite wing in March 1992. The 389th Fighter began flying the dual-role F-16C Fighting Falcon, while the 391st Fighter Squadron was equipped with the new F-15E Strike Eagle. These two squadrons provide Gunfighters round-the-clock precision strike capability.
In June 1992, as part of Air Force restructuring, Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command merged to form Air Combat Command. A month later, the 366th also gained the 34th Bomb Squadron. Located at Castle AFB, California, the 34th flew the B-52G Stratofortress, giving the composite wing deep interdiction bombing capabilities as the only B-52 unit armed with the deadly, long-range HAVE NAP missile.
Next, in September 1992, Air Force redesignated the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron as the 390th Fighter Squadron, which began flying the Air Force's premier air superiority aircraft, the F-15C Eagle. With its internal 20-millimeter cannon and air-to-air missiles, the F-15C protects the wing's high-value assets from enemy air threats. At the same time, Air Force activated the 429th Electronic Combat Squadron, which assumed control of the wing's EF-111A aircraft as they prepared to transfer to Canon AFB, New Mexico.
During this buildup, however, the wing's Ravens remained busy flying combat missions over Iraq, both from Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Calm, and from Incirlik AB, Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort. In June 1993, however, the wing transferred its remaining EF-111As and the 429th ECS to Cannon AFB, ending Mountain Home's long association with the various models of the F-111 aircraft.
Not long afterwards, in October 1992, the composite wing gained its final flying squadron when the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron was activated and equipped with the KC-135R Stratotankers. These tankers give the wing its ability to deploy globally at a moment's notice.
In another change, on April 1, 1994, the 34th Bomb Squadron transferred its flag to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. At the same time the squadron's B-52Gs were retired, making way for the squadron to be equipped with the technologically advanced B-1B Lancer. Next, a gradual transfer of the B-1s from Ellsworth to Mountain Home began in August 1996. The squadron completed a move to Mountain Home on April 1, 1997, when its flag was officially transferred to the Gunfighter home base.
Also in 1996, the wing gained yet another operational squadron. On June 21st, the 726th Air Control Squadron was reassigned from Shaw AFB, South Carolina, to Mountain Home. The new squadron brought mobile radar surveillance, and command and control capabilities to the composite wing.
In late October 1996, the wing's senior leadership also announced a new name for the 366th Wing. Henceforth, it would be known as the "Air Expeditionary Wing" while deployed in keeping with an Air Force decision to stand up a "battle lab" at Mountain Home to refine the new concept. The wing would soon begin working out the most efficient procedures for moving an airpower expeditionary force to pre-selected locations around the world. The Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab (AEFB) activated by paper only on 1 April 1997, stood up at MHAFB on 22 Oct 1997.
While all these changes in the wing's composition were going on, the Gunfighters met numerous operational challenges. They have supported numerous deployments in the United States and around the world from the time of composite wing implementation. Only the highlights of this hectic pace are described here.
Twice, in 1993 and again in 1995, the wing served as the lead unit for Bright Star, a large combined exercise held in Egypt. In July 1995, the wing also verified its combat capability in the largest operational readiness inspection in Air Force history. The Gunfighters deployed a composite strike force to Cold Lake, Canada, and proved they could deliver effective composite airpower. Then in 1996, the wing deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort.
The 366th has also deployed twice to Shaikh Isa AB, Bahrain, to support Operation Southern Watch in 1997 and 1998. These Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployments showed that the 366th Wing could employ and sustain its composite force while conducting the mission. Gunfighters returned on a second rotation relieving the unit who had replaced them after the wing's first visit to Bahrain. This historical first set the pace and made way for operational advancements. The 366th Wing then helped develop the way the Air Force will fly and fight in the next century through its participation as the lead AEF unit during Expeditionary Force Experiment 98. This CSAF experiment combined actual flights and combat simulations to create realistic warfighting environments. It aimed to rapidly mature initiatives that integrated air and space competency while applying decisive air and space power, thus dramatically improving command and control.
The 14 Sep 1998 announcement by CSAF Michael Ryan that the whole Air Force will reorganize into an 'Expeditionary Aerospace Force' came as no to surprise to Gunfighters. Consequently, the 366th Wing ('Air Expeditionary Wing' (AEW), when deployed) is and has been leading the way as the model from which other wings will be built.
In early 1999, the wing's three fighter squadrons flew combat missions over southern Iraq, with the 391st dropping more bombs than any other unit since the end of Desert Storm. From April-June 1999, the 22 ARS supported Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against Serbia. During this period, the squadron refueled 600 aircraft and off-loaded over 7 million pounds of fuel. The 726th Air Control Squadron also supported Kosovo operations from May-July 1999. They were the first American unit to deploy to Romania in 53 years.
In September 1999, the Gunfighters participated in JEFX 99, the latest in a series of exercises focused on testing emerging command and control technologies for deployed air expeditionary forces. Immediately following JEFX 99, the wing hosted Red Flag 00-1.1, the first red flag exercise in history not conducted at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Flown completely at night, the exercise combined traditional composite strike aircraft packages with low-observable F-117s and B-2s in a simulated interdiction campaign.
Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 and the resultant initiation of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the 366th Wing once again got the call. While the 34th Bomb Squadron deployed to Diego Garcia as the B-1 component of the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing, the wing sent a Base Operations Support package to Al Udeid AB, Qatar to transform the bare base into a fully operational airfield for large-scale combat operations. In October 2001, the 391st FS deployed to the Arabian Peninsula, while the 389th FS went to Al Udeid in November. Meanwhile, the 22 ARS, 390th FS, and 726th ACS supported Operation Noble Eagle protecting the skies of the Northwestern United States. In January 2007, the 391st FS deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan as the first F-15E Strike Eagle unit to patrol the skies over that country during Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the air campaign against Afghanistan that began on 7 October 2001, the 366th Wing's deployed crews flew nearly 1,000 sorties and dropped a total of 7.6 million pounds of bombs against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets--the most out of any unit participating in the operation.
366th Fighter Wing
Following the wing's return from Southwest Asia, consolidation of the Air Force's KC-135 and B-1 force led to the reallocation of the wing's bombers and tankers. While the 22d ARS' aircraft transferred to McConnell AFB, Kansas in May 2002, the 34th BS' B-1s went to Ellsworth AFB South Dakota in June. As a result, the 22d ARS inactivated on 30 August 2002, while the 34th transferred to Ellsworth on 18 September.
On 30 September, the 366th Wing redesignated to the 366th Fighter Wing in conjunction with a significant change to its organizational structure. Under an Air Force-wide restructuring plan, the 366th Logistics Group redesignated as the 366th Maintenance Group and the 366th Support Group as the 366th Mission Support Group. Now, maintainers formerly assigned to their respective flying squadrons since the objective wing reorganization in 1992, belonged to the newly-activated 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron under the maintenance group. Also within the maintenance group, the 366th Logistics Support Squadron redesignated as the 366th Maintenance Operations Squadron and the 366th Component Repair Squadron as the 366th Component Maintenance Squadron.
On the support side, the 366th Supply Squadron redesignated as the 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron on 18 July 2002, merging both the supply and transportation missions. On the same day, the 366th Transportation Squadron inactivated. Finally, the 366th Contracting Squadron moved from the 366th Logistics Group to the 366th Mission Support Group on 30 September. With these changes, the wing's 10-year mission as the Air Force's premiere air expeditionary wing came to an end, but did not affect its ability to meet any challenge the United States Air Force might face as it moves toward its vision of Global Engagement in the 21st Century.
In May 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure commission outlined recommendations to consolidate the 366th Fighter Wing from a multi-frame fighter base to a single frame of F-15E Strike Eagles. The move was part of the Air Force's efforts to consolidate its fighter fleets as a smarter way of doing business and to save money. In November 2006, the 389th FS F-16CJs began to depart to McEntire Air National Guard Base, S.C., and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., while new F-15Es arrived from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. The F-16CJs completely departed in March 2007, leaving the base with two F-15E Strike Eagle fighter squadrons and one F-15C Eagle fighter squadron. The 390th FS F-15C Eagles will begin departing the base in 2009.