The history of the 49th Wing is one of distinction. Organized as the 49th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) in 1940, the unit was among the first to deploy from the United States to the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Redesignated the 49th Fighter Group, the unit played an important role in halting Japanese advances in the Southwest Pacific. During four years of World War II combat, the group was successful in providing air defense from Australia to the Philippines.
By war's end, the group's pilots destroyed 678 enemy aircraft, a record surpassing that of any other fighter group in the Pacific Theater. The group's World War II activities merited two Philippines Republic Presidential Unit Citations, three U.S. Distinguished Unit Citations, and 10 battle honors. Among the unit's 43 aces were Lt. Colonel Boyd D. "Buzz" Wagner, the first World War II ace in the Pacific Theater, and Major Richard I. Bong, whose 40 kills made him America's number one ace, a record that still stands. The 49th soon became endeared to the American people through the nickname, "Fightin' 49ers," coined by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
On Aug. 19, 1948, the 49th Fighter Wing activated at Misawa Air Base, Japan. At Misawa, the 49th conducted training exercises with P-51 and F-80 aircraft as a part of the occupational forces in Japan. Redesignated the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing on Feb. 1, 1950, the 49th began operations in Korea in June 1950. The wing was among the first jet fighter units to operate in the Korean War. The unit participated in every major air campaign while supporting the United Nations' forces with air interdiction and close air support missions. One of the most decorated Air Force units in the Korean conflict, the 49th earned two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit citations and another eight battle honors. Such accomplishments earned the wing a niche in United States Air Force history.
In 1957, the 49th completed 15 years of continuous service in Asia, moving from Misawa Air Base, Japan, to Etain-Rouvres Air Base, France. There, under the control of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), the 49th replaced the inactivated 388th Fighter-Bomber Wing. During its time in France, the wing converted from the F-86 to the F-100D. In August 1959, the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing began a nine-year stay at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. The 49th transitioned to the F-105D in 1961 and the F-4D in 1967.
On July 1, 1968, the 49th arrived at Holloman Air Force Base, becoming the first dual-based tactical fighter wing. Under the dual-basing concept, the 49th, stationed at Holloman, deployed individual squadrons periodically to Europe, fulfilling their North Atlantic Treaty Organization commitment.
In 1969, the wing participated in its first dual-basing exercise, Crested Cap I, deploying 2,000 personnel and 72 aircraft to NATO bases in Europe. Also in 1969, the 49th earned the coveted MacKay Trophy for the "most meritorious flight of the year," for the redeployment from Germany to Holloman after Crested Cap II. The MacKay Trophy recognized the 49th for the fastest non-stop deployment of jet aircraft accomplished by a wing's entire fleet.
In May 1972, the 49th deployed their F-4 aircraft and 2,600 personnel to Takhli Air Base, Thailand. During this deployment, Operation Constant Guard, the 49th flew more than 21,000 combat hours over just about every battle zone from An Loc to vital installations in the Hanoi vicinity. During five months of combat, the wing did not lose any aircraft or personnel -- a testament to the outstanding training and proficiency of all members of the 49th. The unit officially closed out its Southwest Asia duty Oct. 6, 1972, receiving an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device for its participation.
On Dec. 20, 1977, the wing began converting from the F-4 to the F-15. The transition was completed June 4, 1978.
History was made during February 1980, when two pilots from the 49th each flew their F-15s 6,200 miles in just over 14 hours, establishing a record for the longest flight of a single-seat fighter aircraft. The flights required six aerial refuelings, proving the global power of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing.
In July 1980, the wing acquired the commitment of a primary Rapid Deployment Force unit. This tasking, which lasted for a year, required the wing to be ready to deploy its aircraft, crews and support personnel on short notice. The wing served with the Rapid Deployment Force until July 1981, when the tasking was transferred to the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Va.
The 49th demonstrated its capabilities in the fall of 1988, winning top honors at the William Tell air-to-air weapons competition. The wing outdistanced the nearest competitor by more than 2,000 points. The 49th won a variety of awards, including the coveted "Top Gun" for best fighter pilot.
In 1992, the 49th underwent a number of transitions. The last F-15 departed Holloman June 5, 1992, ending 14 years of Eagle operations. On May 9, 1992, four F-117 stealth fighters from Tonopah Test Range, Nev., arrived at Holloman. Also, F-4s returned to Holloman, as part of the 9th Fighter Squadron, in May 1992.
The 48th Rescue Squadron served at Holloman from May 1, 1993 to Feb. 1, 1999. With its six HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the personnel of the 48th deployed six times in support of Operations Northern and Southern Watch. Additionally, during its six years of service, the 48th saved 33 lives in real-world rescues in the American Southwest.
The 8th and 9th Fighter Squadrons deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, from Feb. 21 to July 1, 1999, in support of Operation Allied Force. Flying more than 1,000 total sorties, pilots flew into heavily defended skies, littered with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire. In particular, F-117A pilots, bravely trusting in their aircraft's low observable technology, struck some of the most valuable and highly guarded targets in Serbia. The F-117s successfully penetrated the heavily defended areas, which conventional aircraft could not reach.
People, airplanes and equipment of the 49th Fighter Wing played a key role in the continued global war against terrorism and particularly in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The wing's F-117s played a major role, dropping the first bombs against an Iraqi leadership target in Baghdad on March 19, 2003. In all, F-117 pilots flew more than 80 missions and dropped nearly 100 enhanced guided bomb units against key targets. Approximately 300 people deployed with the air package and provided direct support to the F-117 mission. Additionally, hundreds of other 49ers, such as explosive ordinance disposal teams of the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron, served on the frontline of the war in Iraq, providing freedom for the people of Iraq and security for the people of the world.
The 49th continued to demonstrate its versatility when on Sept. 3, 2005 the wing answered a humanitarian call from the gulf coast area of the United States. Responding to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the wing deployed 59 Airmen from the 49th Materiel Maintenance Group as part of Joint Task Force Katrina. Holloman's Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources Base team sent 120 short tons of cargo and built a tent city and housekeeping facilities for workers providing Hurricane Katrina relief operations.
In 2006, the Air Force announced that Holloman would cease to be the home of the F-117A Nighthawk, coinciding with the announcement that the aircraft was set to be retired from service by 2008. Shortly thereafter, it was announced Holloman was one of the preferred bases to receive the F-22A Raptor.
In the meantime, preparation for the F-117A retirement and the arrival of the F-22 ensued and the base partook in a well-known sideline project. It came about in May 2006, when the 49th Fighter Wing commander, Air Force Public Affairs and Department of Defense representatives announced the filming of the motion picture film, "Transformers," at Holloman. The 49th Fighter Wing's F-117s were pictured prominently in the movie, both as static backgrounds and as taxiing aircraft. The aircraft's big motion picture debut came in June 2007 when the film was released in theaters worldwide. Members of the 49th FW were treated to a special pre-release screen where director, Michael Bay, presented Holloman with an "Oscar" for the base's role.
The next year brought major changes to the 49th Fighter Wing. On June 2, 2008, the first two F-22's were flown to Holloman, marking the day as an important date in the wing's history. The 5th generation fighter aircraft was officially welcomed during a Total Force Integration Announcement Ceremony, June 6, 2008, attended by then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. T. Michael Moseley.
The ceremony served a dual purpose: to welcome the new airframe and to announce that the Air Force Reserve's 301st Fighter Squadron from Luke AFB, Ariz., would come to Holloman to form a classic association with the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadrons. The Total Force Integration between active-duty and reserve Airmen would later be official with the stand up of the 44th Fighter Group, 44th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 301st Fighter Squadron on April 9, 2010.
An Air Force announcement in July 2009 brought another vital mission to the wing. Holloman was selected as a new location for an additional Remotely Piloted Aircraft Formal Training Unit, allowing the base to once again move to the forefront of unmanned aerial vehicle technology as it had in the past. The 49th Fighter Wing FTU would become the Air Force's second MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper Formal Training Unit. On Oct. 26, 2009, three RPA squadrons officially stood up under the 49th Fighter Wing -- the 29th Attack Squadron, 6th Reconnaissance Squadron and 16th Training Squadron -- along with the 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, charged with maintaining Holloman's RPAs.
In early 2010, the 49th Fighter Wing again exemplified its ability to respond in a moment's notice when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the country of Haiti, leaving thousands dead and many more homeless. Units from across the base were tasked to prepare personnel and assets to deploy in the relief effort, later known as Operation United Response. The 49th Materiel Maintenance Group, 49th Civil Engineer Squadron and 49th Logistics Readiness Squadron worked around-the-clock to prepare potable water and equipment to send to the country.
Additionally, the 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron was asked to provide two RQ-1 aircraft and a team of crew chiefs and avionics personnel to support the ongoing relief effort. Because it was primarily an RPA training squadron, this was the first time the 849th was tasked with a real-world mission. The contingent from Holloman teamed up with members from the 432nd Maintenance Group at Creech AFB, Nev., to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the troops on the ground assisting the Haitians.
Even amongst ongoing Haiti relief operations, the 49th FW continued to support the war efforts down range. On Feb. 26, 2010, the 49th Materiel Maintenance Group began the movement of approximately 150 truckloads of assets, which were used to directly support joint and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Holloman's BEAR Base supplied 480,000 square feet of AM-2 matting that was used to expand the expeditionary aircraft operations throughout Afghanistan. The AM-2 matting provided was the equivalent of eight football fields and was valued at more than $15 million.
Logisticians and engineers with the 49th also provided expeditionary base facilities and equipment to establish three 550-person encampments, valued at $10 million, for joint service forces in the area of responsibility.
Also in February 2010, the 49th Fighter Wing was the host unit of Red Flag 10-3, an advanced aerial combat exercise where air crews from the U.S. and other allied nations trained in realistic aerial war scenarios at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
With the 49th Fighter Wing now supporting multiple unique missions, it was announced in early 2010 that the wing's name would change to the 49th Wing to more accurately portray the diverse wing. The designation from a fighter wing to a wing became official June 25, 2010, during a change of command ceremony where Col. David "Kooler" Krumm became the first 49th Wing commander.
Today, the 49th Wing continues to serve at the forefront of military operations by utilizing the F-22 Stealth Fighter; providing highly-trained MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots and sensor operators; and providing mission-ready equipment for global power -- "anytime, anyplace" -- with the U.S. Air Force's only Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources Base.