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By war's end, the 49th Fighter Group's pilots were officially credited with destroying 678 enemy aircraft, a record that surpassed that of any other fighter group in the Southwest Pacific Theater. Over the course of Southwest Pacific campaign World War II the 49th earned two Philippines Republic Presidential Unit Citations, three Distinguished Unit Citations, and 10 other battle honors. There were 43 pilots that flew with the 49th who became aces, among them were Lt. Colonel Gerald R. Johnson with 22 aerial victories, Major James P. Hagerstrom with six aerial victories (he would later be one of only seven World War II Aces to become a jet Ace in Korea with a final total of 14 ½ victories), and Ace of Aces Major Richard I. Bong who scored 22 of his record 40 aerial victories while flying with the 49th. The 49th Fighter Group's combat exploits in the Southwest Pacific soon became well publicized earning them the nickname "Fightin' 49ers." The origins of this nickname are unclear, but it has been generally attributed to General Douglas MacArthur during the Philippines Campaign 1944-1945.
At the end of the war the 49th Fighter Group participated in the occupation of Japan operating from Kadena Airfield, Okinawa, Atsugi, and Chitose Airfield, Japan from August 1945 to March 1948. The unit moved to Misawa Airfield in late March 1948 and was briefly inactive because of the postwar drawdown and the reorganization of the Air Force as an independent service. However, this period of inactivity was very brief, lasting a little more than five months. On August 18, 1948, the newly minted 49th Fighter Wing activated at the renamed Misawa Air Base, Japan.
While at Misawa the 49th operated the P-51(later F-51) and F-80 aircraft as a part of the air defense forces in Japan. The 49th primarily trained to maintain their tactical proficiency while participating in the military occupation and air defense of Japan from 1948 to June 1950. Redesignated the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing on February 1, 1950, the 49th began operations in Korea in June 1950. The wing became one of the first jet fighter-bomber units to operate in the Korean War. The unit participated in all eight Korean campaigns supporting United Nations forces primarily through the interdiction of enemy supplies, equipment, and lines of communication. Additionally, the 49th performed low level bombing attacks on high value
strategic targets, close air support of allied ground forces, and combat air patrol until July 27, 1953. The 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing earned two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit citations for its actions between June 1950 and March 1953.
In 1957, after 15 years of continuous service in Asia, the 49th moved from Misawa Air Base, Japan, to Etain-Rouvres (later, Etain) Air Base, France. There, under the control of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), the 49th replaced the inactivated 388th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The move also brought a change in wing's aircraft, converting from the F-86 Sabre Jet to the F-100 Super Sabre. On July 8, 1958 the wing was redesignated as the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing. The following year on August 25, 1959, the 49th moved their operations to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany where the unit would remain for the next nine-years. While at Spangdahlem the 49th transitioned aircraft twice trading in their F-100s for the larger and faster F-105 Thunderchief in 1961 and then in 1967 transitioning to the twin engined F-4 Phantom II.
On July 1, 1968, the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing arrived at Holloman AFB after a record setting mass unit move that garnered the 1969 Mackay trophy for the "flawless deployment" of 72 F-4D Phantom IIs from Spangdahlem Air Base, West Germany, to Holloman AFB, New Mexico without a single abort and completing 504 successful air-to-air refuelings over the course of 5,000 mile trip. After moving to New Mexico in 1968, the unit served as Air Force's first "dual-based," NATO-committed wing, subject to immediate return to Europe if and when needed. The entire wing deployed back to Spangdahlem Air Base first from January 15 through April 4,1969 and again from September 14 through October 7, 1970 to participate in the CRESTED CAP exercises. The 49th's F-4 Phantom IIs introduced a new era of tactical fighter aircraft operations and training that would continue for the next three decades. In May 1972, the 49th deployed 72 F-4s and 2,300 personnel to Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. From May 10 to September 27, 1972 the wing participated in Operations CONSTANT GUARD and LINEBACKER, flying 4,000 sorties and accumulating more than 21,000 combat hours over South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and, North Vietnam. During the unit's five months of combat operations, the wing did not suffer any losses to personnel - a testament to the training and high level of proficiency maintained by the 49th. The 49th Tactical Fighter Wing returned from Vietnam on October 6, 1972 and resumed rotating to Europe to support NATO until September 1977.
The 49th provided Air Force fighter lead-in training from February 1974 through December 1976. In October 1977, the wing's "dual-base" commitment to NATO ended. This allowed the wing to focus on its air superiority mission, with a training emphasis on dissimilar air combat tactics and multi-theater operations. In 1977 the 49th transitioned to the Air Force's newest air superiority fighter, the F-15. It was with this aircraft that the 49th again made history, in February 1980, two pilots from the 49th flew their F-15s, 6,200 miles in just over 14 hours and established a record for the longest flight of a single-seat fighter aircraft. The flight required six aerial refuelings and demonstrated the rapid global capability of the 49thTactical Fighter Wing. The 49th again demonstrated the unit's combat prowess in the fall of 1988, winning top honors at the William Tell air-to-air weapons competition. Over the course of the competition the wing outscored its closest rival by more than 2,000 points. The 49th won a variety of awards during William Tell-1988, including the coveted "Top Gun" for best fighter pilot.
The German Air Force Tactical Training Center formally activated as a tenant unit at Holloman AFB on May 1, 1996. Since 1958 the German Air Force has been training aircrews at various bases throughout the United States before moving to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, after the closure of George AFB, California. The 49th Fighter Wing's 20th Fighter Squadron trained
German pilots and weapon system officers to operate the F-4F Phantom II (German Air Force variant). Additionally, the 20th conducted the Flight Instructor and the Fighter Weapons Instructor Course for the F-4. The German government paid all of the expenses for this program. The 20th Fighter Squadron was inactivated on December 20, 2004 as the German Air Force transitioned into the Panavia Tornado. On July 1, 1999 the German Air Force Tactical Training Center at Holloman AFB was redesignated as the German Air Force Flying Training Center (GAF FTC) which better represented their expanding training mission. In addition to training German Air Force pilots and weapon system officers to utilize first the F-4F Phantom II and then the Tornado as an effective weapon system the GAF FTC also conducted advanced combat tactical training and a Fighter Weapons Instructor Course for the Tornado. The training program, based on a memorandum of understanding between the two governments and financed by the German Federal Ministry of Defense, was unique in the way that it allowed the German Air Force to deploy and station their fighter/ground attack aircraft permanently at Holloman AFB, NM. The German Air Force ceased flight training at Holloman AFB in 2019 and moved to Sheppard AFB.
On October 1, 1991 the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing was redesignated as the 49th Fighter Wing. Then on May 9, 1992, Holloman AFB and the 49th once again attracted national and international attention with the arrival of the Air Force's most technologically advanced stealth aircraft, the F-117A Night Hawk. Seven years later, from February 21 through July 1, 1999, the 8th and 9th Fighter Squadrons deployed their F-117s and participated in Operation ALLIED FORCE, attacking some of the most valuable, and highly protected targets in Serbia. It was during Operation ALLIED FORCE that the 49th also gained the dubious distinction of being the only unit to lose a stealth fighter to enemy action. However, even this seeming disaster had profound positive effects on Air Force pilot escape and evasion survival training and how combat search and rescue operations were conducted. The people, aircraft, and equipment of the 49th Wing continued to play a key role supporting our allies in conflicts and humanitarian efforts around the globe. The wing's F-117s made the first attacks against Iraqi leadership targets and air defenses on March 19, 2003 during the opening phases of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF). The 49th flew more than 80 missions in support of OIF and deployed approximately 300 of its airmen to maintain the wing's operations in theater. Other wing units like the 49th Material Maintenance Groups BEAR (base expeditionary airfield resources) Base unit supported construction of airfields and temporary living quarters while members of the 49th Civil Engineering Squadron's explosive ordinance disposal unit assisted with route clearance and the movement and disposal of unexploded ordinance. In 2008 the Air Force retired the F-117 to recallable climate controlled storage at their original base, the Tonopah Test Range Airfield in Nevada. With that retirement the mission of the 49th Fighter Wing returned to its familiar role as an air superiority fighter unit with the arrival of the F-22A Raptor and coincidentally making the 49th Fighter Wing the only active Air Force unit to have operated two different stealth platforms.
On October 23, 2009, the 49th picked up the unique remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) training mission which trained RPA pilots, sensor operators, and maintenance technicians for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. On June 25, 2010, the 49th Fighter Wing was redesignated yet again becoming the 49th Wing. In April 2012, the 7th Fighter Squadron departed on what became the first and longest deployment of the F-22A Raptor to Southwest Asia in support of contingency operations in and around the Persian Gulf region. The squadron remained deployed for approximately 10 months finally returning to Holloman on January 22, 2013. On April 8, 2014, the 49th Wing sent the last of its F-22A Raptors to Tyndall AFB, Florida, completing a long delayed move that centralized F-22 training and consolidated the F-22 Raptor fleet maximizing available combat aircraft and squadrons for contingencies while enhancing overall operational flexibility. The following month on May 2, 2014, the 7th Fighter Squadron inactivated leaving the 9th Attack Squadron as the only historically attached 49th Wing unit. The base expanded its training to F-16s in 2014.
Today, Holloman AFB and the 49th Wing continue to serve at the forefront of military operations, with its F-16 Viper and MQ-9 Reaper training supplying the Air Forces growing need for qualified fighter pilots, RPA pilots, sensor operators, and maintenance technicians.
Point of Contact
49th Wing, Public Affairs Office; 490 1st Street, Suite 1500, Holloman AFB, NM 88330; Com'l: (575) 572-7381, DSN: 572-7381.