History of the 20th Fighter Wing

Tiger EmblemToday’s 20th Fighter Wing can trace its lineage to 28 July 1947, when the 20th Fighter Wing, began at Shaw Field, South Carolina, as a Ninth Air Force unit. Components of the new fighter wing included the 20th Maintenance and Supply Group, the 20th Airdrome Group, and the 20th Station Medical Group (later Tactical Hospital). At the same time, the 20th Fighter Group with the 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Bomber Squadrons and P-51 Mustangs formed the combat element of the 20th Fighter Wing. The group exchanged its P-51’s in February 1948 for F-84B (later D) Thunderjets.

On 24 August 1948, a reorganization of the 20th Maintenance and Supply Group featured the activation of the 20th Supply Squadron, Fighter, Jet (later simplified to 20th Supply Squadron) and the 20th Maintenance Squadron, Fighter, Jet (renamed 20th Maintenance Squadron in 1950, 20th Field Maintenance Squadron in 1954, and 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron in 1981).

Two days later, on 26 August 1948, the wing’s 20th Airdrome Group was discontinued and its security police (now the 20th Security Police Squadron), installations, food service and air base elements became realigned under the 20th Air Base Group. The creation of the new group fostered the activation of the 20th Finance Disbursing Unit (today’s 20th Comptroller Squadron), the 20th Motor Vehicle Squadron (predecessor of the 20th Transportation Squadron), the 20th Installations Squadron (redesignated 20th Civil Engineering Squadron fourteen years later), the 20th Food Service Squadron (antecedent of the 20th Services Squadron), and the 20th Communications Squadron (no relation to the communications organizations serving the wing today).

20th Becomes Fighter Bomber Wing

Control over the wing changed hands on 1 February 1949 with its assignment to Fourteenth Air Force. Eleven months later, on 20 January 1950, the wing was redesignated as the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing. Similar redesignations altered the titles of the 20th Group and its three flying squadrons.

F-84G Thunderjet AirplaneSubordinancy to Fourteenth Air Force was short-lived, and on 1 August 1950 the wing was reassigned directly under Tactical Air Command. Ninth Air Force resumed control over the 20th on 22 January 1951. Control was swapped back to Tactical Air Command on 1 December 1951, just after the wing’s relocation from Shaw to Langley AFB, Virginia. At Langley, the wing began flying new Republic F-84Gs in addition to F-84Ds. An internal change during the wing’s short stay at Shaw Field featured the 3 November 1949 inactivation of the 20th Finance Disbursing Unit.

Move to Wethersfield — May 1952

The 20th Fighter Bomber Wing made its second move, this time overseas to RAF Wethersfield in Essex, England, on 31 May 1952. Its fighter bomber group set up headquarters, along with the 55th and 77th Squadrons, at Wethersfield a day later. Restricted space there compelled the 79th Squadron to move into RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, England the squadron moved to RAF Woodbridge, three miles southeast of Bentwaters, on 1 October 1954. On 5 June, Tactical Air Command relinquished control over the wing to Third Air Force and the United States Air Forces in Europe.

On 15 November 1952, the wing and group merged unofficially placing the flying squadrons directly under the wing’s operational and administrative control. The group remained on the Air Force’s active list however, until 8 February 1955 when the three fighter-bomber squadrons were officially realigned under the wing.

Wing Bestowed With Group’s Heritage

The Department of the Air Force temporarily bestowed the lineage and honors of the 20th Group on the 20th Wing in November 1954. That action was accomplished to facilitate the Air Force’s adoption of a wing-base plan, making the wing the primary combat element of operational organizations. Consequent to the action of temporary bestowal, the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing laid claim to the lineage, honors, and history of the 20th Fighter Group. That bestowal has remained in effect ever since.

In June 1955, the wing started flying F-84F Thunderstreaks in addition to its F-84Ds and F-84Gs. The F-84G was phased out by June 1955 and the F-84F remained in the inventory until December 1957.

The F-100 Arrives

Prior to the departure of the F-84 fleet, the 20th began conversion to North American F-1OOD and F-1OOF Super Sabres on 16 June 1957. Meanwhile, on 26 January 1956, the wing underwent a major internal reorganization with the inactivation of the 20th Maintenance and Supply Group and the realignment of the 20th Field Maintenance and 20th Supply Squadrons under the air base group which was then redesignated the 20th Support Group. At the same time, the 20th Installations Squadron & 20th Food Service Squadron were also inactivated (they reemerged as the 20th Civil Engineering Squadron and 20th Services Squadron on 16 January 1962 and 1 February 1982, respectively), the 20th Air Base Squadron was activated, and the 20th Communications Squadron was redesignated as the 20th Operations Squadron (this squadron remained with the wing until its inactivation on 1 July 1958).

Wheelus Operation Begins

The 20th Fighter Bomber Wing established an operational detachment at Wheelus AB, Libya in February 1958. On 8 February 1958, the 20th Field Maintenance Squadron was realigned again, this time directly under the wing. Three months later, the wing took on the designation of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 55th, 77th and 79th Squadrons were also re-labeled as tactical fighter squadrons at that time. Two additional maintenance squadrons were added to the wing with the activation of the 20th Armament and Electronic Maintenance Squadron (renamed 20th Avionics Maintenance Squadron in 1981) and the 20th Periodic Maintenance Squadron (which became the 20th Organizational Maintenance Squadron in 1964 and the 20th Aircraft Generation Squadron in 1981). The flying squadrons dispersed on a monthly rotational basis to RAF Alconbury, RAF Woodbridge, and Nouasseur AB, Morrocco, due to a RAF Wethersfield runway closure from May to August, 1958.

The 20th Stands Alert

The wing first established its Blast Off (later named Victor Alert) capability in July, 1958. The first mobility plan was initiated on 1 January 1959. A year-round weapons training detachment was established at Wheelus AB, Libya, for monthly squadron rotations. Pilot survival and ski training began in Norway in February, 1959. The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing represented USAFE in the William Tell exercise held at Nellis AFB, Nevada in October, 1960.

The first NATO Tiger meet was sponsored by the 79th Tactical Fighter Tiger Squadron at RAF Woodbridge in June, 1961 (established by Captains Michael T Dugan and Merril A McPeak, each of whom went on to become Air Force Chief of Staff).

Maintenance Structural Reorganization — The First of Many

Intermediate command over the 20th changed hands between 3rd Air Force and 16th Air Force from 1 July 1961 to 1 September 1963. In the meantime, internal changes again altered the structure of the wing. January 16th marked the activation of the 20th Civil Engineering Squadron, a unit which had been dormant for six years. On 15 June 1962, the 20th Support Group was redesignated as the 20th Combat Support Group and the 20th Supply Squadron was realigned under the wing and its newly appointed office of Deputy Commander for Materiel (DCM). On the same day, the 20th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron came into being, along with the inactivation of the 20th Field Maintenance, Periodic Maintenance, and Armament and Electronic Maintenance Squadrons, and the consolidation of their assets under the new squadron. The CAMS Squadron fell under the DCM. Direction and control over the wing’s three flying squadrons went to another newly formed office — Deputy Commander for Operations (DCO) — on the same day.

Maintenance consolidation lasted only two years, and on 8 July 1964, the wing dissolved the Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Two months earlier, on 14 May 1964, the 20th Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadron and the 20th Field Maintenance Squadron re-emerged and the wing activated the 20th Organizational Maintenance Squadron (formerly Periodic). On 8 July 1964, two new maintenance squadrons joined the wing organization — the 320th Munitions Maintenance Squadron and the 20th Flight line Maintenance Squadron. The latter was stationed at RAF Woodbridge with the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron for less than two years. It was inactivated on 15 December 1965, when the 79th TFS absorbed its personnel and equipment.

The complexion of the 20th’s maintenance community changed again on 1 January 1966 with the inactivation of the 20th Organizational Maintenance Squadron. The wing parceled out the personnel and equipment of that squadron to maintenance components of the 55th and 77th Tactical Fighter Squadrons.

Rotations to Turkey Begin

Monthly rotations to Cigli AB, Turkey were conducted from July 1966 to June 1970 and to Aviano AB, Italy from December 1966 to June 1970. Political closures of US bases in France forced opening of RAF Greenham Common under 20th TFW management to handle personnel overflow in January 1967.

On 1 July 1967, the administrative sections of the wing and combat support group merged to form the 20th Base Headquarters Squadron. Though it never achieved formal squadron status by definition, that organization retained its unofficial designation until its demise on 1 June 1989 when it was functionally replaced by the 20th Mission Support Squadron. A final, though minor, organizational revision during the decade of the 60s featured the redesignation of the 20th Armament and Electronics Squadron as the 20th Avionics Maintenance Squadron on 1 January 1969.

Wheelus Closes

A military coup in Libya forced the closure of Wheelus AB in September 1969 and initiation of 20th TFW weapons training detachment operations at Torrejon AB, Spain in November, 1969.

Detachment 1, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing was established at RAF Upper Heyford on 10 December 1969.

All three flying squadrons rotated to Zaragoza, Spain for weapons training from January to March 1970.

Relocation to Upper Heyford — F-111 Era Begins

Headquarters, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated from RAF Wethersfield to RAF Upper Heyford on 1 June 1970. For the first time since it left Virginia in 1952, all three of its flying squadrons were united on one base. Less than three months later, the wing began converting to a new aircraft — the General Dynamics F-111E Aardvark (unofficially). On 12 September 1970, the first two F-111Es arrived at RAF Upper Heyford. The last of the 20th’s F-100s transferred to the Air National Guard on 12 February 1971 and in November of that year the wing’s F-111s were declared operationally ready.

Reorganization of the wing’s maintenance community continued and on 1 February 1972, the 20th Organizational Maintenance Squadron was activated for a second time, shifting maintenance personnel and equipment back out of the flying squadrons. Eight months later, on 1 September 1972, the 320th Munitions Maintenance Squadron was redesignated as the 20th Munitions Maintenance Squadron.

The 20th TFW participated in F-111 NATO and US unilateral operations Shabaz, Display Determination, Cold Fire, Ocean Safari, Datex, Priory, Reforger, Dawn Patrol, Highwood, Hammer, and others from January 1972 to October 1993.

In March 1973, the 20th TFW became one of only two wings in the Air Force to participate in the tri-deputy wing organization system. The Deputy Commander for Materiel organization split apart to form the Deputy Commander for Logistics (renamed Deputy Commander for Resources in 1974 and Deputy Commander for Resource Management in 1975) and the Deputy Commander for Maintenance organizations. Under this test the Organizational, Field, Avionics, and Munitions Maintenance Squadrons became prime components of the Deputy Commander for Maintenance organization. The procurement and comptroller offices, along with the 20th Supply and 20th Transportation Squadrons (moved under the Combat Support Group) constituted the Deputy Commander for Logistics organization. The tri-deputy system was formally approved in the following year and the 20th Transportation Squadron was officially realigned from the Combat Support Group to the Deputy Commander for Resources on 24 July, 1974.

Operations shifted to RAF Greenham Common from May to August, 1976, due to runway repairs at Upper Heyford.

Rebirth Begins at Shaw AFB

On 15 December 1993, the flight line at RAF Upper Heyford was closed. On 1 January 1994, the 20th Fighter Wing inactivated at RAF Upper Heyford and reactivated without personnel or equipment at Shaw AFB, South Carolina (The 363rd Fighter Wing was inactivated at Shaw AFB on 31 December 1993). The 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Squadrons reactivated on the same day. Twenty-four years in England slipped quietly into history.

Stations  Aircraft
  • P-12, 1930–1935
  • P-36, 1938–1940
  • DH-4, 1931
  • P-26, 1934–1938
  • P-40, 1940–1942
  • P-51, 1944–1945; 1946–1948
  • P-84 (later, F-84), 1948–1957
  • F-100, 1957–1970
  • F-111, 1970–1993
  • EF-111, 1992
  • A/OA-10, 1994–1996
  • F-16, 1994–present
  • P-39, 1942–1943
  • P-38, 1943–1944