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Brief History 9th Reconnaissance Wing

Courtesy of Dr. Coy Cox, 9RW Historian

Although the 9th Reconnaissance Wing activated at Fairfield-Suisun (present-day Travis) AFB, California, on 1 May 1949, the wing inherited the 9th Bombardment Groupís lineage and honors. The 9th Observation Group stood-up at Mitchel Field, New York, on 1 August 1922 as headquarters for the 1st and 5th Squadrons. The 99th Squadron joined the group on 9 November 1928. The 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional), todayís 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, is the oldest Air Force squadron, activating on 5 March 1913.

In March 1916 the 1st Aero Squadron, with Captain Benjamin D. Foulois as commander, supported General ìBlack Jackî Pershingís punitive expeditions into Mexico. Pancho Villa had raided Columbus, New Mexico, and Pershing pursued and hoped to capture him. On 16 March 1916 Captain T.F. Dodd, with Captain Foulois as observer, flew the first American aerial reconnaissance mission in combat. (The wavy line in the middle of the wingís emblem represents the Rio Grande River and the 1st Aero Squadronís operations in 1916).

Both the 1st and the 99th Aero Squadrons flew in World War I. Between 12 and 15 September 1918, they joined the great air armada of 1,481 airplanes in a massive air offensive in the St. Mihiel sector of France. The squadron participated in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne combat operations. (The four black cross on the wingís emblem commemorate these air battles). In World War II the 9th Bombardment Group fought in the Pacific Theater. On 15-16 April 1945, thirty-three 9th Group B-29s flew 1,500 miles, low-level to avoid detection, over water, at night, to attack heavily-defended Kawasaki, Japan. Enemy searchlight, anti-aircraft guns, and flak boats destroyed four of the groupís thirty-three bombers and damaged six others. But the attack demolished Kawasakiís strategic industrial district. The group earned a Distinguished Unit Emblem (DUE) for its actions. The unit won another DUE the following month for mining the Shimonoseki Straits and the waters around Honshu and Kyushu blocking Inland Sea traffic and isolating important Japanese ports.

In 1953 the 9th Bombardment Wing moved from Fairfield-Suisun AFB to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. The wingís B-47s were an integral part of the Strategic Air Commandís (SAC) nuclear deterrent force until 1966. In November 1955 the wing displayed SACís ability to strike anywhere in the world by flying nonstop from Mountain Home AFB to New Zealand, a distance of 8,300 miles. The 9th returned to its roots on 25 June 1966 when the Air Force redesignated the wing the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and transferred it to Beale AFB. The wing would fly the new SR-71 ìBlackbird,î a supersonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.Flying above 80,000 feet at more than 2,000 mph, the SR-71 could survey over 100,000 squares miles in an hour. The airplane quickly became operational and began flying missions throughout Southeast Asia. Rescuers used SR-71 photos to plan the raid on Son Tay prison to free American prisoners-of-war. After the Vietnam War, the SR-71 established a level-flight-at-altitude record at 85,131 feet and a straight-course speed record of 2,194 mph. On 1 July 1976 the U-2 joined the SR-71 in the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing giving the unit two of the most unique aircraft in the world. The ìDragon Ladyî had gained national and international recognition with flights over the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Southeast Asia. The U-2 was the perfect complement to the SR-71. The Blackbird could penetrate highly-defended areas, take a ìquick look,î and depart at high speeds. The Dragon Lady could spend more time ìon-stationî and furnish a ìlong lookî at the desired target. The U-2 was also much less expensive to fly.In 1989 the Air Force decided the SR-71 was too expensive to operate and retired the Blackbird on 1 January 1990. Although it made a brief revival in the mid-90s, today the aircraft is again retired.

The U-2, meanwhile, had continued to prove its worth.In 1990-91 the wing deployed the most U-2s ever to Saudi Arabia to support Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The Dragon Lady tracked Iraqi troop and armor buildups, assessed bomb damage, and monitored a massive oil spill in the Persian Gulf. U-2 pilots alerted ground stations of Scud missile launches and guided fighter aircraft to destroy Scud launchers. After the Gulf War, the U-2 stayed in Saudi Arabia to monitor Iraqi compliance with the peace agreement.In 1998 the Dragon Lady set a weight-to-altitude record and in 1999 won the Collier Trophy, aviationís most coveted award.

Today the 9th Reconnaissance Wing continues to play a vital role in our nationís defense. The U-2 furnishes the National Command Authorities critical information on which to base important decisions.To do this, the wing operates permanent detachments and temporary operating locations at critical sites around the world. At any given moment, day or night, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, there is probably a U-2 flying an operational mission somewhere in the world

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