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Beale AFB History

Beale Air Force Base was named for Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a man who experimented with camels as replacements for Army mules and who was one of California’s largest landholders.

Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was born Feb. 4, 1822, in the District of Columbia. His father, George, a paymaster in the Navy, had won a congressional Medal for Valor in the War of 1812. His mother, Emily, was the daughter of Commodore Thomas Truxtun. Ned was a student at Georgetown College when, at the solicitation of his widowed mother, President Andrew Jackson appointed him to the Naval School. Beale graduated in 1842.

After a promotion to acting sailing master, he sailed for California in October 1845 on the frigate Congress under Commodore Robert F. Stockton’s command; however, 20 days later Stockton sent Beale back to Washington with important dispatches. After a long and roundabout voyage, he reached Washington in March 1846.

Hostilities with Mexico had already begun when the vessel arrived at Monterrey, Mexico, on July 20. After reaching San Diego, Stockton dispatched Beale to serve with the land forces. He and a small body of men under Lt. Archibald H. Gillespie joined Gen. Stephen W. Kearney’s column just before the disastrous battle of San Pasqual (Dec. 6, 1846). After the Mexican army surrounded the small American force and threatened to destroy it, Beale and two other men (his Delaware Indian servant and Kit Carson) crept through the Mexican lines and made their way to San Diego for reinforcements. Their actions saved Kearney’s soldiers. Two months later (Feb. 9, 1847), with Beale still suffering from the effects of his adventure, Stockton again sent him east with dispatches. Beale reached Washington around June 1. In October he appeared as a defense witness for John C. Fremont at the “Pathfinder’s” court-martial.

During the next two years, Beale made six more journeys across the country. On the second of these (July through September 1848), he crossed Mexico in disguise to bring the federal government proof of California’s gold. After his fourth journey he married Pennsylvania Rep. Samuel Edwards’ daughter Mary on June 27, 1849. Although he was promoted to lieutenant Aug. 3, 1850, Beale resigned from the Navy in May 1851.

He returned to California as a manager for W.H. Aspinwall and Stockton, who had acquired large properties in America’s newest territory. On March 3, 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Beale superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada. Congress appropriated $250,000 to improve native conditions in Beale’s district. With a party of 13 others, he left Washington for California on May 6, 1853. Beale crossed southern Colorado and southern Utah assessing the feasibility of the route for a transcontinental railroad. He reached Los Angeles on Aug. 22. He retained his position as superintendent until 1856. California Gov. John Bigler also appointed Beale brigadier general in the state militia to give him additional authority to negotiate peace treaties between the Native Americans and the U.S. Army.

In 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Beale to survey a wagon road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, to the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and California. The survey also incorporated an experiment first proposed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis four years earlier. To satisfy part of his transportation needs, Beale used 25 camels, imported from Tunis, as pack animals during this expedition and on another in 1858 to 1859. He felt the camels performed well. But they scared horses and mules, so the Army declined to continue the experiment.

After Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, the president appointed Beale surveyor general of California and Nevada. Beale asked Lincoln for a Union Army command, but the president convinced him he could better serve the country by remaining as surveyor general and helping to keep California in the Union.

After the Civil War, Beale retired to Rancho Tejon, part of 270,000 acres he had acquired near present-day Bakersfield, California. In 1870 he bought the Decatur House in Washington, D.C. After that he divided his time between his two homes. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Beale as minister to Austria-Hungary, a post he held for a year. Grant also suggested Beale as Navy secretary during President Chester A. Arthur’s administration, but Arthur preferred someone else. Beale died at Decatur House on April 22, 1893.

Beale Air Force Base

Beale Air Force Base

Named for the California pioneer, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Camp Beale opened in October 1942 as a training site for the 13th Armored Division and later the 81st and 96th Infantry divisions. During World War II Camp Beale’s 86,000 acres were home for more than 60,000 soldiers, a prisoner-of-warencampment and a 1,000-bed hospital. In 1948, the camp transferred from the Army to the Air Force. The Air Force conducted bombardier and navigator training at Beale and in 1951 activated the Beale Bombing and Gunnery Range for aviation engineer training. The base has been under several commands, including: Air Training Command, Continental Air Command, Aviation Engineer Force, the Strategic Air Command, and since June 1, 1992, Air Combat Command.

In May 1959, Col. Paul K. Carlton assumed command of the newly activated 4126th Strategic Wing. The first two KC-135s arrived two months later July 7, 1959. On Jan. 18, 1960, the 31st Bombardment Squadron arrived with its B-52s to become part of the wing.

The 14th Air Division moved to Beale from Travis Air Force Base one week later on Jan. 25, 1960. On Feb. 1, 1963, SAC redesignated the 4126th as the 456th Strategic Aerospace Wing. On Sept. 30, 1975, the 456th Bombardment Wing inactivated and the 17th Bombardment Wing activated in its place. On Sept. 30, 1976, the 17th inactivated and the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, became the 100th Air Refueling Wing and moved to Beale.

Many of the people and the tankers that had been part of the 17th now became members of the 100th. The 17th Wing’s B-52s moved to other bases. The 100th ARW stayed at Beale until March 15, 1983, when the Air Force inactivated the wing and consolidated its refueling mission and assets into the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

From 1959 until 1965, Beale was the support base for three Titan I missile sites near Lincoln, Chico and the Sutter Buttes. On July 1, 1979, the 7th Missile Warning Squadron brought the Phased Array Warning System Radar site to Beale. This 10-story structure can detect possible attack by sea-launched ballistic missiles or track a global satellite.

On Oct. 15, 1964, the Department of Defense announced that Beale would be home to the new supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird. The parent organization for the SR-71, the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, was activated Jan. 1, 1965. The new wing received its first aircraft, a T-38 Talon, on July 8, 1965. The first SR-71 arrived Jan. 7, 1966.

On June 25, 1966, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, which began as the 9th Observation Group in 1922, replaced the 4200th. The first U-2 arrived from Davis-Monthan on July 12, 1976. Beale Air Force Base would be home for two of the world’s most special aircraft until Jan. 26, 1990, when the Air Force decided to retire the SR-71.

On Sept. 1, 1991, the 14th Air Division inactivated and the Second Air Force, with a lineage stretching to World War II, was activated at Beale. Less than two years later, the Second Air Force was inactivated at Beale on July 1, 1993. In July 1994, the 350th Air Refueling Squadron transferred from Beale to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, taking the last of the KC-135Q tankers with them. Tankers did return in 1998, when the 940th Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, transferred to Beale; however, the KC-135 mission at Beale would end in 2008 with the transfer of KC-135s to other locations.

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing added the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron on Nov. 8, 2001, as the parent unit for the high-altitude, unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft. The first Global Hawk arrived Oct. 28, 2004. In Aug. 2011, the 489th Reconnaissance Squadron was actuated as the Formal Training Unit for the MC-12W “Project Liberty” program. On May 1, 2012, a second squadron, the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron, was actuated to conduct mission qualification training for MC-12W air crews destined for Southwest Asia. Today Beale Air Force Base is home for four aircraft, the U-2 and RQ-4 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft; the T-38 jet trainer; and the MC-12W tactical reconnaissance aircraft.

Visitors enter the base through a main gate that local merchants, individuals and the Beale Military Liaison Committee donated $100,000 to construct. The base, covering nearly 23,000 acres, is home for approximately 4,100 military personnel. Beale Air Force Base has a unique name and mission, a historic past and a promising future.

9th Reconnaissance Wing

Beale AFB 9th Recon Wing

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s lineage and honors history extends to the activation of the 9th Observation Group at Mitchell Field, New York, on Aug. 1, 1922, as headquarters for the 1st Observation (the oldest Air Force squadron) and the 5th Observation squadrons. The 99th Observation Squadron joined the group Nov. 9, 1928.

In March 1916, the 1st Aero Squadron, with Capt. Benjamin D. Foulois as commander, supported Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing’s punitive expeditions into Mexico. Pancho Villa had raided Columbus, New Mexico, and Pershing pursued and hoped to capture him. On March 16, 1916, Capt. T.F. Dodd, with Foulois as observer, flew the first American aerial reconnaissance mission in combat. (The wavy line in the middle of the wing’s emblem represents the Rio Grande and the 1st Aero Squadron’s operations in 1916.) Both the 1st and the 99th Aero squadrons flew in World War I. From Sept. 12 to Sept. 15, 1918, they joined the great air armada of 1,481 airplanes in a massive air offensive in the St. Mihiel sector of France. The squadrons also participated in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne combat operations. (The four black crosses on the wing’s emblem commemorate these air battles.)

Between the wars, the 9th Observation and later Bombardment (1935) Group was stationed at Mitchell Field, New York, until it moved to Panama in 1940 to serve as part of the air defense forces for the Panama Canal. Equipped with B-10s and B-18s from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, the 9th Bombardment Group would fly B-17s, B-24s and B-26s after its return to the United States in 1942 to serve as a bombardment training and testing unit until early 1944, when the 9th Bombardment Group was converted to a heavy bombardment group and equipped with B-29s.

From Feb. 9, 1945, to Sept. 2, 1945, the 9th Bombardment Group fought in the Pacific Theater as part of the 20th Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign against Japan. During this time, the 9th Bombardment Group flew 75 missions; delivered 11,376 tons of bombs and mines; shot down 26 enemy aircraft and probably destroyed 11 others; lost 27 men killed and 96 missing in action (12 of whom were captured); and lost 19 B-29s, 14 in combat.

For two of its missions, the 9th Bombardment Group received the Distinguished Unit Citation (later renamed Presidential Unit Citation). On April 15 to April 16, 1945, 33 9th Group B-29s flew 1,500 miles, low level, to avoid detection, over water and at night, to attack heavily defended Kawasaki, Japan. Enemy anti-aircraft guns and flak boats destroyed four of the group’s 33 bombers and damaged six others. But the attack demolished Kawasaki’s strategic industrial district. The unit won another Distinguished Unit Citation the following month for mining the Shimonoseki Straits and the waters around Honshu and Kyushu, blocking Inland Sea traffic and isolating important Japanese ports.

After its activation in 1949 at Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base, California, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing’s 1st, 5th and 99th Strategic Reconnaissance squadrons flew B-29s, RB-29s and a few B-36s on visual, photographic, electronic and weather reconnaissance missions. The 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was redesignated a bombardment wing April 1, 1950, as part of a Strategic Air Command reorganization and was equipped with B-29s.

In 1953, the wing moved from Travis Air Force Base to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and beginning in 1954, started to replace their B-29s with B-47s. The wing’s B-47s were an integral part of the Strategic Air Command’s nuclear deterrent force until 1966. In November 1955, the wing demonstrated SAC’s ability to strike anywhere in the world by flying nonstop from Mountain Home Air Force Base to New Zealand, a distance of 8,300 miles.

The 9th returned to its roots June 25, 1966, when the Air Force redesignated the wing the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and transferred it to Beale Air Force Base. The wing would fly the new SR-71 Blackbird, a supersonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Flying above 80,000 feet at more than 2,000 mph, the SR-71 could survey more than 100,000 square 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 attempt 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 July 1, 1976, the U-2 joined the SR-71 in the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, giving the unit two of the most special aircraft in the world. The Dragon Lady 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 “quick look” and depart at high speeds. The Dragon Lady could spend more time “on station” and furnish a “long look” 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 Jan. 1, 1990. Although it made a brief revival in the mid-’90s, today the aircraft is again retired.

The U-2, meanwhile, continued to prove its worth. In 1990-1991 the wing deployed the largest TDY contingent of U-2s seen to that day to Saudi Arabia to support Operation Desert Shield and Desert 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-altituderecord and in 1999, won the Collier Trophy, aviation’s most coveted award.

From 2001-2003, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing joined the war on terrorism in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. From March 19 to April 14, 2003, the U-2 was involved in flights over Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. During that time 15 U-2s, the largest contingent of U-2s deployed since Desert Storm, and 31 pilots deployed resulting in 169 sorties and more than 1,400 flying hours. The U-2 conducted time-critical targeting and battle damage assessment. In addition, the Dragon Lady aided in the pickup of a downed Navy F-14 crew March 23 and in the rescue of seven prisoners of war April 13.

On Nov. 8, 2001, the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron joined the 9th RW at Beale as a parent unit for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high altitude, unmanned reconnaissance vehicle. Once again Beale was home for two of the world’s most unusual aircraft. The squadron’s Global Hawk unmanned high-altitudereconnaissance vehicle complemented the U-2’s capability and greatly enhanced the 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s ability to provide vital information to our nation’s decision-makers.

Today, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing continues to play a vital role in our nation’s defense. Both the U-2 and RQ-4 furnish national and military leaders critical information needed to make 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, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, there is probably a 9th Reconnaissance Wing U-2 or RQ-4 Global Hawk flying an operational mission somewhere in the world. In addition, the MC-12W Project Liberty provides tactical ISR to our nation’s warfighter. It is currently the most requested ISR platform by combatant commanders and flies more combat support ISR missions than all other ISR assets combined.


Beale AFB Squadrons


For more than a century, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron has gathered information to protect America. In 1913, Gen. Victoriano Huerta’s revolutionary forces threatened our southwestern borders. The Army unofficially organized the 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) in Texas City, Texas, on March 5, 1913, in preparation for a possible confrontation with Huerta’s forces.

Three years later, Mexican renegade Pancho Villa staged several raids into the United States. As part of Gen. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, the 1st Aero Squadron (officially organized in December 1913) became the first tactical aviation unit to participate in an American military action.

Under the command of Capt. Benjamin D. Foulois, the 1st took eight Curtiss JN-3s into the field. On March 16, 1916, they made their first reconnaissance flight into Mexico, and March 19, the entire unit moved across the border. The squadron operated in Mexico until February 1917. But problems beset this first tactical use of aircraft, most noticeably the poor quality of these air machines.

The Curtiss Jennys could not climb over the 10,000- to 12,000-foot mountains that surrounded the area. Also, high winds and dust storms frequently grounded the Jennys. But the unit did its best with the fragile machines. They carried mail, flew limited reconnaissance, moved dispatches and kept Pershing in contact with his forward troops.

When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917, the 1st Aero Squadron was still at Columbus, New Mexico. The Army ordered the unit to New York to accompany the 1st Division to France. Ground transportation problems, however, caused the 1st to arrive too late to sail with the division.

The squadron eventually arrived in New York in August 1917 and sailed for France on the SS Lapland. The 1st arrived at Le Havre Sept. 3, 1917, and, though late, it was the first American squadron in France. From October 1917 until the armistice, the 1st Aero Squadron saw extensive action. First, flying newer French Salmsons over the Champagne-Marne region, the unit aided the stand of U.S. Marines at Chateau-Thierry and prevented the German army from crossing the Marne River.

The squadron also fought at Aisne-Marne (July 18 to Aug. 6, 1918), St. Mihiel (Sept. 12 to Sept. 16, 1918) and Meuse-Argonne (Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918). The four Maltese crosses on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s emblem represent these battles.

Although the 1st’s primary duties were reconnaissance and artillery surveillance, occasionally its pilots had to fight. Squadron pilots scored 13 aerial victories during the war. Thirteen Maltese crosses on the 1st’s emblem commemorate these victories. But the victories came at a price. Sixteen squadron officers lost their lives and three more were missing in action.

In 1940, just before the United States became involved in World War II, the War Department sent the 1st Bombardment Squadron to Panama to strengthen defenses around the Panama Canal. After two years of anti-submarine duty, the 1st moved to the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida.

There the squadron trained other units in formation flying and precision high-altitude bombing in B-17s. In March 1944, the 1st relocated to Dalhart, Texas, and began combat training. In May 1944, the squadron moved again, to McCook, Nebraska, and received B-29s. After finishing B-29 training in December 1944, the 1st transferred to North Field, Tinian, in the Mariana Islands, as part of 20th Air Force, XXI Bomber Command.

On Feb. 9, 1945, the squadron saw its first combat of World War II when it joined a B-29 raid on the Japanese seaplane base at Moen, Truk Islands. Following these missions, the 1st flew high-altitude, precision raids on Japanese aircraft engine plants Feb. 25 and March 4, 1945.

On March 9 and 10, B-29s of the 1st were among the 334 bombers Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay dispatched on low-level, incendiary attacks, which devastated a 15-square-mile area of Tokyo. Later, the squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation for a successful attack on Kawasaki, despite heavy flak and fighter opposition.

In May 1945, the 1st won another Distinguished Unit Citation for mining the Shimonoseki Strait and bottling up Japanese forces in the Inland Sea, preventing their joining defenders on Okinawa during the Allied assault.

After the birth of the Air Force in 1947, the unit joined Strategic Air Command as the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Photographic. In May 1949, the squadron moved to Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base (now Travis Air Force Base), California, and joined the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

In April 1950, the Air Force redesignated the unit the 1st Bombardment Squadron and, equipped with B-29s, was assigned the primary mission of strategic bombardment. In May 1953, the 1st transferred with the 9th Bombardment Wing to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

For the next 13 years, the 1st remained at the front of America’s nuclear deterrent force, transitioning from B-29s to the B-47 in 1954, and would continue to operate the B-47 until 1966. The squadron would set a record for a nonstop flight flying B-47s from Idaho to New Zealand in 1955 and would deploy to several overseas locations to include England, Alaska, Okinawa and Guam between 1955 and 1958.

But even as the 1st flew the B-47, Lockheed Aircraft Corp. was developing a new plane, cloaked in secrecy. This plane, publicly announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the SR-71, joined the Air Force inventory in 1966. The 1st and the newly redesignated 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing moved to Beale Air Force Base, California, on June 25, 1966, to fly the SR-71.

This new and advanced aircraft gave the Strategic Air Command a reconnaissance capability far greater than any then available in terms of speed, altitude and increased area coverage. The SR-71 could fly at more than three times the speed of sound and operate at altitudes above 80,000 feet.

During the Vietnam Era, the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron gathered photographic and electronic intelligence products on North Vietnam. Photos taken from SR-71 missions flown over North Vietnam were used in planning the unsuccessful attempt to rescue American prisoners of war from Son Tay prisoner-of-war camp.

Because of budgetary reasons, the Air Force retired the SR-71 on Jan. 1, 1990, and the unit became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Training), harkening back to its roots as a training unit at San Diego and Orlando.

Today, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron is the formal training unit for the U-2 and the RQ-4. The squadron recruits and trains all the U-2 and the RQ-4 pilots that fly high-altitude reconnaissance flights around the world. For more than a century, the 1st Squadron has led the way. The 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) was with Pershing on his Punitive Expedition in 1916, the first tactical aviation unit to participate in a military action.

In 1917, the 1st Aero Squadron was the first U.S. squadron in France. During World War II the 1st Bombardment Squadron won two Distinguished Unit citations for operations in the Pacific. SR-71s from the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron set speed records in 1974 that still stand. Today the Air Force’s oldest squadron continues to play a vital role in America’s defense.


The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron has a long and colorful history. Organized at Kelly Field, Texas, on Aug. 21, 1917, the 99th Aero Squadron moved to Garden City, New Jersey, in early November and sailed for France on Nov. 14. After training in the Sopwith and the Salmson, the squadron began flying combat missions in June 1918.

Assigned to the 33rd French Corps, the 99th flew reconnaissance missions and directed artillery fire in support of the U.S. Army’s 5th Division during the St. Mihiel offensive from Sept. 12 to 16. The 99th Aero Squadron then aided the Allies in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

The four black crosses on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing’s emblem represent 1st and 99th squadrons’ participation at St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne-Marne and Aisne-Marne. The 99th Aero Squadron remained in France until May 8, 1919, and then moved to Mitchel Field, New York. The redesignated 99th Observation Squadron joined the 9th Observation Group on Nov. 9, 1928.

The 99th Observations Squadron was redesignated a bombardment squadron effective March 1, 1935, and flew B-10s (1936 to 1938) and B-18 medium bombers until 1942. In November 1940, as hostilities increased in Europe and German U-boats threatened worldwide shipping, the Army transferred the 9th Bombardment Group to Rio Hato, Panama Canal Zone, and later to Surinam to protect U.S. interests. The squadron moved to Florida in October 1942, and trained other bombardment units on formation flying and high-altitude precision bombing in B-17s. In 1944, the 99th moved to Dalhart Army Air Field, Texas, and then on to McCook Army Air Field, Nebraska, where it trained for its own combat deployment.

After six months training in the new B-29, the 99th deployed to North Field, Tinian, in the Marianas, just east of the Philippines. Arriving at Tinian on Dec. 28, 1944, the 99th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy) flew its first bombing raids Jan. 27, 29 and 31, 1945, against Japanese installations in the northern Marianas.

On Feb. 25, the 99th joined an Allied effort against Tokyo’s port and industrial areas. For the remaining months of the war, squadron B-29s repeatedly struck Japanese aircraft factories, chemical plants, naval bases and airdromes. During these months, the 99th won two Distinguished Unit citations.

The first came for April 15 and 16, 1945, bombing raids on Kawasaki, Japan’s industrial center, which furnished components for Tokyo and Yokohama’s heavy industry. The squadron won the second award in mine-laying operations a month later in the Shimonoseki Straits, which controlled access to the Inland Seas. This operation crippled Japan’s efforts to ship food, raw materials, war supplies, troops and combat equipment to and from the homeland.

Following World War II, the National Security Act of 1947 created the Air Force as a separate branch of the armed forces. The Air Force established the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Fairfield-Suisun (later Travis) Air Force Base, California, on April 25, 1949, and activated it May 1 as a Strategic Air Command unit.

The Air Force also activated and redesignated the 9th Group as the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Group, which included the 1st, 5th and 99th Strategic Reconnaissance squadrons. The squadrons flew B-29s, RB-29s and a few RB-36s.

On April 1, 1950, the Air Force redesignated the wing as the 9th Bombardment Wing and the 99th as a bombardment squadron. The 99th continued to fly B-29s at Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base until May 1, 1953, when SAC transferred the wing and its squadrons to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

By June 1955, the 99th Bombardment Squadron had replaced its B-29s with new B-47s. In November 1955, the 99th and other wing squadrons demonstrated the Strategic Air Command’s ability to strike anywhere in the world. Squadron B-47s flew 8,300 miles nonstop from Mountain Home Air Force Base to New Zealand.

The 99th would continue to fly nuclear deterrent missions for the next 10 years. In November 1965, SAC agreed to transfer Mountain Home Air Force Base to Tactical Air Command. The 99th’s B-47s were transferred to other units and by Feb. 1, 1966, all squadron aircraft were gone.

But the squadron was not destined to disappear. As the squadron phased out at Mountain Home Air Force Base, plans of a new mission were already afoot. In January 1966, the first SR-71 had landed at Beale Air Force Base, California. This new aircraft gave SAC a reconnaissance capability that far exceeded anything else available in terms of speed, altitude and coverage.

The SR-71 flew at more than three times the speed of sound (Mach 3-plus) at altitudes above 80,000 feet. It carried the most advanced observation equipment in the world. The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing activated at Beale on Jan. 1, 1965, as the SR-71’s parent unit. In October 1965, 15th Air Force suggested the Air Force redesignate the 9th Bombardment Wing as the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing to continue the wing’s proud history. The Air Force agreed and on June 25, 1966, the wing became the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and the 99th a strategic reconnaissance squadron.

By March 1967, the SR-71 was mission-ready. The aircraft quickly deployed to Okinawa and began flying operational missions over Southeast Asia. Squadron pilots and reconnaissance systems operators gathered photographic and electronic data for U.S. commanders in Vietnam from 1967 until April 1, 1971, when the 99th inactivated.

On Nov. 1, 1972, the 99th activated as a 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing unit at U-Tapao Air Base, Thailand. The squadron flew U-2s, DC-130s and CH-3s on classified missions over Southeast Asia until June 30, 1976. When the U-2 joined the SR-71 under the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale, the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron returned home.

The U-2, although slower than the SR-71, cost less to operate and provided much more “on-station” time. As intelligence collection increased throughout the 1980s, 99th U-2 pilots manned detachments at sites around the world.

With the SR-71’s retirement in 1990, the U-2 assumed responsibility for all of America’s manned, high-altitude reconnaissance. During Operation Desert Shield, 99th Squadron pilots immediately moved to Saudi Arabia and flew their first missions Aug. 19, 1990, just 17 days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Throughout Desert Shield and Desert Storm, squadron pilots provided vital reconnaissance that kept coalition commanders informed on the positions and movement of Iraqi troops. This information made air attacks more effective and helped reduce casualties in the ground war.

Beginning in 2001, the 99th became involved in the war on terrorism in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. From March 19 to April 14, 2003, 15 U-2s and 31 pilots flew 169 sorties and more than 1,400 flying hours over Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Today, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron pilots, male and female, spend nearly half their time on temporary assignment around the world. They fly daily operational missions many locations around the world. Pilots of the 99th are America’s “eyes and ears around the world.”


Born in World War I, the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron has proven itself in every major conflict since that time, including the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 12th Aero Squadron organized June 2, 1917, in San Antonio, Texas. During World War I, the 12th Aero Squadron received orders in October 1917 for France. The unit landed in England on Christmas Day and immediately shipped to France.

Initially, mechanics and pilots spent their time training on French aircraft. By late April, the squadron received its own quota of 12 French-built AR-2s. With new aircraft came orders for the front. Reaching Ourches in the Toul Sector on May 3, the 12th began combat operations a week later.

Working closely with the French VI Army Corps and the American I Army Corps, the squadron helped artillery commanders zero in on targets, improved liaisons between infantry units, surveilled and photographed enemy positions, dropped propaganda leaflets and protected Allied forces. In the following months, the 12th Aero Squadron won several campaign streamers, including Aisne-Marne, Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel, the four campaigns represented by the four black crosses on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing emblem.

After the November 1918 armistice, the 12th Aero Squadron remained in Germany and France with the Army of Occupation. From Dec. 30, 1918, until April 1919, the unit helped with reconstruction at Fort Alexander, Coblenz, Germany.

The 12th returned to France on April 16 and sailed from Brest aboard the U.S. Navy-operated Liberator on June 3, disembarking in New York on June 17. The squadron spent the interwar years practicing in joint maneuvers and developing new tactics at various locations around the country, most often in and around San Antonio.

On March 20, 1942, the 12th Observation Squadron (Medium) arrived at Esler Field, Louisiana, and nine days later joined the 67th Observation (later Tactical Reconnaissance) Group. At Esler, the squadron trained in A-20s and P-51s preparing for overseas duty.

On May 31, 1943, the unit designation changed to the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron (Fighter) and in July it reorganized with its A-20s, gunners, liaison pilots and most observers moving to the 153rd Liaison Squadron. Throughout 1943, the squadron participated in maneuvers, improved its mobility by practicing changing airfields on short notice, and flew some combat operations with the Royal Air Force.

The 12th dropped the (Fighter) from its designation in November and on Jan. 4, 1944, it and its parent 67th Group moved to the IX Air Support (later Tactical Air) Command. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, and for the rest of the month, the squadron flew over and directly behind the front lines gathering reconnaissance information and directing artillery fire.

On June 7, Lts. William D. Lacey and Jacob I. Piatt scored the squadron’s first aerial victories. While flying over Laval, France, they attacked three FW-190s circling to land and each destroyed one plane. Flying around the clock, the 12th completed 250 missions in June.

The squadron moved to Le Molay, the first of five airstrips in France, on July 5, to support the U.S. First Army and the breakthrough at St. Lo. A week later, after the breakthrough, the 12th switched to supporting Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army and its drive across France.

Flying more than 200 missions in July, the 12th kept Patton apprised of enemy troop movements and concentrations and supply lines. The 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron compiled an impressive record in World War II. Squadron pilots flew 2,732 missions, destroyed 26 enemy aircraft, probably destroyed three others and damaged another 10. The squadron lost nine of its planes to enemy action.

After the war, the 12th remained in Europe, assigned to the 10th Reconnaissance Group at Furth, Germany, as part of the occupation air forces. On Feb. 15, 1946, the squadron transferred without personnel and equipment to Bolling Field, Washington, District of Columbia. The squadron inactivated March 31, 1946, only to activate again July 9, as the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron (Photographic) at March Field, California.

After a year of flying photo missions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies, the squadron moved from the 363rd Reconnaissance Group to the 67th Reconnaissance Group on July 24, 1947.

For the next two years, the 12th — redesignated the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Photographic) on June 14, 1948 — participated in various exercises and maneuvers. The 12th inactivated again March 29, 1949.

Eight months after the Korean War began, the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Night Photographic) activated at Komaki Air Base, Japan, on Feb. 25, 1951, as part of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. Flying RB-26s, the unit moved to Taegu Air Base, Republic of Korea, on March 15 and on to Kimpo Air Base, near Seoul, on Aug. 21.

The squadron provided photographic and visual coverage of enemy activities at night. In the first half of 1953, squadron pilots flew 1,117 photographic and visual missions and sighted 88,795 enemy vehicles. The last month of combat, July 1953, the 12th flew 334 missions, including several daylight runs.

The squadron moved to Itami Air Base, Japan, on Nov. 8, 1954, and continued flying night reconnaissance missions over the Korean Peninsula. On Aug. 14, 1956, the 12th transferred to Yokota Air Base, in anticipation of receiving new RB-66s. The first new aircraft arrived in December and training flights began in January. In January 1960, crews ferried their airplanes to the United States and March 8 the 12th inactivated again.

As the United States became more involved in Vietnam, the Tactical Air Command activated the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Photographic) at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on July 1, 1966. The squadron began flying McDonnell RF-4C Phantoms, its primary aircraft for the next 26years.

In its nearly five years in Vietnam, the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flew more than 26,000 combat sorties for more than 53,000 hours, more than it had flown in World War II and the Korean War combined.

The 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron moved from Tan Son Nut Air Base to Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, on Aug. 20, 1971, and rejoined the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. With the buildup for Operation Desert Storm, 35 squadron members and 11 RF-4s deployed to Shaikh-Isa Air Base, Bahrain, on Jan. 10, 1991.

The 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Deployed), under Lt. Col. Jim Mills, joined the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing (Deployed). Squadron pilots flew over Iraq and Kuwait focusing on Republican Guard positions in preparation for the upcoming ground war. In approximately six weeks, the unit flew more than 500 combat sorties, producing more than 125,000 prints.

The 12th completed this remarkable task without accident or loss. After returning to Bergstrom Air Force Base, the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron inactivated again Aug. 28, 1992. The unit activated once more Nov. 8, 2001, here at Beale as the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, the parent squadron for the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle capable of remaining on station up to 24 hours. Although the RQ-4 was still in operational testing status in 2001, United States Central Command concurrently activated the 12th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron in November and deployed the Global Hawk to a classified location for combat operations.

The new aircraft quickly demonstrated its ability to pursue time-sensitive targets during Operation Enduring Freedom. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, a few months later, the Global Hawk’s performance was even more revolutionary as pilots remained at Beale while flying aircraft over Iraqi targets. Since 1917, the 12th Squadron has flown more than 40 aircraft, in more than 25 major campaigns, operated from more than 60 bases and received more than 20 unit citations. Recently assigned to the 69th Reconnaissance Group at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, the 12th is truly one of the most distinguished units in the Air Force.


The 489th Reconnaissance Squadron derived its early heritage from the original 77th Aero Squadron, which later became the 77th Aero Construction Squadron, and Feb. 1, 1918, was redesignated the 489th Aero Construction Squadron. Arriving in France in early 1918, the 489th would spend the rest of World War I building facilities in France for the American Expeditionary Force. The 489th Aero Construction Squadron would return to the United States in February 1919 and would be demobilized at Camp Lee, Virginia, in March 1919.

From 1925 until May 1942, the 489th would serve as an Air Corps reserve squadron stationed at Boeing Field, Washington.

However, in mid-1942 the 489th came to life as the 489th Bombardment Squadron, equipped with the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. Assigned to the Third Air Force, the squadron trained at both Columbia Army Air Base and Walterboro Army Air Field, South Carolina. Declared combat-ready in early 1943, the 489th air echelon departed the U.S. in March 1943 and flying through the Caribbean, Brazil, Liberia, Central Africa and Sudan, finally arrived in Egypt where it was assigned to the IX Bomber Command. On April 19, 1943, the 489th BS flew its first operational mission against an enemy landing ground in Tunisia and completed the mission without loss. From April 1943 to August 1943, handicapped by difficult living conditions and poor weather, the 489th would support the British Eighth Army in Tunisia and Allied forces in Sicily by attacking airfields, railroads, bridges, supply depots and troop concentrations. For these actions, the 489th as part of the 340th Bombardment Group received the Distinguished Unit Citation. Assigned to the 12th Air Force in August 1943, the 489th would participate in the establishment of the Salerno beachhead in September 1943, the drive for Rome during January to June 1944, the invasion of southern France in August 1944, and attacks on the Brenner Pass and other German lines of communication in northern Italy from September 1944 to April 1945. Again, as part of a 340th Bomb Group mission, the 489th received a second DUC for the destruction of a cruiser in the heavily defended harbor of La Spezia on Sept. 23, 1944, before the ship could be used by the enemy to block the harbor’s entrance. During World War II the 489th would serve 29 months overseas, operated from 12 airfields in Egypt, Tunisia, Sicily, Corsica and Italy, and would fly more than 500 combat missions. The 489th Bombardment Squadron received credit for nine different campaigns: Tunisia, Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, North Apennines, Po Valley, and Air Combat, EAME Theater. The 489th would return to the United States, Columbia Army Air Base, South Carolina, where it would be inactivated in November 1945.

The squadron was activated in 1958 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and would fly B-47s as part of Strategic Air Command. This activation was of short duration as the B-47 phase out was accelerated in 1961 and the 489th Bombardment Squadron, once again, went on the inactive list Jan. 1, 1962.

After over fifty inactive years, the squadron re-emerged on Aug. 26, 2011 as the 489th Reconnaissance Squadron establishing the operational capability of the MC-12W tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance platform until deactivation on May 1, 2015.


The 427th Reconnaissance Squadron was originally organized as the 38th Provisional Aero Squadron on June 12, 1917, until it was deactivated a year later. In 1933, it was reconstituted and consolidated with the 38th Pursuit Squadron, which was formed March 24, 1933, activated Aug. 1, 1933, designated as the 38th Observation Squadron and deactivated March 1, 1935. A little more than a year later the squadron was designated as 38th Reconnaissance Squadron and activated Sept. 1, 1936. It soon changed to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron on Dec. 6, 1939, 38th Reconnaissance Squadron on Nov. 20, 1940, and turned into the 427th Bombardment Squadron on April 22, 1942. Once more it was deactivated July 25, 1945. Three years later it was redesignated as 427th Bombardment Squadron on Aug. 20, 1958, but was discontinued and deactivated Jan. 1, 1962, until it was redesignated 50 years later as the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Pre-World War II operations included serving as a flying training unit, flying the JN-4 and DH-4 1917-1918. It also flew reconnaissance patrols and photographic missions in support of flood-relief operations in Southern California, March 2 through March 5, 1938. The 427th then saw the transition into World War II, when flying as an air echelon en route to the Philippines they arrived at Hickam Field, territory of Hawaii, during the ongoing Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941. In response to the attack they flew patrol and search missions in mid-Pacific under direction of the Hawaiian air force from Dec. 9, 1941, until the echelon’s identity was eventually lost through absorption by other units (circa February 1942). Training activities of this new air echelon were interspersed with emergency antisubmarine patrols off the California coast, circa May through June 1942. Moving from the Pacific to the German front, the 427th arrived in England in September 1942, departed for Casablanca, French Morocco, in late May 1945, and bombed targets in France, Belgium and Germany as part of the strategic bombing campaign of occupied Europe. After deactivation post World War II, the 427th came back shortly from December 1958 to December 1961, changing from its World War II B-17 airframe to the newer B-47 and conducting training and exercises to prepare for long-range bombardment operations with atomic or conventional weapons.

After the 1961 deactivation, the 427th was dormant until reactivation as a tactical reconnaissance squadron May 1, 2012. It operated the MC-12W tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance platform and was inactivated on Nov. 20, 2015.

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