The U.S. Army declared Tucson’s second airfield suitable for military operations Oct. 6, 1925. The city successfully built the field in accordance with U.S. Army guidelines. Twenty days later the field’s flight log received its first entry — a small detachment serviced transient aircraft bound for California. Many pioneer aviators stopped at the field during its time, including several destined to head the country’s military flying forces. World-famous aviator Charles Lindbergh dedicated the Tucson landing field Sept. 27, 1927, for two longtime Tucsonans who died in separate aerial accidents while serving in the U.S. Army, 2nd Lts. Samuel H. Davis and Oscar Monthan.
The first building, Hangar 8030, built by the Army at D-M, was completed March 25, 1932. As a result of the expanding conflict in Europe, the War Department officially announced a decision to establish an Army Air Base in Tucson Sept. 29, 1940. However, it wasn’t until April 1, 1941, that the Army stationed units at D-M. Paving the way for troops, the Army made Lt. Col. Ames S. Albro the first base commander Feb. 4, 1941. By late May 1941, the 31st Air Base Group had begun operations. The base officially became Davis-Monthan Field on Dec. 1, 1941.
The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the field’s personnel went on 24-hour alert and D-M’s two bombardment units, the 1st Bombardment Wing and 41st Bombardment Group, shipped out for the Pacific. However, the base wasn’t idle for long.
In January 1942 jurisdiction of the field transferred from Fourth Air Force to Second Air Force. The following month the 39th Bombardment Group arrived and immediately began training B-17 Fortress and B-24 Liberator units and crews. Many bombardment units passed through D-M on their way to war. The instructors at D-M taught the men to be bomber crews. The pilots first learned high-altitude flying, then steady bomb approaches, while the navigators, radiomen and gunners all practiced their duties. When they left D-M, each member knew his job, and all worked together to accomplish their mission. In December 1944, Davis-Monthan became home to the B-29 Superfortress until V-J Day (Victory over Japan) in August 1945.
After the war there were drastic mission changes at D-M. D-M became one of three 2nd Air Force separation centers. The base helped process nearly 10,000 returning Soldiers for transition to civilian life. The field also became a storage location for excess bombers and cargo aircraft. Tucson’s dry climate and alkali soil made it an ideal location for aircraft storage and preservation, a mission that continues today.
As the Air Force came into its own, Strategic Air Command took charge of D-M in March 1946, bringing in several B-29 bomber groups. After its official creation as a separate service, the Air Force inherited the installation Jan. 13, 1948, and officially named it Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The next year a B-50 aircrew based at D-M completed the first nonstop flight around the world (taking 94 hours). In the 1950s D-M entered the “Jet Age” when the 303rd Bomb Wing received four Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars training jets in February 1953. The early 1960s brought added strategic missions in the form of Titan II missiles and U-2 reconnaissance forces. In 1964, another wing activated at the base and began training aircrews in the nation’s most sophisticated fighter, the F-4 Phantom. Another war had developed and D-M was again training aircrews to accomplish their mission and survive. The base’s U-2s also flew missions over Southeast Asia.
The 355th Tactical Fighter Wing came to D-M on July 1, 1971, flying the A-7 Corsairs. This caused the F-4 program to move to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Five years later, the 355th’s pilots converted to the A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft. By the end of the year the wing took over host unit responsibilities, reflecting the transfer of the base from Strategic Air Command to Tactical Air Command.
The 41st Electronic Combat Squadron began flying operations at D-M in 1980. A unit of the Tinker AFB-based 28th Air Division, the 41st ECS aircrews flew the specially modified EC-130H aircraft. Their mission — Compass Call — was intended to confuse or disrupt enemy command, control and communications.
After 10 years of 355th TFW leadership, the 836th Air Division activated at D-M in 1981 and assumed host base responsibilities. The next year the 602nd Tactical Air Control Wing joined both the air division and D-M families. Members of the 602nd directed forward air forces and coordinated them with ground forces for a combined team effort. They were responsible for tactical air control forces west of the Mississippi River. To accomplish their mission, 602nd air controllers and liaison officers were stationed on many Air Force bases and Army posts.
The 868th Tactical Missile Training Squadron also activated in 1981 and trained crews on ground-launched cruise missiles. Then, in 1984, the last Titan missile was taken off alert and an era ended at D-M. Six years later, as a result of the U.S.-Soviet intermediate-range nuclear forces agreement, the Air Force inactivated the 868th TMTS. D-M destroyed the last U.S. GLCM in May 1991.
Meanwhile, between December 1989 and January 1990, other D-M personnel participated in Operation Just Cause, helping to secure and defend Panama’s main airport. Later in the year D-M deployed more than 1,300 people in support of operations Desert Shield and Storm, the response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and its subsequent liberation.
In May 1992, the Air Force, in a downsizing move, inactivated the 836th Air Division and once again made the 355th, now simply designated 355th Wing, the host unit. The service also announced the 12th Air Force’s move to D-M from Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. A month later D-M became an Air Combat Command base.
In September 2002, control of the 48th, 55th and the 79th Rescue Squadrons transferred to the 355th Wing. A year later the 563rd Rescue Group was activated and took control of the rescue squadrons with the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia assuming operational command of the 563rd RQG.
With only fighter aircraft assigned, the 355th WG was redesignated the 355th Fighter Wing April 26, 2007.
Other Department of Defense agencies located at D-M are Headquarters 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, 162nd Arizona Air National Guard alert detachment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Air Force Material Command, Air Education and Training Command, and the Air Force Reserve Command.
355th Fighter Group
The legacy and heritage of the 355th Fighter Wing (FW) began Nov. 12, 1942, when it was activated as the 355th Fighter Group (FG) in Orlando Army Air Base, Florida. The 355th FG became fully operational Sept. 9, 1943, at Steeple Morden, England. By war’s end, the 355th FG logged more than 17,000 sorties in P-47s and P-51s while destroying 862.5 enemy aircraft. The 355th FG inactivated Nov. 20, 1946.
Nearly nine years later, on Aug. 18, 1955, the 355th FG reactivated at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Tennessee, operating the F-86D Sabre Jet under the Air Defense Command. For two years, the 355th FG provided fighter defense for the Atomic Energy Plant, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the ALCOA Aluminum Plant, and the Tennessee Valley Authority dams, as well as the eastern region of the United States, participating in numerous readiness exercises. The unit inactivated Jan. 8, 1958.
In April 1962, the 355th activated at George AFB, California, as the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. By November 1965 the unit had transferred to Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. Before inactivating on Dec. 10, 1970, the 355TFW amassed more than 101,300 sorties over North Vietnam, delivered 202,596 tons of bombs and destroyed 12,675 targets. Assigned pilots were also credited with 22MiG aerial victories, eight MiGs destroyed on the ground, and another nine damaged.
The 355th TFW reactivated July 1, 1971, at Davis-Monthan flying the A-7D CorsairII aircraft. In early 1975, the 355th TFW prepared for conversion to the A-10A Thunderbolt II, receiving the first four A-10As in March 1976. In the 1990s, the 355th continued to train A-10 crews for assignments to units in the United States, England and Korea. During this period, the wing deployed airborne forward air controllers (FAC) in OA-10 aircraft to Operation Desert Storm, providing nearly 100 percent of this capability to the war. In 1995, the 355th Wing began supporting Operation Southern Watch with deployments to Al Jaber AB, Kuwait, to ensure compliance of the 32rd parallel southern no-fly zone. The initial deployment in 1995 required 12 A-10s. That number, however, doubled to 24 for the 1997 deployment. In 1998 the wing deployed 16 A-10s while the final deployment in 1999 required 14 A-10s to sustain operations.
After the attacks of 9/11 and the execution of Operation Enduring Freedom, eight A-10s from the 355th Wing were deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to fly close air support missions reinforcing multinational ground forces. Other deployments to Bagram Airfield would follow in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2012. The wing also supported six-month Air Expeditionary Force deployments to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2009 and to OsanAB, Republic of Korea, in 2011.