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Davis-Monthan History

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. 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 the end of April 1941 the 31st Air Base Group had begun operations. The base officially became Davis-Monthan Field Dec. 3, 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 shipped out for war. However, the base wasn’t idle for long.

Beginning in 1942, personnel trained and prepared bomber crews for battle in B-24 and B-29 aircraft. 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.

After the war, D-M became one of three Second 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 forces took charge of D-M, 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). 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 July 1, 1971, flying the A-7 Corsairs. This caused the F-4 program to move to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Five years later, the 355th’s pilots converted to the A10-A 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.

Other Department of Defense agencies located at D-M include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Air Force major commands: Air Force Material Command, Air Education and Training Command, and the Air Force Reserve Command.

355th Fighter Group

The 355th Fighter Group was first activated Nov. 12, 1942. Originally equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts, the group transitioned to the P-51 Mustangs in 1944, and quickly gained acclaim as the ”Steeple Morden Strafers,“ a reference to its base in England and its lethal accuracy at low level. The fighter group destroyed or damaged 1,500 enemy planes, making it the top strafing outfit in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.

In the mid-1950s, the group was assigned to Air Defense Command and based at McGhee-Tyson Airport, Tenn. Flying the F-86D Sabrejet, the group provided fighter defense for the Oak Ridge Atomic Energy Plant and the Tennessee Valley Authority dams, as well as the eastern region of the United States.

The unit, known as the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, transferred to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in 1965. During the next five years, it flew more than 101,000 sorties over North Vietnam, dropping 202,596 tons of bombs and destroying 12,675 targets. The wing's pilots were credited with 20 MiG kills, and another eight destroyed on the ground. Nicknamed ”PACAF’s Pride,” the unit received three Presidential Unit Citations and three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with combat ”V“ device. It is also noteworthy that, of the 12 Airmen awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War, two belonged to the 355th TFW: Majs. Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Leo K. Thorsness.

The 355th transferred to D-M in 1971, but continued to deploy aircraft and personnel to Southeast Asia until 1974. Initially equipped with the A-7D Corsair II, the wing transitioned into the A-10 Thunderbolt II in 1976. By the end of the decade, with the gradual phaseout of the A-7 fleet, the 355th became the Air Force's sole A-10 training wing.

As the wing entered the 1990s, it continued to train A-10 crews for assignments to units in the United States, England and Korea. The 355th Wing regularly participated in close air support exercises such as Air Warrior and weapons competitions such as Long Rifle, where it consistently captured top A-10 honors. However, the wing’s excellence wasn't limited to the cockpit. In 1990, it received the TAC Commander’s Award for top aircraft maintenance, in the A-10 category, for the third consecutive year.

The wing's training program paid off in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, when 355th-trained A-10 pilots destroyed 1,000 tanks, 2,000 vehicles, 1,200 artillery pieces and two helicopters. While the wing as a whole did not deploy to the Persian Gulf, more than 250 members augmented forces in theater and filled shortages in the United States.

The 355th Tactical Fighter Wing was re-designated the 355th Fighter Wing Oct. 1, 1991, as the lines between tactical and strategic forces blurred, and the Air Force leadership began to merge these forces under Air Combat Command. As part of this restructuring, the 355th FW on May 1, 1992, absorbed elements of the 602nd Air Control Wing, 41st Electronic Combat Squadron and most other activities currently operating at D-M.

An era came to a close, when on Sept. 30, 2002, the 42nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron inactivated. Further changes occurred Oct. 1, 2002, when the 355th FW underwent an extensive reorganization of forces. During this reorganization, new squadrons were added to the existing wing structure, while some squadrons were realigned under new group commanders. The 355th FW also inherited the 48th, 55th and 79th Rescue Squadrons equipped with HC-130 aircraft and HH-60 helicopters. Another change saw the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons fall under the operational control of the 55th Wing at Offutt AFB, Neb. On Oct. 1, 2003, the three combat search and rescue squadrons fell under the command of the 563rd Rescue Group.

The 355th, re-designated a ”fighter wing“ again April 26, 2007, since its only assigned aircraft are A-10s, currently provides air assets to commanders involved in conflicts around the globe, including Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom.

The wing deployed its 354th Fighter Squadron to Afghanistan for OEF in 2007, where its A-10 pilots flew 9,991 hours in 2,535 combat sorties. The 354th pilots expended more than 150,000 rounds of 30 mm ammunition, 315 rockets and 245 bombs with an unprecedented 99 percent weapons hit rate and zero in-flight mishaps.

The 355th Fighter Wing is composed of four groups: the 355th Operations Group, the 355th Maintenance Group, the 355th Mission Support Group and the 355th Medical Group.