By Senior Airman Tong Duong, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 12, 2011
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Luke Air Force Base lies 15 miles to the west of Phoenix, Ariz., and is the largest and only active-duty F-16 Falcon training base in the world with more than 160 F-16s assigned. The host command at Luke is the 56th Fighter Wing, under Air Education and Training Command's 19th Air Force.
Today, the 56th FW, a unit which has historically proven to have fighter pilots second to none, continues a mission that has been identified with Luke AFB since 1941: "Training Fighter Pilots Second to None."
The wing is composed of four groups, 25 squadrons, including seven fighter squadrons. There are several tenant units on base, including the 944th Fighter Wing, assigned to 10th Air Force and the Air Force Reserve.
The base population includes about 5,900 military members and 15,000 family members. With about 80,000 retired military members living in greater Phoenix, the base services a total population of more than 100,000 people.
More than 400 pilots graduate from Luke annually and proceed to combat assignments throughout the world. The wing also trains more than 550 maintenance technicians each year.
An integral part of Luke's F-16 fighter pilot training mission is the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The range consists of 1.8 million acres of relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert southwest of Luke Air Force Base between Yuma and Tucson south of Interstate 8. Overhead are 57,000 cubic miles of airspace where pilots practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground. Roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, the immense size of the complex allows for simultaneous training activities on nine air-to-ground and two air-to-air ranges. The Luke Air Force Base Range Management Office manages the eastern range activities and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma oversees operations on the western portion.
THE HISTORY OF LUKE AFB
Luke Air Force Base is named after the first aviator to be awarded the Medal of Honor--2d Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Born in Phoenix in 1897, the "Arizona Balloon Buster" scored 18 aerial victories during World War I (14 of these German observation balloons) in the skies over France before being killed, at age 21, on Sept. 29, 1918.
In 1940, the U.S. Army sent a representative to Arizona to choose a site for an Army Air Corps training field for advanced training in conventional fighter aircraft. The city of Phoenix bought 1,440 acres of land, which they leased to the government at $1 a year effective March 24, 1941. On March 29, 1941, the Del. E. Webb Construction Co. began excavation for the first building at what was known then as Litchfield Park Air Base.
During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Army Air Force, graduating more than 17,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38, earning the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot."
By Feb. 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time. By 1946, however, the number of pilots trained dropped to 299 and the base was deactivated Nov. 30 that year.
Soon after combat developed in Korea, Luke field was reactivated on Feb. 1, 1951 as Luke Air Force Base, part of Air Training command under reorganized U.S. Air Force.
Students progressed from the P-51 Mustang to the F-84. Flying training at Luke changed to the F-100, and on July 1, 1958, the base was transferred from Air Training Command to Tactical Air Command. Luke continued its tradition of providing fighter training for allied nations when an F-104 program for German Air Force pilots and a program in the F-5 for pilots from Third world nations began in 1964.
During the 1960s, thousands of American fighter pilots left Luke to carve their niche in the annals of Air Force history in the skies over Vietnam. In July 1971, the base received the F-4C Phantom II and assumed its role as the main provider of fighter pilots for Tactical Air Command and fighter forces worldwide. In November 1974, the Air Force's newest air superiority fighter, the F-15 Eagle, came to Luke. It was joined in December 1982 by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which officially began training fighter pilots Feb. 2, 1983.
The early 1990s brought significant changes to the base. As a result of defense realignments, the 312th, 426th and 550th TFTSs were inactivated as were the 832nd Air Division and the 405th TTW. The F-15A and B models were transferred out, and the 58th TTW, being the senior wing at Luke, was re-designated the 58th Fighter Wing and once again became the host unit at Luke.
In April 1994, after 24 years at Luke, the 58th Fighter Wing was replaced by the 56th as part of the Air Force Heritage program. Air Force officials established the program to preserve Air Force legacy and history during a time of military draw down. The 56th FW was one of the most highly decorated units in Air Force history, and it was named to remain part of the active fighter force while the 58th was reassigned as a special operations wing to Kirtland AFB, N.M.
Units flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon are the 308th, 309th, 310th, 425th, 61st, 62nd and 21st Fighter Squadrons.
Luke AFB history and information are culled from historical facts. Courtesy of the 17th Training Wing Public Affairs.