21st Airlift Squadron

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21st Airlift Squadron
21st Airlift Squadron C-17A Globemaster III, 06-6154
Active 7 March 1942 - Present
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Strategic Airlift
Part of 60th Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Travis Air Force Base, California
Nickname(s) BEEliners
Engagements Asiatic-Pacific Streamer.png
World War II (Asia-Pacific Theater)
Korean War Streamer.png
Korean War
Battle honours Streamer PUC Army.PNG
Distinguished Unit Citation (7x)
Presidential Unit Citation
AFOUA with Valor.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device
Air Force Meritorious Unit Award.jpg
Meritorious Unit Award
US Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - Stremer.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (15x)
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Streamer.png
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation (World War II)
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Streamer.png
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
VGCP Streamer.jpg
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
Charles R. Holland
21st Airlift Squadron Emblem 125px
Aircraft flown
Transport C-17 Globemaster III

The 21st Airlift Squadron (21 AS) is part of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California. It operates C-17 Globemaster III aircraft supporting the United States Air Force global reach mission worldwide.


Provide services and support, which promote quality of life and project global power through combat-proven airlift and airdrop.


World War II

The squadrons origins date to the activation of the 21st Air Transport Squadron (ATS) at Archerfield Airport, Brisbane, Australia in the spring of 1942. Activated in the wake of the United States withdrawal from the Philippines, the squadron was formed with a mixture of personnel withdrawn from Clark Field and some reinforcements which had arrived in Australia but did not see combat in the Philippines.[1]

The squadron was hastily put together with some impressed civilian Douglas DC-2s and DC-3s with a mission of transporting personnel, equipment and supplies within Australia, organizing American and Australian forces against the perceived Japanese invasion of Australia. Not having a formal command structure, the 21st ATS was assigned directly to the Fifth Air Force, Army Air Forces in Australia.[1]

Over the next few months the squadron was assigned additional aircraft, flying derivatives of the Lockheed C-56 and C-60 Lodestar along with a war-weary four-engine Boeing B-17D Flying Fortress withdrawn from the Philippines and a Douglas B-18 Bolo which had found its way to the South Pacific. The squadron entered combat on 5 July 1942, being re-designated the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron. It participated in a paratroop drops at Nadzab, New Guinea, in September 1942. It continued to fly combat re-supply and casualty evacuation missions from Brisbane.[1]

In November 1942 the squadron was assigned to the 374th Troop Carrier Group. The 374th was a newly arrived group from the United States and arrived with new C-47s. The mixture of aircraft the squadron was formed with were reassigned to other units. With the 374th the squadron continued to fly combat missions over New Guinea.[1]

The squadron moved to Nadzab Airfield, New Guinea in August 1944 to support the Allied effort to push Japanese forces off the island. The fierce fighting in tropical and mountainous New Guinea continued until 1945. It proved to be one of the most important and difficult campaigns in the Pacific War. The squadron moved to Mokmer Airfield, on Biak, Paupa New Guinea in October 1944, and remained there until the end of the war, as American forces continued to engage the Japanese in Southwest Asia until the end of the war in August 1945.[1]

Postwar Service

With the end of the war, the 21st remained in the Pacific and assigned to the 374th TCG. C-46 Commandos were assigned to the squadron along with the C-47s that were used during wartime. The squadron was first moved to Occupied Japan, where it conducted airlift missions in support of Fifth Air Force and MacArthur's headquarters from Atsugi Airfield, near Tokyo. It returned to 374th Group Headquarters at Nielson Field, near Manila in the Philippines by the end of the year. At Nielson Field, the squadron was ordered inactivated, its personnel returning to the United States for demobilization back to civilian life.[1]

After a brief period of inactivation, the 374th was reactivated and reassigned to Harmon Field on Guam at the end of 1945 where the 21st and the other squadrons of the Group supported the Guam Air Depot. Equipped with C-46s, the 21st flew needed supplies and equipment within the Southwest Pacific area to widely scattered airfields in the Philippines, Okinawa and the bases in the Mariana Islands. Long-range 4-engine C-54 Skymasters were assigned to the squadron in 1946, replacing the C-46s. In 1949, the squadron was attached directly to Twentieth Air Force headquarters on Guam, and with the closure of many bases in the Marianas as a result of budget cuts, was reassigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in January 1950.[1]

Cold War

File:Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar 53-3156.jpg
Fairchild C-119G Flying Boxcar, 53-3156. This airframe was later converted to an AC-119K Stinger gunship.[2]

When the Korean War began in 1950, the 21st was again called into action. The squadron was reassigned to Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, where it exchanged its long-range C-54s for twin-engined C-46 and C-47 aircraft. The squadron carried much needed equipment and supplies, along with personnel across the Sea of Japan to marginal dirt airstrips in South Korea on an almost continuous basis. The squadron participated in all major engagements in Korea, including the massive airdrops at Sunchon in which 290.8 tons of supplies and 1,093 paratroopers were dropped in three days. The squadron operated from various airfields in Japan, flying combat resupply and evacuation missions back to Japan until December 1952 when the 21st was relieved of combat duty, and re-equipped with C-54 Skymasters.[1]

From its base at Tachikawa, the squadron began flying airlift missions in the southwest pacific and to Alaska. In addition, the squadron began flying trans-pacific missions to Hawaii, along with flights to Military Air Transport Service (MATS) bases at McChord AFB, Washington and Travis AFB, California. It transported combat wounded and other personnel back to the United States, and personnel, equipment and supplies from the US to Japan. In late 1955, the 21st was moved to Kisarazu Air Base to relieve overcrowding at Tachikawa.[1]

File:Lockheed C-130A-6-LM Hercule 56-473.jpg
Lockheed C-130A-6-LM Hercules, 56-473, performing a parachute drop, with 56-493 in the distance.

In late 1956, the squadron was reassigned to Naha Air Base, Okinawa, where it was re-equipped with C-119 Flying Boxcars. With these tactical transports, it began flying missions to Taiwan and also to South Vietnam carrying personnel, equipment and supplies. In 1958, the squadron began to receive new C-130A Hercules to replace the C-119s. For the better part of the next 40 years, the 21st would fly increasingly updated versions of the Hercules in Southeast Asia.[1]

Based in Okinawa, the squadron used its cargo and personnel hub at Naha AB to transship personnel and cargo to bases on Taiwan, the Philippines and increasingly to support United States forces that were building up in South Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. As the level of American involvement increased in the ongoing conflict in Southeast Asia, the C-130s of the squadron were becoming a more common sight during the 1960s in support of operations.[1]

In 1967, the squadron was re-designated the 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron. In 1968, during the siege of Khe Sanh, crews from the 21st performed massive combat airdrops and assault landing supporting the besieged outpost. In 1971 Naha Air Base was closed and the squadron was moved to CCK Air Base on Taiwan, however the political sensitivity of having a permanently assigned USAF unit on Taiwan led the squadron to be reassigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in November 1973. Through 1973 and 1974, the "Bee liners" were instrumental in repatriating American POWs to US soil.[1]

During the 80's, the 21st frequently participated in exercises including TEAM SPIRIT, FOAL EAGLE, TANDEM ORBIT, and COPE THUNDER. The 21st has earned five Distinguished Unit Citations, one Presidential Unit Citation, and four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. In 1989 due to the decision to downsize Clark Air Base, the squadron was again moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan, which was being developed as a MAC passenger/cargo hub. The 21st was selected for the 1991 Military Airlift Command's Outstanding Tactical Airlift Unit Award and best Active Duty Tactical Airdrop Award at the 1993 Rodeo competition.[1]

Modern era

File:21st Airlift Squadron Lockheed C-5B Galaxy 87-0037.jpg
21st Airlift Squadron Lockheed C-5B Galaxy, 87-0037, returns from a training flight 31 March 2006. The event marked the final C-5 flight for the 21st Airlift Squadron.

As part of a worldwide re-alignment of Air Mobility Command assets on 1 October 1993, the 21st transferred its C-130s at Yokota to the 36th Airlift Squadron, which retired its C-141 Starlifters at McChord AFB, Washington and its designation was transferred to Yokota in a name-only re-designation. The 21st, in turn, was transferred to Travis AFB, California where in another name-only change took over the assets of the C-5 Galaxy 75th Airlift Squadron. The 75th was transferred also in a designation-only change to Ramstein Air Base, Germany where it took over the C-9 Nightingale Medical Evacuation mission of USAFE. This re-alignment was due to the large reduction in USAF assets after the end of the Cold War and the directive by USAF Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak to retain notable units on active duty as much as possible.[1]

Since the conversion to the C-5 Galaxy in 1993, the 21st helped avert conflict between North and South Korea by flying triple aerial-refueling mission carrying Patriot missile batteries directly to South Korea.[1]

They were also involved in several humanitarian missions in 1994 including transportation of tons of badly needed medical supplies and food to disease-ravaged Rwanda, missions in support of the Haitian and Cuban relief efforts, and closer to home, the 21st provided the first C-5 crew to fly critically needed firefighters equipment to earthquake-stricken Los Angeles. With the awesome combination of the C-5 and aerial-refueling, the 21st delivers heavy and outsized cargo from the cold of Russia to the heat of Indonesia.[1]

On 3 April 2006, the 21st Airlift Squadron celebrated its 64th anniversary. On the same day, the squadron officially transferred from the C-5 Galaxy to the C-17A Globemaster III. On 8 August 2006, the 21st received its first C-17, "The Spirit of Solano". With the arrival of the C-17, the C-5 Galaxies were transferred to the United States Air Force Reserve 439th Airlift Wing, Westover AFB, Massachusetts.[1]


  • Constituted as 21st Transport Squadron on 7 Mar 1942
Activated on 3 Apr 1942
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron on 5 Jul 1942
Inactivated on 31 Jan 1946
  • Activated on 15 Oct 1946
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, Heavy, on 21 May 1948
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, Medium, on 2 Feb 1951
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, Heavy, on 1 Dec 1952
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron, Medium, on 18 Sep 1956
Re-designated: as 21st Troop Carrier Squadron on 8 Dec 1966
Re-designated: as 21st Tactical Airlift Squadron on 1 Aug 1967
Re-designated: as 21st Airlift Squadron on 1 Apr 1992.[3]





 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links