43d Airlift Wing

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43d Airlift Wing
A 43d Operations Group C-130 flies over the Cape Hatteras lighthouse along the North Carolina coast
Active 1947-1970; 1970-1990; 1992-1996; 1997-2011
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Role Airlift
Part of Air Mobility Command
Motto Willing, Able, Ready
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award w/ V Device
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ Palm
David A. Burchinal
Jack J. Catton
43d Airlift Wing emblem 43d Airlift Wing.svg

The 43rd Airlift Wing is an inactive United States Air Force unit last stationed at Pope Field, part of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where it was inactivated in March 2011. The wing performed en route operations support at Pope Field to include mission command & control, aircrew management, aircraft maintenance, aircraft loading, aircraft fueling and supply. Since the wing's inactivation, the 43rd Airlift Group has tasken over airlift, maintenance, and en route missions at Pope Field.


The 43d Airlift Wing provided strategic, en-route airlift support and Lockheed C-130 Hercules tactical airlift support to the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and US Special Forces Command. It was capable of deploying a self-sustaining, war-fighting package anywhere in the world at a moment's notice and reflected Pope's motto "Ready Now".

The wing traces its roots back to the 43d Bombardment Group (Heavy), which was constituted 20 November 1940, and activated 15 January 1941, at Langley Field, VA. It operated primarily in the Southwest Pacific Theater as a B-17 Flying Fortress, and later a B-24 Liberator heavy-bomber unit assigned to Fifth Air Force. The 43d Operations Group carries the lineage and history of its highly decorated World War II predecessor unit.

Active for over 60 years, the wing was a component wing of Strategic Air Command's deterrent force throughout the Cold War.

The 2005 BRAC Law mandated the distribution of the assigned 43d Airlift Wing C-130s and the 23rd Fighter Group A-10s to meet Air Force requirements at other locations; established a Reserve/Active Duty 16 C-130H organization; established a Medical Squadron; established an Air Force Group to provide mission execution, planning, and management of efficient load-out of Fort Bragg assets; and transferred Real Property accountability to the Army (Fort Bragg). The 2005 BRAC Law directed that the mandates be completed no later than 15 September 2011.

The 440th Airlift Wing stood up at Pope Air Force Base in June 2007, and, the active-duty squadrons (the 2nd Airlift Squadron and the 43d Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) were associated in June 2008. The transfer of the Pope-assigned 23rd Fighter Group A-10s was completed in December 2007, and, the 43d Airlift Wing C-130s was completed in June 2008.


For additional history and lineage, see 43d Operations Group

Cold War

Superfortress and Stratojet operations at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

On 17 November 1947, the 43d Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy was organized at Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona [1] as part of the United States Air Force's wing base reorganization, in which combat groups and all supporting units on a base were assigned to a single wing.[2] The 43d Bombardment Group, flying Boeing B-29 Superfortresses became its operational component. When the wing base organization was made permanent in 1948, the wing was redesignated as the 43d Bombardment Wing, Medium on 1 August.[1]

File:Wing 0043 Bomb.gif
Emblem of the 43d Bombardment Wing
A 43d Bombardment Wing Boeing B-50D on rotation to England 1953

On 20 February 1948, a wing crew picked up a Boeing B-50 Superfortress at the factory, and the wing became the first in SAC to fly the B-50, with regular deliveries beginning in June. However, due to maintenance and supply problems, the wing did not achieve operational capability until 1949, despite the fact that it was one of the few units in the Air Force that was authorized manning at wartime levels due to its nuclear-bombing mission. These deficiencies were demonstrated in November when the wing deployed four B-50s to Alaska. One of the planes crashed, and, the others were grounded pending the results of the aircraft investigation.[3]

On 2 March 1949, a wing B-50A, the "Lucky Lady II",[a 1] commanded by Capt. James Gallagher, completed the first nonstop, around-the-world flight. The flight departed from and ended at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas. Boeing KB-29s of the wing's 43d Air Refueling Squadron refueled the Lucky Lady II four times on this mission. The mission received both the Mackay Trophy from the National Aeronautical Association and the Vandenberg Trophy from the Air Force Association for this mission.[4][a 2]

The wing conducted strategic-bombardment training from 1946 to 1960, and air refueling from 1949 to 1960, to meet Strategic Air Command's (SAC) global commitments.

Replaced the propeller-driven B-29s and B-50s with new B-47E Stratojet swept-wing medium bombers in 1954, capable of flying at high subsonic speeds, primarily designed for penetrating the airspace of the Soviet Union. The 43d set a new, jet endurance record in 1954 by keeping a B-47 airborne for 47:35 hours. Flew numerous training missions and participated in various SAC exercises and deployments with the Stratojet during the 1950s. In the late 1950s, the B-47 was considered to be reaching obsolescence, and was being phased out of SAC's strategic arsenal. The 43d began reassigning its Stratojets to other wings as replacement aircraft beginning in 1959.

Hustler operations at Carswell Air Force Base

Convair B-58A Hustler (59-2458), formerly of the 43d Bombardment Wing[a 3]

The 43d Bombardment Wing moved to Carswell Air Force Base without personnel or equipment on 15 April 1960. At Carswell, it was manned and equipped from the 3958th Operational Test and Evaluation Group and the 6592d Test Squadron of Air Research and Development Command, which were discontinued.[5]

The wing immediately began training crews on the Convair B-58 Hustler, the world's first supersonic bomber, and, it began participating in Category III testing (operational testing) of the Hustler in August.[5] The 43d was the first USAF B-58 wing.

Aircraft number 59-2436, the first fully operational Hustler equipped with all tactical systems, was delivered to the 43d on 15 March. On 23 March a test-unit B-58A (55-0671), remained airborne for 18 hours 10 minutes while averaging an airspeed of 620 mph over 11,000 miles. This was apparently the longest-lasting single flight ever by a B-58. The 43d received deliveries of new aircraft from Convair throughout the year, the last being in December 1960.

From March 1960 to July 1961, the 43d operated a combat-crew training school for B-58 aircrews, and, from July 1962 until late 1969 it served as one of two SAC B-58 wings with a strategic-bombardment mission. During the 1960s the wing established world-flight speed records in the B-58, beginning on 12 January 1961, when it set six international speed and payload records on a single flight, five of which were held by the Soviet Union. Three of these records lasted only two days, when they were broken by another 43d Hustler, which flew over a 1,000 km closed course with a payload of 2,000 kg at an average speed of 1284.73 mph, simultaneously breaking the 1,000 kg and no payload records.[a 4] The crew on the second flight was awarded the Thompson Trophy.[6]

On 29 May 1961, a wing B-58 flew from New York to Paris in 3 hours, 14 minutes, and 45 seconds, establishing a new transatlantic speed record of 1,089.36 mph, earning the crew the MacKay Trophy. On 5 March 1962, a wing B-58 flew from Los Angeles to New York at an average speed of 1,214.65 mph. It flew from Los Angeles to New York and back in 4 hours, 41 minutes, and 15 seconds. This earned the crew another MacKay Trophy and the Bendix Trophy.[6]

The wing, which had been prevented from being declared combat-ready by the B-58's teething problems, was finally declared as such in August 1962. In response to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the wing was placed on alert in October 1962.

By the mid-1960s, the B-58 had become a fairly effective weapons system. By the end of 1962, USAF crews had made over 10,500 flights and loges 53,00 hours (1150 of them supersonic, including 375 at Mach 2). Initially, all B-58 training was conducted by the 43d's combat-crew training school. From 1960 through 1964, this unit fulfilled the requirements of both its parent 43d Bomb Wing and the second B-58 wing, the 305th Bomb Wing. In August 1964, the 305th activated its own CCTS. The wing also controlled an air-refueling squadron from August 1964.

The active service life of the B-58 was destined to be rather short. Phaseout of the B-58 fleet was ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in December 1965, since it was felt that the high-altitude performance of the B-58 could no longer guarantee success against increasingly sophisticated Soviet air defenses. Although SAC had never been happy with the relatively limited range of the B-58 and felt that the Air Force, through congressional pressure, had forced the B-58 on them, the aircraft had gone through a long gestation period during which lots of bugs had been wrung out of the system, and it was now thought to be a valuable and effective weapons system. Consequently, SAC pressed the Defense Department for the retention of the B-58, at least until 1974. However, the decision of 1965 was to stand.

Another factor was the B-58's relatively high cost as compared to the B-52 and B-47. The unit cost of the B-58 was 33.5-million dollars as compared to nine-million for the B-52 and three-million for the B-47. In addition, the B-58 was quite costly to maintain. The cost of maintaining and operating two B-58 wings equaled the cost of maintaining six B-52 wings.

The first B-58 to go to the "boneyard" was 59-2446 which flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on 5 November 1969. Once underway, the B-58 retirement program moved relatively rapidly. The retirement was completed on 16 January 1970.

Vietnam War

3960th Strategic Wing

Once their B-58s were in storage, the 43d BW was temporarily inactivated, but was immediately reactivated with the assets of the 3960th Strategic Wing (SW) at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. The 3960th SW had been established at Andersen as the 3960th Air Base Wing when the base transferred from Pacific Air Forces to SAC on 1 April 1955.[7]

File:3960th Strategic Wing - SAC - Emblem.png
3960th Strategic Wing Emblem

The 3960th supported SAC Boeing B-47 Stratojet REFLEX deployments to Andersen over the years the wing designation[a 5] and its mission changed to supporting deployed Boeing B-52 Stratofortress aircraft forming the Andersen Task Force, Provisional.[7]

On 1 April 1965 the wing once again was redesignated the 3960th Strategic Wing and its mission changed to support B-52 elements from SAC CONUS-based units engaged in combat operations over Southeast Asia on a daily basis during the Vietnam War as the 320th Bombardment Wing from Mather Air Force Base California[8] and the 454th Bombardment Wing at Columbus AFB, Mississippi[8][9][10]

Operations at Andersen Air Force Base

B-52G landing at Andersen AFB after an Operation Linebacker mission

In 1970, in order to retain the lineage of the 43d Bomb Wing, Headquarters SAC received authority from Headquarters USAF to discontinue its MAJCON 3960th SW and activate a regular AFCON wing which was inactive at the time which could carry a lineage and history of the mission at Anderson.

On 1 April 1970, the 3960th SW was discontinued and replaced by the 43d Bomb Wing, which became the 43d Strategic Wing. In July, it also assumed resources and mission of the Bombardment Wing, Provisional, 4133d,[11] which had operational control over B-52s striking targets in Southeast Asia. The 43d employed attached aircraft and aircrews of other SAC units that were deployed from bases in the United States to participate in Operation Arc Light combat missions in Southeast Asia from 1 July to mid-August 1970, and again from February 1972 to August 1973.

Following the end of combat operations, the 43d provided routing training and ground alert with B-52 and KC-135 aircraft, the latter provided by other SAC units on loan. During 1975 the wing provided logistical and medical support to thousands of Vietnamese refugees evacuated from their homeland and located temporarily at Guam awaiting resettlement in the United States.

Post Vietnam era

The wing trained to remain proficient in strategic and conventional warfare capabilities. Beginning in 1974 it controlled TDY tankers and crews participating in the Pacific (formerly Andersen) Tanker Task Force that supported SAC operations in the western Pacific. In July 1986 the 43d activated the 65th Strategic Squadron to control the TDY air refueling forces.

Modern era

Since 1990 the 43d has been inactivated, redesignated and activated on several occasions. In 1989 Andersen AFB was transferred from the Strategic Air Command to Pacific Air Forces. The PACAF 633rd Air Base Wing was activated on 1 October 1989, which led to the inactivation of the 43d Bombardment Wing on 30 September 1990.

The wing was redesignated as the 43d Air Refueling Wing, and activated, on 1 June 1992 at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana where it conducted refueling operations under Air Combat Command (ACC) before being moved to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida when flight operations ended at Malmstrom.

At MacDill it was redesignated as a group (43d Air Refueling Group) and operated until 1 October 1996 when it was inactivated and replaced by the 6th Air Refueling Wing when Air Mobility Command assumed the air-refueling mission from ACC.

It was brought back into active service in 1997 when the unit was redesignated as the 43d Airlift Wing on 31 March and activated on 1 April 1997 at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina under Air Mobility Command.

Crews and aircraft deployed to Europe and Southwest Asia for expeditionary rotations and contingency operations such as the enforcement of no-fly zones over Iraq. It also took part in humanitarian airlift operations and training exercises, often with U.S. Army airborne organizations stationed at nearby Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, elements deployed in support of the Global War on Terror.

The wing was inactivated on 1 March 2011, and, its 43d Operations Group redesignated as the 43d Airlift Group.


  • Designated as 43d Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy on 3 November 1947
Organized on 17 November 1947
Redesignated 43d Bombardment Wing, Medium on 1 August 1948
Inactivated on 31 January 1970
  • Redesignated 43d Strategic Wing on 4 February 1970
Activated on 4 February 1970.
Organized on 1 April 1970[a 6]
Redesignated 43d Bombardment Wing, Heavy on 4 November 1986
Inactivated on 30 September 1990
  • Redesignated 43d Air Refueling Wing and activated, on 1 June 1992
Redesignated 43d Air Refueling Group on 1 July 1994
Inactivated on 1 October 1996
  • Redesignated 43d Airlift Wing on 31 March 1997
Activated on 1 April 1997
Inactivated on 1 March 2011




  • 43d Bombardment (later, 43d Operations) Group: 17 November 1947 – 16 June 1952 (detached 16 August – 16 November 1949; not operational, 10 February 1951 – 16 June 1952); 1 June 1992 – 1 July 1994; 1 April 1997 –
  • 453d Operations Group: 1 June 1992 – 1 July 1994
  • 459th Bombardment Group: attached 27 June 1949 – 16 June 1951
  • 2d Bombardment Group: attached 17 November 1947 – 31 December 1948 (not operational).


Attached: 10 February 1951 – 15 June 1952
Assigned: 19 July 1948 – 15 March 1960 (detached 18 October – 28 December 1955); 19 July 1948 – 16 June 1952 (detached 10 February 1951 – 16 June 1952)



References for commands and major units assigned, components and stations:[1][12]

Aircraft flying in this unit

64-0499 (Jun'00); 64-0517 (Jun'00); 64-0525 (Jun'00); 70-1270 (Jun'00); 70-1273 (Jun'00); 70-1275 (Jun'00); 70-1276 (Jun'00)


  • Mackay Trophy: 1949, 1961, 1962
  • Air Age (Vandenberg) Trophy: 1949
  • Thompson Trophy: 1961
  • Bendix Trophy: 1962


See also



  1. Lucky Lady II carried Air Force Serial Number 46-10
  2. At the time, the Vandenberg Trophy was known as the Air Age Trophy. Both awards were made annually.
  3. Shown at its permanent assignment at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. While assigned to the 43d, this aircraft set a transcontinental speed record by flying nonstop from Los Angeles to New York and back again. The first leg was at an average speed of 1214.71 mph; the return leg was at an average speed of 1081.77 mph. The return leg was the first transcontinental flight that moved across the country faster than the rotational speed of the earth.
  4. This was 222.9 mph faster than the flight two days earlier. Knaack, p. 394.
  5. The wing became the 3960th Air Base Group on 1 July 1956, the 3960th Combat Support Group (CSG) on 1 July 1969 and the 3960th Strategic Wing on 1 November 1963, with a brief return to the 3960th CSG designation on 1 Aug 1964. See Fletcher
  6. Assuming the resources (Manpower, Equipment, Weapons, & Facilities) of the 3960th Strategic Wing


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ravenstein, pp. 70-73
  2. Ravenstein, p. xxi
  3. Knaack, pp. 169-170
  4. Knaack, pp. 175-176
  5. 5.0 5.1 Knaack, pp. 282-283
  6. 6.0 6.1 Knaack, pp. 394-395
  7. 7.0 7.1 Fletcher, pp. 1–5
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Abstract, History 320 Bombardment Wing, Oct 1965-Mar 1966". Air Force History Index. Retrieved January 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Abstract, History Abstract, History 454 Bombardment Wing Jul-Nov 1965". Air Force History Index. Retrieved January 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Abstract, History 320 Bombardment Wing, Apr-Jun 1965". Air Force History Index. Retrieved January 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Abstract, History Bombardment Wing, P 4133 Feb-Jun 1970". Air Force History Index. Retrieved January 24, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Maurer, Combat Units


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

External links