117th Air Refueling Wing

117th Air Refueling Wing

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name= 117th Air Refueling Wing

caption= 117th Air Refueling Wing Patch
dates= 1922-Present
country= United States
branch= United States Air National Guard
role= Aerial Refueling
garrison= Birmingham International Airport, Alabama
nickname="Dixie Refuelers", formerly "Recce Rebels"

The United States Air Force's 117th Air Refueling Wing is an Air National Guard air refueling unit located at Birmingham International Airport, Alabama.


The mission of the 117th Air Refueling Wing is to provide aerial refueling services to fighter squadrons or other military aircraft, allowing them to remain airborne longer and giving them almost unlimited range.


In 1946 renowned troop carrier pilot and then-Colonel John M. Donalson reorganized the unit as the 106th Bomb Squadron (Light). They were joined in Birmingham by the 160th Fighter Squadron, flying F-51s. The two squadrons were assigned together to the 117th Fighter Group, which later became the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group and established its headquarters at Birmingham.

The group was activated on April 1, 1951 for duty in the Korean War. For most of the next 21 months, they were assigned to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The 106th moved to Lawson Field in Columbus, Georgia on October 1, 1959 and converted their F051s to RF-80s, deploying to Europe as the 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Key personnel were assigned to other groups active in the Korean theater.

In 1952 the 106th was placed back under the command of the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group and returned to Birmiingham in 1957. This unit flew T-33s and RF-84Fs. They returned to active duty in 1961 during the Berlin Crisis, deploying 20 RF-84s, 2 T-33s and one C-47 to Dreux, France, marking the first trans-Atlantic crossing for the smaller craft, which had to island hop in several legs. The units were relieved from active duty in August 1962. The need to develop the capability of non-stop transcontinental flight was evident, and the 106th Squadron was tasked with leading that effort.

Over the next several years the 106th pioneered the practice of air-to-air refueling over water using KC-97 and KC-135 tankers to fuel RF-84s in test flights from Birmingham to Puerto Rico. The second round of testing was coordinated with the Alaskan Air Command and served the dual purposes of perfecting long-range fighter deployment and creating aerial survey maps of unphotographed regions of the 49th state.

Bay of Pigs

In October 1961 a group of pilots from the 106th was recruited by the CIA to train Cuban expatriate pilots for a planned invasion of Cuba. In order to maintain "plausible deniability" of US involvement in the operation the pilots were sworn to secrecy and conducted training in Nicaragua.

During the invasion on Cuba's "Bay of Pigs", the Cuban pilots were unable to maintain the extensive air support required and several American pilots accepted covert flying duties. Four of them were shot down and killed. The involvement of the Alabama guard pilots was revealed by the Birmingham News in 1961, but the details of the operation were kept secret until the late 1990s.

Other Cold War operations:

In August 1964 twelve RF-84F jets completed their first non-stop transatlantic flight, requiring three air-to-air refuelings on the way to Europe and four on the way back to Birmingham.

In April 1967 the 106th deployed four craft and 93 personnel to "Operation Clove Hitch III", a massive exercise coordinated with the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force to simulate an invasion of the Puerto Rican island. Other significant exercises followed over the next several years.

117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

On February 25, 1971 the 106th TRS was re-equipped with RF-4C "Phantom II" reconnaissance jets and, soon later, a WS430B modular, transportable photographic processing and interpretation facility. The unit returned to Alaska for exercises and aerial surveying as part of "Exercise Jack Frost" in 1975. Later that same year they pioneered the use of electronic counter-measures in field exercises during "Exercise Brave Shield XIII" at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In 1976 the squadron flew 18 Phantom jets to Ramstein, Germany, in company with two Air Force C141 transports which also took off from Birmingham in "Operation Coronet Sprint". Over the course of 537 hours flight crews from the 106th flew 137 sorties over Western Europe, returning on April 1.

In August 1990 the 117th deployed to the United Arab Emirates in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

117th Reconnaissance Wing

With the changing of the world situation in the early 1990s, Tactical Air Command disappeared, and all units dropped the "Tactical" prefix from their designation. On 16 March 1992, the 117 TRW became the 117th Reconnaissance Wing.

117th Air Refueling Wing

In November 1994 the unit was again re-equipped, this time with KC-135R tankers. The units became the 106th Air Refueling Squadron and 117th Air Refueling Wing. The rechristened units deployed to Pisa, Italy in 1995 in support of Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia. In "Operation Coronet Nighthawk", a counter-drug operation, the unit reported to Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles. In 2001, for "Operation Noble Eagle" they deployed to Mac Dill Air Force Base, Florida for homeland security duty.

In 1995, the unit completed an excavation and bioremediation project at the airport to eliminate hazards found during the replacement of its petroleum, oils and lubricants facility. Seven 25,000 gallon fuel tanks, a 500 gallon sludge tank, and convert|17500|cuyd|m3 of soil were excavated and removed to comply with regulations from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

, UK.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendations propose distributing the 117th's KC-135Rs to Air National Guard stations in Maine, Tennessee and Arizona. Firefighting personnel would be stationed to Dannelly Field, while the expeditionary combat support group would remain based in Birmingham. The Alabama congressional delegation joined Colonel Paul Brown in strong opposition to the dispersal and the commission voted in August 2005 to keep the unit in Birmingham.

In May 2006 the House Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs approved $4.5 million for construction of an Alert Crew Quarters and Mobility Processing Complex in the 2007 Military Quality of Life Appropriations Bill.

Major Command/Gaining Command

*Air National Guard/Air Mobility Command (1994-present)
*Air National Guard/Air Combat Command (1992-1994)
*Air National Guard/Tactical Air Command (???-1992)

Previous designations

*117th Air Refueling Wing (1994-Present)
*117th Reconnaissance Wing (1992-1994)
*117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (1961-1992))

quadrons assigned

*106th Air Refueling Squadron (???-Present)

Bases stationed

*Birmingham International Airport, Alabama (???-Present)

Aircraft OperatedWorld Airpower Journal. (1992). US Air Force Air Power Directory. Aerospace Publishing: London, UK. ISBN 1-880588-01-3

*KC-135R (1994-Present)
*RF-4C (1971-1993)
*RF-84F (1957-1971)
*T-33 (1957-??)


*Rogers, B. (2006). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. ISBN 1-85780-197-0
*Trest, Warren and Don Dodd. (April 2001) Wings of Denial. Montgomery: NewSouth Books. ISBN 1-58838-021-1

External links

* [http://www.albirm.ang.af.mil/ 117th Air Refueling Wing Official Website]

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