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20th Fighter Wing
78th Fighter Squadron - General Dynamics - Lockheed F-16C Block 50P Fighting Falcon - 92-3920.jpg
78th Fighter Squadron F-16C Block 50P 92-3920
Active 1947-present
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Role Tactical Fighter-Bomber
Part of Air Combat Command
Garrison/HQ Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina
Motto(s) Victory by Valor
Engagements World War II
1991 Gulf War
Global War on Terrorism
Ira C. Eaker
Merrill McPeak
20th Fighter Wing emblem 20th Fighter Wing.png

The 20th Fighter Wing (20 FW) is a wing of the United States Air Force and the host unit at Shaw Air Force Base South Carolina. The wing is assigned to Air Combat Command's Ninth Air Force.


The mission of the 20th FW is to provide, project and sustain combat-ready aircraft in conventional and anti-radiation suppression of enemy air defenses, strategic attack, counter-air, air interdiction, joint maritime operations and combat search-and-rescue missions.


The 20th Fighter Wing is composed of four groups each with specific functions. The Operations Group controls all flying and airfield operations. The Maintenance Group performs maintenance of aircraft, ground equipment and aircraft components. The Mission Support Group has a wide range of responsibilities,a few of its functions are Security, Civil Engineering, Communications, Personnel Management, Logistics, Services and Contracting support. While the Medical Group provides medical and dental care.

20th Operations Group (20 OG)

20th Maintenance Group (20 MXG)

  • 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (20 AMXS)
  • 20th Component Maintenance Squadron (20 CMS)
  • 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron (20 EMS)
  • 20th Maintenance Operations Squadron (20 MOS)

20th Mission Support Group (20 MSG)

  • 20th Contracting Squadron (20 CONS)
  • 20th Security Forces Squadron (20 SFS)
  • 20th Force Support Squadron (20 FSS)
  • 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron (20 LRS)
  • 20th Communications Squadron (20 CS)
  • 20th Civil Engineering Squadron (20 CES)

20th Medical Group (20 MDG)

  • 20th Medical Operations Squadron (20 MDOS)
  • 20th Aeromedical Squadron (20 AMDS)
  • 20th Dental Squadron (20 DS)
  • 20th Medical Support Squadron (20 MDSS)

Additionally, the 20th Comptroller Squadron (20 CPTS) reports directly to the wing commander.


The group's austere emblem, approved in 1934, features a nebula—the heraldic symbol for clouds


For additional history and lineage, see 20th Operations Group

Cold War

North American P-51D-30-NA Mustang Serial 44-74558 of the 20th Fighter Group at Shaw AAF. Note the postwar "buzz number" on the fuselage, and "20th Fighter Group" written on the tail cap.

The 20th Fighter Wing was established on 20 July 1947 at Shaw Field, South Carolina and activated on 15 August. Upon its activation, the 20th FW commanded the functions of both the support groups as well as the flying 20th Fighter Group and the squadrons assigned to it. On 26 August 1948, the wing’s 20th Airdrome Group was discontinued with the 20th FW becoming the host unit at Shaw and its elements became realigned under the 20th Air Base Group.

At Shaw, the Wing trained to maintain proficiency as a tactical fighter unit. Its fighter group exchanged its P-51's in February 1948 for F-84B (later D) Thunderjets. The 20th provided P-51 training for Turkish officers, February - April 1948.

Control over the wing changed hands on 1 February 1949 with its assignment to the Fourteenth Air Force. Eleven months later, on 20 January 1950, the wing was redesignated as the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing. Similar redesignations altered the titles of the 20th Group and its three flying squadrons. Subordinancy to Fourteenth Air Force was short-lived, and on 1 August 1950 the wing was reassigned directly under Tactical Air Command. Ninth Air Force resumed control over the 20th on 22 January 1951.

The 20th FBW was moved to Langley AFB, Virginia on 19 September 1951. Earlier a cadre of seven members of the 20th had spent time at Langley secretly learning the ins and outs of nuclear weapons delivery. There they worked out procedures for accomplishing this using their soon to be assigned F-84Gs. One big hurdle would be to develop procedures for navigation to the target, on average 700 miles, without navigation aids of any kind with the exception of the compass.

With the 20th’s move to Langley the procedures developed by the initial cadre would be passed on to the rest of the wing. As told by Col. George M. Lunsford USAF (Ret), Col. Dunning said the 20th would be the world’s first atomic fighter outfit. We’d move up to Langley in the autumn of ‘51, pick up more than a hundred new airplanes, and reorganize completely. We’d learn to drop that [darn] bomb and get away. And we would do it all by the spring of ‘52 because we were going back to England again.

RAF Wethersfield

F-84Gs of the 77th Fighter-Bomber Squadron - 1952. Republic F-84G-1-RE Thunderjet Serial 51-988 is in the foreground.

77th Fighter-Bomber Squadron Republic F-84G-1-RE Thunderjet 51-967, flying past Mt Versuvius, Italy, 1955

20th TFW F-100F Super Sabre (s/n 56-3992) at RAF Wethersfield, 1966.

The 20th Fighter Bomber Wing made its second move, this time to RAF Wethersfield in Essex, England, on 31 May 1952 with a mission of maintaining proficiency for tactical operations with conventional and nuclear weapons in support of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in the European area. Its fighter bomber group set up headquarters, along with the 55th and 77th Squadrons, at Wethersfield a day later. Restricted space there compelled the 79th Squadron to move into RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, England the squadron moved to RAF Woodbridge, three miles (5 km) southeast of Bentwaters, on 1 October 1954.

On 5 June 1952, Tactical Air Command relinquished control over the wing to the United States Air Forces in Europe. It was placed under the Third Air Force 49th Air Division, On 15 November 1952, the wing and group merged unofficially placing the flying squadrons directly under the wing's operational and administrative control. The group remained on the Air Force's active list however, until 8 February 1955 when the three fighter-bomber squadrons were officially realigned under the wing.

The Department of the Air Force temporarily bestowed the lineage and honors of the 20th Group on the 20th Wing in November 1954. That action was accomplished to facilitate the Air Force's adoption of a wing-base plan, making the wing the primary combat element of operational organizations. Consequent to the action of temporary bestowal, the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing laid claim to the lineage, honors, and history of the 20th Fighter Group. That bestowal has remained in effect ever since.

In June 1955, the wing started flying F-84F Thunderstreaks in addition to its F-84Ds and F-84Gs. The F-84G was phased out by June 1955 and the F-84F remained in the inventory until December 1957. Prior to the departure of the F-84 fleet, the 20th began conversion to North American F-1OOD and F-1OOF Super Sabres on 16 June 1957.

The 20th Fighter Bomber Wing established an operational detachment at Wheelus AB, Libya in February 1958. Three months later, the wing took on the designation of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 55th, 77th and 79th Squadrons were also re-labeled as tactical fighter squadrons at that time. The flying squadrons dispersed on a monthly rotational basis to RAF Alconbury, RAF Woodbridge, and Nouasseur AB, Morocco, due to a RAF Wethersfield runway closure from May to August 1958.

The wing first established its Blast Off (later named Victor Alert) capability in July 1958. The first mobility plan was initiated on 1 January 1959. A year-round weapons training detachment was established at Wheelus AB, Libya, for monthly squadron rotations. Pilot survival and ski training began in Norway in February 1959. The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing represented USAFE in the William Tell exercise held at Nellis AFB, Nevada in October 1960.

The first NATO Tiger meet was sponsored by the 79th Tactical Fighter Tiger Squadron at RAF Woodbridge in June 1961 (established by Captains Michael T Dugan and Merril A McPeak, each of whom went on to become Air Force Chief of Staff).

Intermediate command over the 20th changed hands between 3rd Air Force and 16th Air Force from 1 July 1961 to 1 September 1963. Monthly rotations to Cigli AB, Turkey were conducted from July 1966 to June 1970 and to Aviano AB, Italy from December 1966 to June 1970. Political closures of US bases in France forced opening of RAF Greenham Common under 20th TFW management to handle personnel overflow in January 1967.

A military coup in Libya forced the closure of Wheelus AB in September 1969 and initiation of 20th TFW weapons training detachment operations at Torrejon AB, Spain in November 1969. Detachment 1, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing was established at RAF Upper Heyford on 10 December 1969. All three flying squadrons rotated to Zaragoza AB, Spain for weapons training from January to March 1970.

RAF Upper Heyford

General Dynamics F-111E Serial 68-0028 of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing Shown painted in 1976 Bicentennial motif. This aircraft served for many years in the 20th TFW, frequently appearing at static displays. In 1993 it was finally retired and sent to AMARC.

General Dynamics F/EF-111A Serial 66-0049 42nd Electronic Countermeasure squadron - 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. Believed to have been used as electronic jamming aircraft in "Operation El Dorado Canyon". This aircraft is now on display at Mountain Home AFB Idaho.

Headquarters, 20th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated from RAF Wethersfield to RAF Upper Heyford on 1 June 1970. For the first time since it left Virginia in 1952, all three of its flying squadrons were united on one base.

Less than three months later, the wing began converting to a new aircraft - the General Dynamics F-111E Aardvark (unofficially). On 12 September 1970, the first two F-111Es arrived at RAF Upper Heyford. The last of the 20th's F-100s transferred to the Air National Guard on 12 February 1971 and in November of that year the wing's F-111s were declared operationally ready.

The 20th TFW participated in F-111 NATO and US unilateral operations Shabaz, Display Determination, Cold Fire, Ocean Safari, Datex, Priory, Reforger, Dawn Patrol, Highwood, Hammer, and others from January 1972 to October 1993.

In March 1973, the 20th TFW became one of only two wings in the Air Force to participate in the Tri-Deputy organization system. The Deputy Commander for Materiel organization split apart to form the Deputy Commander for Logistics (renamed Deputy Commander for Resources in 1974 and Deputy Commander for Resource Management in 1975) and the Deputy Commander for Maintenance organizations. Under this test the Organizational, Field, Avionics, and Munitions Maintenance Squadrons became prime components of the Deputy Commander for Maintenance organization. The procurement and comptroller offices, along with the 20th Supply and 20th Transportation Squadrons (moved under the Combat Support Group) constituted the Deputy Commander for Logistics organization. The tri-deputy system was formally approved in the following year and the 20th Transportation Squadron was officially realigned from the Combat Support Group to the Deputy Commander for Resources on 24 July 1974.

It operated from RAF Greenham Common, England, 29 April 1976 – 17 August 1976.

The wing gained a fourth flying squadron on 1 July 1983, with the activation of the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron. On February 1984, the first Grumman (General Dynamics) EF-111A Ravens of that squadron arrived at Upper Heyford. Parental responsibility over the 42nd by the 20th TFW was short-lived, however, and on 1 June 1985, operational control of the squadron shifted to the 66th Electronic Combat Wing at Sembach AB, West Germany.

In March 1986, the 66th Electronic Combat Wing detached the 42nd ECS to the 20th TFW to take part in Operation Eldorado Canyon, the raid on Libya. On 14 April 1986, 5 EF-111As and 20 F-111Es took off from RAF Upper Heyford as part of the attack force. They were used as an airborne reserve for the F-111Fs of the 48th TFW, RAF Lakenheath. Three EF-111s (two were spares and turned back) formed up with the 48th's F-111Fs and provided electronic defense during the attack on Tripoli. USAFE initiated the Project Power Hunter intelligence network in December 1987. The wing first tested the Durandal runway-buster bombs during Exercise Red Flag, in January and February 1988.

All three fighter squadrons deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey for Weapons Training Deployment (WTD) on Konya Range from March to May 1989.

The 20th deployed aircraft and personnel to Southwest Asia and Turkey, providing tactical and electronic combat operations against Iraq from 17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991. It won the 1991 Gunsmoke tactical gunnery competition in the F-111 category. The wing was relieved of electronic combat mission on 1 July 1992.

Operation Desert Storm

The 20th TFW had aircraft deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey for a Weapons Training Deployment in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and Desert Shield started. As the start of the air campaign neared, the wing reinforced its presence as all US aircraft at Incirlik were incorporated into the 7440th Wing (Provisional), Operation Proven Force, for the duration of the war. The wing also deployed four 42nd ECS EF-111As and 80 personnel to Taif, Saudi Arabia, to support Operation Desert Storm. On 25 January 1991, the wing was once again up to four flying squadrons when the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron was reassigned to the 20th from the 66th Electronic Combat Wing.

On 16 January 1991, a 42nd ECS EF-111A, operating from Taif, was credited with the first aerial kill of the war. It was attacked a by an Iraqi Mirage fighter while flying a night mission near the Saudi-Iraq border. To defeat the Iraqi fighter, the EF-111A descended to minimum altitude on its Terrain Following Radar (TFR). The Mirage slammed into the ground while trying to follow the EF-111A. On 17 January 1991, 20th TFW aircraft launched combat missions from both Turkey and Saudi Arabia and continued flying combat missions until the cease fire.

The F-111s flying from Turkey flew night missions throughout the war, using the TFR to penetrate the dense antiaircraft artillery (AAA) environment at altitudes around 200 feet (61 m) for the first few nights. Crews who flew those first few terrifying nights said that the illumination from the AAA was so bright that they didn't need the TFR to avoid the ground. After the missile threat was suppressed, crews flew their attacks at altitudes around 20,000 feet (6,100 m), above the range of most Iraqi AAA systems.

During the war, the F-111s attacked a range of targets, including power plants, petroleum refineries, airfields, nuclear-biological-chemical processing and storage facilities, and electronics sites throughout northern Iraq, using 500 and 2,000 pound conventional bombs, and CBU-87/89 cluster bombs. Wing EF-111As flew both day and night missions, providing direct and stand-off jamming for all coalition air forces. The skill and conspicuous bravery of wing aircrews was recognized in the award of numerous Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Crosses, and Air Medals.

By the end of the conflict Saudi-based EF-111As had flown 219 combat missions, totaling 1,155 flying hours. The wing's 6 EF-111As based in Turkey flew 252 combat missions, totaling 704 hours, while the 23 F-111Es at Incirlik flew 456 combat missions, totaling 1,327 combat hours. When Desert Storm ended, the wing had deployed 458 personnel, flown 1,798 combat sorties without a loss, and dropped 4,714 tons of ordnance.

Modern era

An F-16CJ Fighting Falcon deployed from Shaw AFB taking off to enforce the northern "no fly" zone in Iraq.

The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, along with the associated 55th, 77th, and 79th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were officially redesignated the 20th Fighter Wing and 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Squadrons on 1 October 1991. During October 1991, wing air and ground crews competed in Gunsmoke '91 at Nellis AFB, Nevada. On 23 October, the Gunsmoke team returned home with top honors and the F-111 Bombing trophy.

20th Fighter Wing aircrews participated in Green Flag '92 from 27 February – 13 April. This gave most of the wing's aircrew the opportunity to deliver GBU-12 laser-guided bombs in a near-combat environment. In May 1992, the 55th Fighter Squadron deployed to Aviano, Italy for Dragon Hammer '92. Wing aircrews competed in Excalibur '92 with the 55th FS finishing 8th out of 23 squadrons entered.

Approximately a year and a half after regaining the 42nd ECS, the wing lost it again when the 42nd was inactivated on 10 July 1992. The last EF-111A departed Upper Heyford in August 1992.

The wing celebrated the 75th anniversary of the 55th Fighter Squadron 7–9 August 1992. Then, from 4–7 February, additional celebrations were held for the 79th Fighter Squadron and in early March for the 77th Fighter Squadron.

The wing team deployed to Green Flag '93 at Nellis AFB, Nevada from 2 March – 2 April 1993. The first day-night Green Flag incorporated night low level operations and live weapons delivery. The 79th Fighter Squadron inactivated on 23 April 1993, with the last aircraft departing RAF Upper Heyford on 10 May.

On 4 June 1993, the 77th Fighter Squadron participated in Excalibur '93 taking first place by beating all other USAFE units, including F-15Es and F16s. The 55th Fighter Squadron participated in the Aalborg Airshow, Denmark, from 4–7 June 1993.

On 9 July 1993, the 77th Fighter Squadron inactivated. The last aircraft departed in August. The 55th Fighter Squadron deployed 6 aircraft to Incirlik AB, Turkey, for Dynamic Guard '93, from 20 September – 8 October 1993. This was the last operational deployment for the 20th Fighter Wing while at RAF Upper Heyford.

The last of the fighter squadrons, the 55th, inactivated on 15 October 1993. On 19 October 1993, aircraft 68-120 went to the Imperial War Museum at RAF Duxford where it is now on display alongside Happy Jack's Go Buggy, a 79th Fighter Squadron P-38 (68-120 is painted as The Chief - it was the wing's alternate flagship). The last of the wing's three aircraft departed Upper Heyford on 7 December 1993. The flagship of the 55th Fighter Squadron, aircraft 68055 Heartbreaker, departed first. It went to Robins AFB, Georgia, where it is now on display. The next aircraft, 68-061 The Last Roll of Me Dice, departed for the Davis Monthan AFB 'boneyard". Finally, aircraft 68-020 The Chief, flew to Hill AFB, Utah, where it is now on display at the Hill AFB Aerospace Museum.

In its last years at Upper Heyford, the F-111 finally showed that it was a mature system. The 20th's F-111Es had their best maintenance statistics in 13 years in 1992, and the best maintenance statistics in F-111 history in 1993. The fully mission capable rate surged to 88.8%, while cost per flying hour dropped from $1,136 to just over $700. Also the wing scored an Excellent on its Nuclear Surety Inspections for 1991 and 1993.

On 15 December 1993, the flight line at RAF Upper Heyford was closed

It moved without personnel and equipment from England to South Carolina on 1 January 1994, inheriting the personnel and equipment of the 363 Fighter Wing.

Two F-16s from the wing collided during a training flight on 15 October 2009. One F-16, piloted by Captain Lee Bryant, was able to land safely at Shaw.[1] The other plane, piloted by Captain Nicholas Giglio, 32, apparently crashed into the ocean. Authorities believe that Giglio was killed instantly in the collision and did not eject.[2] An accident investigation board determined that the crash was caused by pilot error. The board stated that Giglio was flying too fast and was not paying adequate attention as he attempted to rejoin Bryant's aircraft for the return flight to Shaw.[3]


  • Established as 20 Fighter Wing on 28 July 1947
Organized on 15 August 1947
Redesignated: 20 Fighter-Bomber Wing on 20 January 1950
Redesignated: 20 Tactical Fighter Wing on 8 July 1958
Redesignated: 20 Fighter Wing on 1 October 1991.


Attached to: Tactical Air Division, Provisional, 25 April – 10 October 1951
Attached to: Tactical Air Command, 6–30 November 1951
Attached to 49th Air Division, Operational, 12 February – 31 May 1952

Remained attached to 49th Air Division, Operational
Remained attached to 49th Air Division, Operational (later, 49th Air Division (Operational)), to 1 July 1956

Operational Components


Detached 26 July-c. 17 December 1950 and 25 April – 10 October 1951


Stations Assigned

References for Lineage, Assignments, Components, Stations Assigned:[4][5][6][7][8]

Aircraft operated


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

  1. Washington Post, "Plane Search Expands; Debris Seen In Atlantic", 17 October 2009.
  2. Collins, Jeffrey, "Missing F-16 pilot had no chance to eject", Military Times, 18 October 2009.
  3. Rolfsen, Bruce, "Report: Pilot error caused F-16s to collide", Military Times, 11 January 2010.
  4. Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  5. Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  6. Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1983. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  7. Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories, 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  8. Rogers, Brian. United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • This article includes content from Shaw AFB Website's history page.
  • Martin, Patrick. Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History, 1994. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1983. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories, 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Rogers, Brian. United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • [1] USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to present
  • Shaw AFB Home Page

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