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33d Special Operations Squadron
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper 08-0084.png
33d Special Operations Squadron General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper 08-0084
Active 12 June 1917 – Present
Country Flag of the United States.svg United States
Branch Roundel of the USAF.svg United States Air Force
Part of Air Force Special Operations Command
Garrison/HQ Cannon AFB, New Mexico
Engagements World War I War Service Streamer without inscription.png
World War I
World War II Victory Streamer.png
World War II
Southwest Asia Service Streamer.png
1991 Gulf War
Afghanistan Campaign Streamer.png
Operation Enduring Freedom
Iraq Campaign Ribbon.png
Operation Iraqi Freedom
33d Special Operations Squadron emblem 33d Special Operations Squadron - Emblem.png

The 33d Special Operations Squadron (33 SOS) is a United States Air Force unit, assigned to the 27th Special Operations Group, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. The squadron operates the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.

The 33d SOS was named Air Force Special Operations Command’s Special Operations Squadron of the Year for 2012.[1] The squadron was reactivated by the Air Force in May 2009 in direct response to combat needs of today's overseas contingency operations.[2]


MQ-9 Reaper maintenance at Cannon AFB

The mission of the 33d SOS is to operate the MQ-9 Reaper, primarily over combat areas to provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). During 2012, 39 members of the squadron were deployed, accumulating a total of 3,891 days downrange and facilitating thousands of hours of ISR coverage. Ten additional squadron members were deployed to fill roles such as Remotely Piloted Aircraft liaison officers, ISR battle captains, and group commanders. Their deployed contributions totaled 517 days.[1]

The 33d SOS is one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force, its origins dating to 12 June 1917. Over this time, members of the squadron took part in World War I, World War II, the 1991 Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqui Freedom.[2]


World War I

The 33d Special Operations Squadron traces its history to the organization of the 33d Aero Squadron at Kelly Field, Texas, on 17 May 1917, about a month after the United States' entry into World War I. The squadron consisted of 160 recruits and was first called "2d Company "G", Kelly Field". Later, the name was changed to "1st Company "F", Kelly Field"; and on 1 July 1917 was given the designation of the 33d Aero Squadron. After rudimentary indoctrination into the Army at Kelly Field, the squadron was given orders for overseas duty in France, and proceeded to Fort Totten, New York on 15 August.[3][4]

Across the Atlantic

On 22 August they were transported to the Port of Entry, Hoboken, New Jersey, and were boarded on the RMS Baltic. The next day, they left Pier 59, en route to Halifax, Nova Scotia where the ship anchored awaiting for a convoy. Finally, on 5 September, the convoy was formed and the trans-Atlantic journey began.[3]

On the night of 14 September, two red rockets were fired from an accompanying destroyer that had spotted a submarine periscope. The destroyer dropped depth charges on the submarine, and the Baltic made a sudden turn to port, that caused both men and anything loose aboard the ship to move. Suddenly a large explosion was heard and five long blasts were made by the ship's whistle and everyone on board was ordered to report to their assigned lifeboats. The Baltic's captain announced that a torpedo had struck the ship, but it had only made a glancing blow on the bow; that the emergency pumps were working and there was no danger.[3]

3d Air Instructional Center

The next morning the ship arrived at Liverpool, England; the squadrons on the Baltic being the first American airmen to land there. The 33d was boarded on a train and proceeded to Southampton where it was stationed at a Rest Camp, arriving at 1:00am on 16 September. At Southampton, fifty men of the squadron were detached to the Royal Flying Corps for three months training as aircraft mechanics. The remainder of the squadron were to proceed to France. The squadron arrived at Le Harve, then continued by train to Etampes, France, arriving on the 19th. At Etampes, the squadron was divided into three detachments for training at different aircraft schools in France, and were designated as the 33d Aero Squadron Detachments. The detachments were sent to Paris, Clermont-Ferrant and Lyon. In addition, 18 men were sent to Issodun Aerodrome to help construct the 3d Air Instructional Center.[3]

3d Air Instructional Center, Issodun Aerodrome, Summer 1918

The squadron was recombined at Issodun Aerodrome just after Christmas Day, 1917. The men had been thoroughly trained in aircraft assembly, engine maintenance and the other skills needed for them to do their work at the 3d AIC. The men from England arrived on 14 January, and they had become instructors in pistol, rifle, and machine-gunnery. The duties of the squadron became the maintenance of the training aircraft, primarily French Nieuports at the school, which had been set up by the Training Section, AEF to train American pursuit pilots prior to them being sent into combat at the Front. In their off-hours, the men engaged in sports such as Boxing and Football. Athletics was an important part of the duty at Issodun, giving the squadron, which was widely divided around the station, an esprit-de-corps and helped build morale. In addition to the aircraft work, squadron members were also engaged in expanding the 3d AIC as necessary, erecting additional buildings and aircraft hangars as new airfields were required as training was expanded with additional pilots and aircraft.[3]

The numbers of aircraft accidents increased in relation to the increase of pilots going though training. Some of these accidents were found to be caused by a long row of large trees to the north of one of the fields. Those were cut down to give the students additional unobstructed space for landings and takeoffs. Overlapping airfields were also causing a problem with the increased amount of aircraft, and additional airfields, away from the main base were acquired and set up to relieve that problem. Severe storms, especially in the summer caused hangars to be torn up and airplanes to be damaged by high winds or flying debris. The work of the mechanics, in particular could be quite dangerous as men were severely injured by propeller blades, and in one case, a squadron member working on the field was killed when another plane, attempting a takeoff, instead swerved and ran into the plane he was working on.[3]

During the month of September 1918, training was especially intense as new pilots, to be assigned to the new Second Army Air Service, began to arrive for instruction. By the time of the Armistice on 11 November, the men of the squadron held responsible positions in many of the support areas of the 3d AIC. Although they did not enter combat, the men provided the means to train the pilots who went to the front and gave them the best of training so they might accomplish their work.[3]


The 33d remained at Issodun until the end of December, 1918 when orders were received to proceed to the 1st Air Depot, Colombey-les-Belles Airdrome, France, for demobilization. From Colombey, the squadron was moved to a staging camp under the Services of Supply at Bordeaux, France, in January waiting for a date to report to a base port for transportation home. In mid-March, the squadron boarded a troop ship, arriving in New York on 5 April. From there, the 33d moved to Mitchel Field, New York where the men were demobilized and returned to civilian life.[3][5] The 33d Aero Squadron was demobilized on 14 April 1919 at Mitchel Field, New York.[6]

Inter-war years

33d Pursuit Squadron Consolidated P-30, Langley Field, Virginia, 1937

The 33d Pursuit Squadron was re-constituted as a reserve Army Air Service unit on 24 March 1923, being assigned to the 8th Pursuit Group in the VI Corps area. It was an active associate unit to the 17th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan. Its members spending their reserve commitments with the 17th, primarily supporting the Dayton-Wright DH-4s of the 17th. It was moved to the IX Corps Area in California on 28 February 1927 but never fully organized in the reserves. It was then moved to the VIII Corps area in Texas on 1 September 1928, and its members trained as individual reservists at Kelly Field.[6]

On 25 June 1932 it was transferred to the United States Army Air Corps as a regular unit without reservists, being activated at Langley Field, Virginia. It was equipped with Boeing P-12s, and in 1933 some Curtiss P-6 Hawk pursuit planes and trained primarily on coastal defense patrols. Transferred to the 8th Pursuit Group on 1 March 1935, the squadron continued to fly pursuit planes, receiving new front-line aircraft for testing and evaluation. These included the Consolidated P-30, Curtiss P-36 Hawk, YP-37 Hawk and Northrop A-17 Dive Bomber.[2]

The squadron was re-designated as the 33d Pursuit Squadron (Fighter) on 6 December 1939; It moved to Mitchel Field, New York in March 1940 after the breakout of World War II in Europe. It was re-designted as an Interceptor squadron, and shortly afterwards received early-model P-40C Warhawks. It's mission was the air defense of the New York City area.[2]

World War II

The squadron was deployed to Iceland with P-40 Warhawk fighters as part of the Iceland Base Command (IBC) as part of a bilateral agreement with the Icelandic Government to provide air defense of their nation. The squadron departed from New York Harbor on 27 July 1941 on the USS Wasp, arriving off Iceland on 6 August 1941. The squadron flew its P-40s off the carrier, and landed at Kaldadarnes Airfield, near Reykjavík where it replaced a Royal Air Force squadron which withdrew to the United Kingdom.[6] It operated from Kaldadarnes until Patterson Field was completed in July 1942.[2][7][8]

33d Pursuit Squadron P-40C Warhawk, Kaldadarnes Airfield, Iceland, 1941.

Additional fighter squadrons were sent to Iceland after the United States entry into World War II, and the 33d was re-aassigned to the new 342d Composite Group in September 1942, and the squadron received additional P-39 Aircobras. Along with the air defense mission, the 33d also provided escort patrols for Air Transport Command operations flying though Iceland as part of the North Atlantic air ferry route, and antisubmarine patrols.[2]

With the completion of Meeks Field in March 1943, headquarters of the 342d was moved there, however due to congestion with Air Transport Command ferrying traffic, the 33d operated primarily from Patterson Field. German aircraft, operating from bases in Occupied Norway, were first engaged near near Iceland on 28 April 1942 and had been followed by a three months' lull. Then in late July three more encounters took place. Encounters between German aircraft and the 342d continued until the summer of 1943 when the last enemy aircraft (a Junkers Ju 88) was intercepted on 5 August. After that, with the Germans on the defensive in Europe, the Luftwaffe was engaged in other activities elsewhere.[8]

The 342d was inactivated in March 1944 and the squadron came under the direct control of the 24th Composite Wing. The P-40s and P-39s were replaced with new P-47D Thunderbolts, however, with the Germans in full retreat after D-Day, the 24th was disestablished and the 33d remained in Iceland as a defensive measure under IBC until the end of the war when it was inactivated.[2]

Tactical Air Command

In April 1953, the 33d Fighter-Bomber Squadron was activated as part of the 37th Fighter-Bomber Group, at Clovis AFB, New Mexico under Tactical Air Command (TAC). The 37th FBG was assigned to Clovis to replace the 50th FBG which was deployed to West Germany as part of USAFE. However, the 37th was neither manned or equipped due to personnel and equipment shortages and was inactivated on 25 June 1953.[2]

33d FS F-16D Block 42H 90-0778. Lt. Col. Gary North the 33rd FS commander; SSgt. Roy Murray, crew chief; SA Steven Ely, assistant crew chief, pose with the aircraft which Lt. Col. North was flying when he shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 over the "No Fly Zone" on 27 December 1992 during Operation Desert Storm.

The 33d was again re-activated at the newly opened Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina by TAC as the 33d Fighter-Day Squadron as part of the 342d FDG on 25 July 1956. The 342d was equipped with a mixed assortment of aircraft, the most modern being five RF-80A Shooting Stars. These aircraft were considered to be at Myrtle Beach on an interim status, as North American Aircraft established a training facility at the base for F-100 Super Sabre orientation. Although on paper a fully functioning wing, the efforts and activities of the 342d FDW were directed to reach operational capabilities by overcoming the problems and obstacles inherent in the activation of a new fighter wing on a base sill largely under construction. The 342d FDW lasted 117 days until 18 November 1956 when the Air Force re-designated the unit as the 354th Fighter-Day Wing, and the men and aircraft of the 33d Fighter-Day Squadron were re-designated as the 353d Fighter Day Squadron.[9]

Reactivated a third time by Tactical Air Command on 15 October 1969, at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, this time as the 33d Tactical Reconnaissance Training Squadron, and assigned to the 363d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The 33d assumed personnel and equipment of provisional 4415th Combat Crew Training Squadron, being equipped with RF-4C Phantom II reconnaissance aircraft. The mission of the squadron at Shaw AFB was to train newly assigned pilots in the tactical reconnaissance mission. In 1982, as the 363d converted to an F-16 Fighting Falcon Tactical Fighter Wing, the 33d was inactivated on 1 October 1982 when its reconnaissance training mission ended.[10]

Reactivated as part of the 363d Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1985 at Shaw as the Wing's 4th F-16 Squadron. Trained in tactical fighter missions designed to destroy enemy forces, 1985–1993. Deployed aircrews and aircraft to Southwest Asia (SWA) during the 1991 Gulf War; later participated in Operation Southern Watch over southern Iraq in support of United Nations operations, 1992–1993. Lt Col Gary L. North, commander of 33 Fighter Squadron, became the first F-16 pilot to score an aerial victory in SWA, 27 Dec 1992. Inactivated in late 1993 when the 20th Fighter Wing assumed the mission and assets of the 363d Fighter Wing as part of the Air Force downsizing after the end of the Cold War.[10]


33d Pursuit Squadron – Leather jacket Patch from the 1930s

33d Tactical Fighter Squadron Desert Storm commemorative patch, 1991

  • Organized as 33d Aero Squadron on 12 June 1917
Demobilized on 14 April 1919
  • Reconstituted and re-designated as 33d Pursuit Squadron on 24 March 1923
Activated in the reserve on 24 March 1923
Inactivated in the reserve on 25 June 1932
Activated on 25 June 1932
Re-designated: 33d Pursuit Squadron (Fighter) on 6 December 1939
Re-designated: 33d Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 12 March 1941
Re-designated: 33d Fighter Squadron on 15 May 1942
Re-designated: 33d Fighter Squadron, Single Engine on 3 February 1944
Inactivated on 22 June 1945
  • Re-designated as 33d Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 3 March 1953
Activated on 8 April 1953
Inactivated on 25 June 1953
  • Re-designated as 33d Fighter-Day Squadron on 7 May 1956
Activated on 25 July 1956
Inactivated on 19 November 1956
  • Re-designated 33d Tactical Reconnaissance Training Squadron on 18 August 1969
Organized on 15 October 1969, assuming personnel and equipment of 4415th Combat Crew Training Squadron
Inactivated on 1 October 1982
  • Re-designated 33d Tactical Fighter Squadron on 7 September 1984
Activated on 1 January 1985
Re-designated 33d Fighter Squadron on 1 November 1991
Inactivated on 15 November 1993
  • Re-designated as 33d Special Operations Squadron on 29 April 2009
Activated on 29 May 2009


  • Post Headquarters, Kelly Field, 17 May 1917
  • Aviation Concentration Center, 15 August 1917
  • Air Service Headquarters, AEF, British Isles, 16 September 1917
Detachment attached to Royal Flying Corps for training, 16 September 1917 – 14 January 1918
  • Air Service Headquarters, AEF, 19 September 1917
Detachments attached to Training Section, AEF, 19 September – 25 December 1917
  • 3d Air Instructional Center, 23 September 1917
  • 1st Air Depot, December, 1918
  • Commanding General, Services of Supply, c. 6 January – c. 18 March 1919
  • Eastern Department, c. 5–14 April 1919


  • Camp Kelly, Texas, 12 June – 11 August 1917
  • Etamps, France, 19 September 1917
  • Clermont-Ferrand, France, c. 25 September 1917
  • Issoudun Aerodrome, France, December 1917
  • Bordeaux, France, 6 January – 18 March 1919
  • Mitchel Field, New York, 5–14 April 1919
  • Langley Field, Virginia, 25 June 1932
  • Mitchel Field, New York, 14 November 1940 – 27 July 1941

  • Meeks Field, Iceland, 6 August 1941 – 9 June 1945
  • Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, 20–22 June 1945
  • Clovis AFB, New Mexico, 8 April – 25 June 1953
  • Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, 25 July – 19 November 1956
  • Shaw AFB, South Carolina, 1 October 1969 – 1 October 1982, 1 January 1985 – 15 November 1993
  • Cannon AFB, New Mexico, 29 May 2009 – present


See also


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

  1. 1.0 1.1 33 SOS named AFSOC Special Operations Squadron of the Year
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 33d Special Operations Squadron Factsheet
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Series "E", Volume 7, History of the 30th–37th Aero Squadrons. Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917–1919, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 3, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949 (1988 Reprint)
  5. Series "D", Weekly Statistical Reports of Air Service Activities, October 1918 – May 1919. Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917–1919, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Clay, Steven E. (2011). US Army Order of Battle 1919–1941. 3 The Services: Air Service, Engineers, and Special Troops 1919–1941. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press. ISBN 978-0-98419-014-0. LCCN 2010022326. OCLC 637712205
  7. Chapter XIX Establishing the Iceland Base Command, United States Army Center of Military History
  8. 8.0 8.1 North Atlantic Bases in Wartime, United States Army Center of Military History
  9. History of the 342d Fighter-Day Wing, 354th TFW History Office, 1956, Air Force Historical Research Agency
  10. 10.0 10.1 History of the 20th Fighter Wing and Shaw Air Force Base, Office of History 20th Fighter Wing. Shaw AFB, South Carolina. December 2010, AFD-110131-026.pdf

External links

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