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Early History of The 106th Rescue Wing

The 106th Rescue Wing is one of only three rescue units in the Air National Guard. It is the home of the Air National Guard’s oldest flying unit, the 102nd Rescue Squadron. The 102nd Rescue Squadron traces its lineage to an “aeronautical corps” formed by aviation enthusiasts in the New York National Guard in April 1908. In 1910, the unit raised $500.00 to finance its first aircraft. The investment was lost later that year when the airplane crashed on takeoff during maneuvers. In 1911, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company loaned the NY National Guard an aircraft and a pilot named Beckwith Havens. He later joined the unit as a private and was recognized as the National Guard’s first aviator. In August 1912, Private Havens flew with the Regular Army in joint maneuvers.

It became an actual aviation company when the 1st Aero Company, Signal Corps, NY National Guard was established on 1 November 1915. First Federal recognition as a constituted unit is traced from that time. The 1st Aero Company became the first National Guard aviation unit to be called into Federal service when it was federalized on 13 July 1916 for use in The Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in northern Mexico. It did not embark for Texas but instead, remained in camp at Mineola, NY. It was mustered out of Federal service on 2 November 1916.

On November 18, 1916, aviators of the 1st Aero Company, NYNG, flying Curtiss JN-4 “Jennies” made the first mass cross-country flight in U.S. military aviation history. Twelve of the unit’s aircraft flew from Mineola, NY to Princeton, NJ on the 18th and returned the next day. When the United States entered World War I all National Guard aviation units were dissolved. New York’s 1st Aero Company was no different and it was disbanded on 23 May 1917. The founder of the unit, Captain Raynall Cawthorne Bolling (for whom Bolling AFB is named) and almost all of the members of the unit left the National Guard to join the Army Signal Corps Reserve and in May 1917 founded the 1st Aero Reserve Squadron. That unit was sent to France in August 1917.

After World War I, many of the Army’s early aviators returned to civilian life but interest in military aviation in the National Guard remained high. In 1921, World War I veterans and other aviation enthusiasts worked to re-establish an aviation unit in New York. In November 1922, the 102nd Observation Squadron, attached at the time to an infantry unit in Mineola, NY was federally recognized. It has had an unbroken record of service ever since.

During the inter-war years, the 102nd Observation Squadron flew a variety of aircraft but continued to serve as the aerial eyes for the Commander of the 27th Infantry Division, New York National Guard. One of America’s leading aces of the First World War, George A. Vaughan (9.5 victories) became one of the 102nd’ Observation Squadron’s first commanders. He eventually became the 27th Division’s Air Officer.

After its re-establishment, the 102nd Observation Squadron spent most of the remainder of the 1920s and 1930s at Miller Field, a wartime facility on Staten Island. When the United States entered World War II, the 102nd Observation Squadron was again activated for Federal service. However, like many of the organized Guard aviation units, it was stripped of experienced pilots and maintenance personnel who were used as cadres for the rapidly expanding Army Air Forces. Most of the members served in other units during the war and the 102nd Observation Squadron would go through several transformations during the war. It would serve as a reconnaissance squadron and a light bombardment unit. It flew coastal defense missions along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico.

The 102nd Bombardment Squadron (L) returned to state control once more at the end of World War II. On May 24, 1946, it was assigned to the newly formed 106th Bombardment Wing (L). The Wing was relocated to the naval air station at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY. The 106th Bombardment Wing received the lineage and honors from a World War II Army Air Forces unit, the 394th Bombardment Group (M), a 9th Air Force B-26 group that operated out of England and France.

The postwar years saw numerous mission and aircraft changes. When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, the entire 106th Bomb Wing returned to Federal service and was assigned to March AFB, CA. The Wing traded its Douglas B-26 Invaders for the larger Boeing B-29 Superfortress in 1951. The Wing returned to New York State control in 1952. After returning to New York, the 106th Bomb Wing regained its light bombers and flew them until its conversion to an air defense fighter unit in 1956. In the space of three years, the newly redesignated 106th Fighter Wing completed three aircraft conversions. It operated the Lockheed T-33, a trainer version of the F-80 Shooting Star, the Lockheed F-94 Starfire and the North American F-86 Sabrejet. In 1959, the unit was again given a new mission and new aircraft when it became an airlift group equipped with the Fairchild C-119 “Flying Boxcar.” It operated as a general transport and aeromedical evacuation unit until being re-equipped with the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter in 1962. In 1969, the C-97s were modified into the tanker version, the KC-97 Stratotanker. The 106th flew this aircraft until 1972.

In 1969, the Air Force closed Suffolk County Air Force Base; it remained vacant for less than a year when the Air National Guard relocated the 106th from its home of 24 years, Floyd Bennett Field to eastern Long Island. The 106th Air Refueling Group moved to Suffolk County Airport in 1970 and returned to the air defense community in 1972 when it received the Convair F-102 “Delta Dagger.” Once again, the Wing’s mission was short lived. The year 1975 would see a dramatic mission change for the 106th Fighter Interceptor Group, one that would have far reaching impact and long lasting significance for the unit, Long Island and the nation.

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