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The Air Commandos Were the Genesis of USAF Special Operations Command

Right From the Start the Air Commandos Got the Oldest But Might Have Been the Boldest

Official US Air Force photograph

The United States Air Force (USAF) produced the film “Special Air Warfare Forces 1965” to depict the formation and deployment of the 1st Air Commando Group to Southeast Asia at the time. Formed to train UAF pilots on older propeller driven aircraft like the Curtiss C-46 Commando and Douglas C-47 Skytrain airlifters, Douglas B-26K Invader bombers, and North American T-28D Trojan counter insurgency (COIN) aircraft, the group is still operational as the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW). The film was uploaded to YouTube by PeriscopeFilm.

The 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) went to work at Hurlburt Field near Mary Esther in the Florida panhandle in 1961 with precious few aircraft and only about 360 personnel. Equipped initially with only B-26Ks, T-28Ds, and C-47s, after expansion in 1964 the Air Commandos also flew Douglas A-1E Skyraider attack aircraft, Fairchild C-123 Provider airlifters and single engine Helio U-10 Courier utility aircraft among others. Training of foreign military pilots and crews (alongside the American COIN crews) was the primary mission of the group.

Official US Air Force photograph

Four USAF Air National Guard (ANG) units augmented the Air Commandos during the Vietnam War. The 143rd Airlift Wing, Rhode Island ANG traded in their C-46s for U-10As and U-10Ds. They later flew single engine DeHavilland U-6A Beavers in place of the Couriers and fly Lockheed C-130J Hercules airlifters today. The 135th Airlift Wing, Maryland ANG flew C-46s along with Grumman SA-16 Albatross amphibians and was tasked with the covert insertion, resupply, and extraction of Special Forces personnel. The 135th last flew Alenia C-27J Spartan airlifters.

Official US Air Force photograph

The 130th Airlift Wing, West Virginia ANG also flew the C-46 and SA-16 and was tasked with missions similar to those assigned to the 135th Wing. Today the 130th flies some of the few remaining Lockheed C-130H Hercules airlifters in the inventory. The 129th Airlift Wing, California ANG was flying C-46s before becoming a part of the Air Commandos and traded them for U-10As and U-10Ds before flying U-6As. The 129th eventually flew Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars before becoming the 129th Rescue Squadron flying the MC-130P Combat Shadow variant of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the HH-60G Pave Hawk variant of the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk.

Official US Air Force photograph

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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