In 2016 Hampton and Joint Base Langley Eustis celebrated its 100th anniversary of the purchase of land for Langley Air Force Base, one of the earliest military bases in America specifically built for air power.
In 1915 at the onset of the First World War, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The committee was "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution."
A site was needed for aeronautical research, experiments, and flight tests. Hampton sons Harry Holt, Hunter R. Booker, Nelson Groome and Frank Darling convinced the federal government to consider land in Elizabeth City County now within the City of Hampton, that was open, flat and close to water. It was also unobstructed for expansion and close to Fort
Monroe, a US Army installation. These features were attractive to the military and on December 30, 1916, the federal government made its first land purchase for aviation purposes with 1,650 acres among the farms,
forests, and swamps located along the Back River. The airfield built there by the Army Air Service and NACA was named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, the pioneer of American military aviation.
Langley Field grew, and the designation of the military aviation group changed. In 1918 it was called the Army Air Service, in 1926 the Army Air Corps, and in 1941, as America entered World War II, the Army Air Forces. Finally, in 1947, it became a separate branch of the military, the United States Air Force, and a year later, Langley Field took its present name, Langley Air Force Base. Langley is the oldest continually active air force base in the world, and is the oldest airfield in Virginia. On October 1, 2010, Langley Air Force Base was joined with Fort Eustis to become Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
Langley, now situated on 3,152 acres of land between the cities of Hampton (south), NASA Langley Research Center and the northwest and southwest branches of the Back River, sustains the important mission for our nation of fast global deployment and air superiority.
The 1st Fighter Wing's long and distinguished history began May 5, 1918, when the American Expeditionary Force organized the 1st Pursuit Group, the first American group-level fighter organization. In 1975, the 1st FW was designated then-Langley's host unit, until Jan. 7, 2010, when the 9th Air Force reactivated the 633rd Air Base Wing and established it as Langley's new host unit. As of Jan. 29, 2010, the 1st FW joined other units as a tenant unit at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
During World War I, the 1st PG tested new aircraft and perfected fighter tactics developed over the skies of France. On April 14, 1918, the unit recorded the first confirmed aerial victory of the war.
By the end of the war the 1st PG had amassed 202 confirmed kills and earned seven campaign credits. Second Lt. Frank Luke Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, and 1st Lt. Edward "Eddie" V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, each earned a Medal of Honor for his actions.
During World War II, the 1st Fighter Group again excelled as pilots flying the P-38 Lightning provided vital escort support to allied bombing operations; the unit flew more than 20,000 sorties on 1,405 combat missions and scored more than 400 aerial kills. Their accomplishments earned them 15 campaign credits and three distinguished unit citations.
In April 1950, the 1 FG was redesignated the 1st Fighter Interceptor Group. The unit served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War by conducting academic and flight training in tactics, techniques, and operations for combat aircrew of the F-4 and B-57.
On March 14, 1974, the Air Force announced plans to station the first operational F-15C Eagle Wing at Langley. In late 1976, under the command of Col. Larry Welch, Langley and the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing received its first F-15C Eagle aircraft. Introducing the F-15 into the Air Force's operational inventory, the Wing received its first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. Airmen of the Wing went on to help prepare other bases for their reception of the F-15. The 1st TFW also participate in worldwide deployments and training exercises throughout the 1980s.
The training and experience gained in the 1980s was called upon in the summer of 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. On Aug. 7, 1990, the wing deployed 48 aircraft to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. By Jan. 16, 1991, as Desert Shield came to a close, the Wing had amassed 4,207 sorties. When Desert Shield evolved into Desert Storm, 16 of the Wing's F-15s participated in yet another combat mission. On March 8, 1991, the 1st TFW returned to Langley from Saudi Arabia. In October 1991, the 1st TFW was redesignated to the 1st Fighter Wing.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks committed against the United States prompted action from U.S. Forces around the world. At Langley, the 1st FW's weapons loaders quickly armed F-15s which were scrambled to protect America's air space from additional terrorist attacks. Other Airmen of the 1st FW secured the base, donated blood and pitched in wherever possible. During Operation Noble Eagle, wing aircraft provided air cover over several major cities, including New York City and the District of Columbia. At the same time, hundreds of Wing members deployed to support what came to be known as the Global War on Terror.
By March 2002, the 1st FW had deployed a dozen F-15s and more than 600 Airmen to Iraq. When President George Bush ordered U.S. troops into action, wing aircraft, charged with gaining and maintaining air superiority, sprang into action. The Wing's F-15s dominated the air space, flying 360 sorties and intimidating the Iraqi Air force to stay on the ground. In some cases Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Air Force even tried burying its planes under the ground.
Given the history of the 1st FW and its success in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force announced on Jan. 15, 2002, plans for the Wing to bring the F-22 Raptor into combat operational status. The first Raptor assigned to the Wing arrived Jan. 7, 2005. This aircraft was allocated as a trainer, and as such, was docked in a hanger for maintenance personnel to familiarize themselves with its complex systems. The second Raptor, designated for flying operations, arrived Jan. 18, 2005. On Dec. 15, 2005, Air Combat Command commander, along with the 1st FW commander, announced the 27th Fighter Squadron as fully operational capable to fly, fight and win with the F-22.
Today, the 1st FW houses the 1st Operations Group, composed of the 27th FS (Fightin' Eagles) and the 94th FS (Hat-in-the-Ring Gang). Also encompassed by the 1st FW is the 1st Maintenance Group. The 1st FW continues to support Joint Base Langley-Eustis' flying mission to meet the demands of air superiority.
The 633rd Air Base Wing (ABW) has a storied, historic and distinguished history. Originally designated the 633rd Combat Support Group, it was established and activated March 14, 1966 and organized April 8, 1966.
It was originally assigned to the 13th Air Force as part of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) at Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam, and later at Andersen AFB, Guam.
During the Vietnam War, Airmen of the 633rd ABW participated in numerous campaigns, air offensives and Operations Arc Light, Bullet Shot and Linebacker.
On Oct. 1, 1989, the Wing aligned under the 13th AF, activated on Andersen AFB, Guam, and became the host unit, providing services for various tenant units. This marked the transfer of Andersen AFB control from Strategic Air Command to PACAF.
In August 1990, 633rd ABW personnel began shipping more than 37,000 tons of munitions to forces in the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm – more than 30,000 tons went by sealift, and more than 2,200 troops and 2,200 tons of cargo processed aboard 200 aircraft.
Operation Fiery Vigil spun into action June 1991, when 633rd ABW personnel cared for more than 20,000 American evacuees and 1,100 pets following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines.
On Oct. 1, 1994, the 633rd ABW was inactivated and the 36th ABW was activated in keeping with the policy of the Air Force Chief of Staff to maintain the most highly decorated and longest- serving Air Force units on active-duty. The 36th ABW was inactivated at Bitburg AB, Germany, that same day.
On Jan. 7, 2010, the 9th AF reactivated the 633rd ABW and declared it to be the host unit for Langley AFB, Va.
633RD AIR BASE WING
1ST FIGHTER WING
99 YEARS OF AIR SHOWS AT LANGLEY
Based on article from the archives of the Daily Press
A headline in the Daily Press dated Friday, May 9, 1919 states “Great Aerial Circus At Langley Field This Saturday”. The article goes on to say, “The stage is set and the air is expected to be ready for the biggest aerial circus ever attempted in the United States at Langley Field tomorrow”.
The article also lists the “official program” as follows:
10am Formation flying – balloon ascension
10:30am Arrival of blimps and exhibition
11:00am Exhibition flight. Lt George flying an assumed hostile airplane attacks a captive balloon forcing the occupants to resort to parachutes to save their lives
11:30am Aerial circus
1:00pm Crew competition in assembling airplanes
2:00pm Blimp exhibition
2:30pm Aerial battle
3:30pm Athletic events
4:30pm Bomb dropping. Bomb to be dropper on a German Battery located directly north in the field. Watch the battery blow up!!
5:00pm Airplane escort. Lt Brandt and Lt Bradford will be the pilots used in flying the purchasers of $1000 worth of Victory bonds. Two of the best ships on the field have been rigged-up for the trips and are in the hangars ready for use. Arrangements have been made for parents to take children under 10 years of age up with them provided that $1000 worth of bonds is also purchased for the child.
Exhibits from 10:00am to 5:00pm
In a second article in the May 9, 1919 edition by the Daily Press it states, “Major Frank Lackland, commanding officer at the (Langley) field, has announced that the station will be open to the public all day and that everyone is invited tocome to Langley and see the circus.” The article goes on to say “ Lt George, the American ace, will do a number ofdeath-defying stunts. Time after time he will dive along the outskirts of the crowd in order that the visitors can see the speed with which the little scout travels”.
Although the weather on Saturday was not as planned, the show went on. According to a Daily Press article, dated May 10, 1919, approximately 8,000 guests attended. There was better news….
A Daily Press article dated May 13, 1919 boasts the headline “Hampton Suspended Business Yesterday to Visit Great Show Staged at the Flying Field”. The article went on to say “Fully 10,000 people attended the second performance of the aerial circus at Langley Field yesterday afternoon and enjoyed another thrilling exhibition of flying and fine exhibits of the machines and airships. The only feature left off was the balloon parachute jumping as Major Lackland received orders to have the big balloon returned and had to cut this attraction off the afternoon’s performance. The various booths did not do business either. All the stores in Hampton, including the banks and soft drink establishments closed for the day and nearly every person attended the circus. The schools gave a half holiday. In fact, the occasion was a general holiday for the people here (in Hampton) who were delighted with the fine program afforded them by Major Lackland and the officers at the big field.
Lt George, the American ace, did some expert and sensational flying, while the other flyers gave a battle formation and cut a number of capers in the air. The blowing up of the German battery was a thriller that pleased the large crowd.”
Ninety-nine years later, the air show is no longer referred to as a “flying circus”, but AirPower over Hampton Roads. It attracts an average of 180,000 guests over the weekend and jets are the main attractions. However, the warbirds in the air or on display that were flown by heroic “American aces” of days gone by are loved as much now as they were by the crowd attending the “flying circus” in 1919.