Truax Field, Wis. --
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Air Venture Oshkosh is an annual gathering of aviation fans and is held each summer in Oshkosh, Wis. This year the event will be July 23-29 and will feature a slew of special events, forums, workshops, static aircraft, and aerial demonstration shows. Aviation history is an integral part of the event and several aircraft from the 115th Fighter Wing's history will be there— to include a plane from the unit's current mission and potentially, one of its future.
Examples of the historical aircraft of the 115th that will be at EAA this year include the F-51D Mustang (flown at Truax from 1948-1952), F-86A Sabre (1953-1954), O-2A Skymaster (1974-1979), A-10 Thunderbolt II (1981-1992) and the current mission of the F-16 (1992 - Present). In addition, an F-35 Lightning II will be at the event, which is the aircraft mission that the 115th is hoping to acquire pending the results of an environmental impact statement in approximately 2023.
115th Aircraft – A Short History:
The 115th traces its lineage from the 128th Fighter Wing and further back to the 176th Fighter Squadron, whose roots lie in the 306th Fighter Squadron. Throughout its history, the 115th has flown a remarkable array of aircraft. When it was the 176th, the F-51 Mustang was one of the first aircraft assigned to the unit and ten of the unit’s 25 Mustangs were allocated to the Korean War.
In February 1951, the 176th was placed on active duty but stayed stateside at Truax Field. During this tour, the unit converted aircraft to the F-89C Scorpion—the first Air National Guard unit to fly the modern jet fighter. The fighter had a short life with the unit, having arrived in March of 1952, but was grounded by September of that same year. The F-89 would return to the 176th in October of 1955 and continue service until 1966.
By October of 1953, the unit began to receive F-86A Sabres, a legendary fighter of the Korean War that earned the title, “MIG Killer.” The F-51s, F-86s, and F-89s were all a part of the unit from 1953 to 1955. The Sabre would depart in 1954.
The F-102 Delta Dagger began to arrive at the, now, 176th Fighter Intercept Squadron in May of 1966. The arrival of the world’s first supersonic all-weather jet interceptor was a challenging transition for the unit. A new aircraft meant more training with pilots and crews were on a five minute (24/7) alert status. The Delta Dagger stayed with the unit through 1974.
That same year, the 176th experienced a significant change in aircraft, mission, and designation. The unit moved away from a fighter squadron to a support squadron, having been redesignated the 176th Tactical Air Support Squadron. The O-2A Skymaster was now the unit's airframe, and the focus was a Forward Air Control (FAC) mission.
Five years later, in 1979, the 176th became one of the preliminary units to receive the OA-37, moving the FAC mission from propeller driven to jet. However, this aircraft would phase out over the next two years.
In 1981, the 176th became part of the 128th Tactical Fighter Wing. A group of A-10s arrived and over the course of the next 11 years, the 128th supported Army units, both at home and abroad. Deployments for training included Coronet Giant and Coronet Mercury, which included 38 daily sorties and was pivotal for gaining essential experience for unit members.
In 1992, the unit was redesignated the 128th Fighter Wing and began converting to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Missions for this aircraft included strategic attack, counter air, interdiction, and close air support. By 1995, the 128th became the 115th Fighter Wing and continued to fly the F-16, supporting various operations abroad and exercises at home.
In closing, one of the most advanced aircraft coming to EAA is also potentially on its way to the 115th in early 2023, pending the results of an environmental impact study. The F-35 Lightning II performs ground attack and air superiority missions and is just another amazing aircraft that may eventually become a part of the rich history of the 115th Fighter Wing.
For more information about EAA Air Venture Oshkosh, visit: https://www.eaa.org/en/airventure.