Air Force aviation history begins with the 1st Fighter Wing

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Delaney Gonzales
  • 633rd Air Base Wing

The 1st Fighter Wing is the cornerstone of Air Force aviation history —the wing traces its lineage back to the formation of the 1st Pursuit Group in 1918, and has the honor of being the oldest wing in the Air Force.

“You can’t tell the story of Air Force aviation without the 1st Fighter Wing,” said Joshua Lashley, 1st FW historian.

The pressure to develop a capable aerial fighting force became apparent during World War I as aerial combat began to be incorporated in militaries around the globe.

“The realization that the U.S. was going to join the war along with the realization that aviation is now a part of warfare is what drove the U.S. to ramp up training of pilots and maintainers as fast as they could,” said Lashley.

To support this effort, Aero Squadrons were formed in the U.S. which created a need for a larger organization to lead these newly formed units. The War Department organized the 1st Pursuit Group in France to oversee the first Aero Squadrons to reach the front.

“That’s the genesis of where we trace our history back as the oldest wing in the Air Force,” said Lashley. “The formation of that group, which was put in charge of those squadrons to fight the war.”

The group began its trek flying Nieuport 28 biplanes and its squadrons were the first to enter combat.

According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, “Having no suitable fighter design of its own, the United States adopted the Nieuport 28 as a stop-gap measure before the much-in-demand Spad XIIIs could be made available from the French. The Nieuport 28 performed creditably as the first operational pursuit aircraft in the fledgling U.S. Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force.”

In 1947, the Air Force was established as its own service, and shortly afterward, the Air Force formed the 1st Fighter Wing.  The newly formed Wing carried on all the honors, awards, and history of the original 1st Pursuit Group.

The 1st Fighter Wing didn’t start its journey at Langley. The lineage traces its roots to several locations across the United States.

“They were previously at MacDill [Air Force Base, Florida] flying F-4 [Phantoms], until the wing came to Langley in 1975,” Lashley said.

When it was announced that the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing would be the Air Force’s first unit to receive operational F-15 Eagles, it was decided that the wing would relocate to Langley to accommodate this new airframe.

Not only was the 1st Fighter Wing the first unit to receive operational F-15s, it was also the first unit to receive operational F-22 Raptors in 2005, helping to usher in a new era of air dominance for the Air Force.

The 1st Fighter Wing’s renowned reputation is exemplified through its official motto: “Aut Vincere Aut Mori,” which is Latin for “Conquer or Die.”

Today, the wing manages 40% of the Air Force’s combat F-22s, which provide premier combat airpower to any location at a moment’s notice, accomplishing air dominance missions across the world.