Celebrating 70 Years! Pillars of the Past… Remembering the 1950s

As the 1950s kicked off, unit members were eagerly waiting for their annual training at Oscoda, Michigan, taking place from July 22 through August 5, 1950. However, the Korean War put the brakes on their plans, as the unit was ordered to provide ten F-51s for shipment to Korea. Despite the setback, personnel worked diligently to procure aircraft from other ANG units temporarily. The venture was a success, helping to ensure that the unit capitalized on the good weather and that personnel achieved numerous gunner sorties and high flying hours throughout the training evolution.

Concern about activation and what that could mean for unit personnel and their families lingered during early 1951. On February 1, uncertainty was met with reality when the 176 FS was activated in-place at Truax Field and assigned to the Air Defense Command (ADC) to harden its continental U.S. fighter interceptor force. Personnel numbers were at full strength and volunteers had to be turned away. It was also during this time that the 176 FS became the first ANG unit to fly the modern jet fighter, the F-89 Scorpion, having converted during its active duty tour. However, the conversion to the F-89 only lasted seven months before the unit returned to the F-51. The unit’s transition from civilian to full-time military life went off without a hitch, and 21 months later the 176 FS was placed back on inactive status. On October 31, 1952, the 176 FS was officially released from active duty and began a daunting rebuilding program.

Post-Korean War, the 176 FS witnessed most of its members choosing to remain with the unit, while others stayed on active duty or separated entirely from the ANG. Even a small shortage of qualified personnel meant the need for the execution of an aggressive recruiting program. Pilot training remained the primary focus, and a new program began where the 176 FS could send its pilots directly through training, provided they remain contractually obligated to the unit upon graduation. The first “Summer Camp” since the unit’s involvement in Korea was at Volk Field in 1952. Pilots and crews received ample training and integration opportunities into the unit.

By October 1953, the 176 FS began getting F-86As and converted to 176th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS). The new fighter had earned the title, “MIG Killer” during the Korean War. The swept wing aircraft was a counter to the Soviet MIG-15 and functioned as a fighter-interceptor and a fighter-bomber, taking part in some of the first jet-on-jet dogfights in history.

A year later, in October of 1954, the 176 FIS converted back to the F-89 Scorpion. The Scorpions slowly replaced a mix of F-51Hs and F-86As, and the last Mustang departed when the final F-89 arrived. Over the course of the next 12 years, the unit added each model of the F-89. The F-89 was an all-weather fighter-interceptor under the ADC. Each aircraft had a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), who sat behind the pilot and performed navigation. With the F-89s arrival, recruiting RIOs was critical, as the unit initially only had one RIO.

On April 15, 1956, the structure of guard units changed to the concept of a self-sufficient group that had all the functions necessary to operate a base. The 115th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) was formed with all the 115 FW squadrons, flights, and assets you see today. The 176 FS was the flying portion of this organization. In 1956, the 115 FIG along with the 128th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) in Milwaukee, became the embodiment of the 128th Air Defense Wing (ADW), with its headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This 62-year-old reference point serves as the foundation for the future 115th Fighter Wing, Truax Field, Madison, WI.

By 1957, ADC took over responsibility for training and integrating Air Guard units into the air defense system. Prior to this, the 176 FIS had been under the command of the Tenth Air Force. As a supplement to the active duty Air Force, the “Air National Guard interceptor squadrons provided a first-line, Category I, augmentation force.” The 1950s closed out with the 176 FIS under ADC, where the unit’s mission went from that of a standby force to an active alert mission, set for the air defense of North America.