Celebrating 70 years! Pillars of the Past… Remembering the 1970s

The 176 FIS’ reputation as a fighter intercept unit continued to grow throughout the early 1970s. A real test of the unit’s capabilities came in September 1972 when it participated, under the 115 FG, in the newly redesignated Aerospace Defense Command (formerly Air Defense Command) F-102 competition, the prestigious William Tell meet at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Participants in the event came from the ANG, Air Force active duty, and Canadian ADC flying units. Lieutenant Colonel Ron Skinvik, 176 FIS commander, guided the unit through the competition. When the dust settled, the 115 FG and 176 FIS were champions of the William Tell meet. The 176 FIS would go on to win other numerous awards throughout the year and into 1973, culminating with the awarding of the Spaatz Trophy as the outstanding ANG flying unit in October of 1973, and the American Fighter Pilots Association coveted Winston P. Wilson Trophy for the best ANG fighter/reconnaissance unit that same year.

As part of ADC, the 176 FIS was on 24-hour alert status—intercepting any attack that might come from the north, via Canada. The new alert status was all part of the air defense of the Continental U.S., which had been established by the War Department on February 26, 1940, with the creation of the ADC. This command vacillated in size and assignment throughout the 1940s, and in 1946, was assigned as a major command of the Army Air Forces (AAF). It experienced a decline when the ANG and Air Force Reserve increasingly took on more of its missions in the latter part of the 1940s. The ADC was inactivated on October 1, 1986, but today the 115 FW continues the tradition of the air defense mission by delivering, as stated in its mission statement, “dominant combat airpower and providing agile support for domestic operations.” The unit does this by operating under dual state and federal missions, supporting the State of Wisconsin, and two Air Force Major Commands.

On February 4, 1974, as part of defense cuts to ADC, it was announced that the 176 FIS would be inactivated, along with four other units: the 163rd Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG), Ontario, California; the 196th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) Suffolk County, New York; the 112th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG), Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; and the 129th Special Operations Group (SOG), Hayward, California. With the unit’s survival on the line, state headquarters and members of the wing staff, and others executed a highly successful congressional information campaign to keep the wing active. In the end, none of the units were inactivated.

As a result of the 176 FIS remaining active, the unit experienced changes in aircraft, mission, and designation that same year. The 176 FIS went from a fighter squadron to a support squadron, converting to the O-2A Skymaster observation aircraft and the Forward Air Control (FAC) mission and re-designating to the 176th Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS), under the Tactical Air Command. The role of the O-2A was to act as a forward air controller, identifying and marking enemy targets with smoke rockets, coordinating air strikes, and reporting target damage. The aircraft also played a role in psychological warfare operations, blasting recorded messages and dispensing propaganda.

On July 1, 1978, the Tactical Air Command executed a reorganization plan for inactivating all group headquarters co-located with wing headquarters. This step resulted in the inactivation of the 115th Tactical Air Support Group, replaced by the 128th Tactical Air Support Wing. It was at this point when the 115th designation disappeared from the unit’s history for the next 17 years.

By 1979, the unit transitioned aircraft yet again, becoming one of the first to be Jet Forward Air Control with the arrival of the OA-37 Dragonfly. The mission of this aircraft was primarily close air support (CAS), night interdiction, and forward air control (FAC). The OA-37 would phase out of the 176 TASS inventory two years later, and the unit would transition to another legendary airframe.