Luke Air Force Base is named for the first aviator to receive the Medal of Honor- Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Born in Phoenix in 1897, the "Arizona Balloon Buster" scored 18 aerial victories during World War I (14 of these German observation balloons) in the skies over France before being killed, at age 21, on Sept. 29, 1918.
In 1940, the U.S. Army sent a representative to Arizona to choose a site for an Army Air Corps training field for advanced training in conventional fighter aircraft. The city of Phoenix bought 1,440 acres of land which they leased to the government at $1 a year effective March 24, 1941. On March 29, 1941, the Del. E. Webb Construction Co. began excavation for the first building at what was know then as Litchfield Park Air Base. Another base known as Luke Field, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, released its name when the base was transferred to the Navy in June 1941, and the fledgling Arizona base was called Luke Field at the request of its first commander, Lt. Col. Ennis C. Whitehead, who went on to become a lieutenant general as commander of Air Defense Command in 1950.
The first class of 45 students, Class 41 F, arrived June 6, 1941 to begin advanced flight training in the AT-6, although only a few essential buildings had been completed. Flying out of Sky Harbor Airport until the Luke runways were ready, pilots received 10 weeks of instruction and the first class graduated Aug. 15, 1941. Capt. Barry Goldwater served as director of ground training the following year.
During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Air Corps, graduating more than 12,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38, earning the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot." By Feb. 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time. By 1946, however, the number of pilots trained dropped to 299 and the base was deactivated Nov. 30 that year.
Soon after combat developed in Korea, Luke field was reactivated on Feb. 1, 1951 as Luke Air Force Base, part of the Air Training Command under the reorganized U.S. Air Force. Students progressed from the P-51 Mustang to the F-84 until 1964, then the F-104 Starfighter. Flying training at Luke changed to the F-100, and on July 1, 1958, the base was transferred from Air Training Command to Tactical Air Command. During the 1960s, thousands of American fighter pilots left Luke to carve their niche in the annals of Air Force history in the skies over Vietnam.
In July 1971, the base received the F-4C Phantom II and assumed its role as the main provider of fighter pilots for Tactical Air Command and fighter forces worldwide. In November 1974, the Air Force's newest air superiority fighter, the F-15 Eagle, came to Luke. It was joined in December 1982 by the first F-16 Fighting Falcon, which officially began training fighter pilots Feb. 2, 1983. Luke units continued to set the pace for the Air Force. The 58th TTW had two squadrons - the 312th and 314th Tactical Fighter Training Squadrons - conducting training in the newest C and D models of the Fighting Falcon. The 405th TTW received the first E model of the F-15 Eagle in 1988 and two of its squadrons - the 461st and 550th - began training in this dual-role fighter.
In July 1987, the Reserve function at Luke changed when the 302nd Special Operations Squadron deactivated its helicopter function and the 944th Tactical Fighter Group was activated to fly the F-16C/D.
The early 1990s brought significant changes to the base. As a result of defense realignments , the 312th, 426th and 550th TFTSs were inactivated as were the 832nd Air Division and the 405th TTW. The F-15A and B models were transferred out, and the 58th TTW, being the senior wing at Luke, was re-designated the 58th Fighter Wing and once again became the host unit at Luke.
In April 1994, after 24 years at Luke, the 58th Fighter Wing was replaced by the 56th as part of the Air Force Heritage program. Air Force officials established the program to preserve the Air Force legacy and its history during the defense draw down. The 56th FW is one of the most highly decorated units in Air Force history.