Celebrating 80 years of training pilots for the fight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A birthday has a way of evoking many feelings such as sentiment, reflection, and celebration. In the military, service members celebrate the birthdays of their respective units to commemorate legacy, reiterate mission, and forge the path forward.

January 15th marks the 80th birthday of the 69th Fighter Squadron. It is assigned to the 944th Operations Group stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

The 69th FS was originally activated as the 69th Pursuit Group on Jan. 15, 1941 in support of World War II. They were responsible for training fighter pilots to send to the fights in Europe and the Pacific, according to Jessica Lawson, 944th FW Historian.

The past 80 years has seen 14 presidents, more fad changes in music and fashion than one can count, and a U.S. military that has evolved into having a Space Force. Decades later, the lineage of training fighter pilots is still the squadron’s primary purpose.

“We have the mission to train new and requalifying F-16 pilots,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Sullivan, 69th FS commander. “It’s humbling to be a part of that legacy. Here we are 80 years later still flying single engine fighter jets training for the Air Force.”

Since WWII, the squadron has been involved in supporting campaigns during the Korean War, and in more modern day in Southwest Asia.

Sullivan explained that they are still answering the nation’s call, which has led them to supporting operational efforts on seven different deployments across the globe in the past five years.

Since inception, the unit has been deactivated and reactivated per the needs of the Air Force, but through it all have always been focused on training pilots. The mission of the 69th FS, since 2010, has been to train Air Force pilots in combat tactics in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

“The 69th FS is fully integrated with the 56th Fighter Wing’s F-16 pilot training mission, which has produced more than 1,000 new or requalifying F-16 pilots in the past 10 years,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan recognizes the importance of the unit’s legacy and holds his Airmen to a high standard to continue it.

“Most of our squadron IPs have at least 2,000 flying hours in the F-16, which is well above the average for pilots in this aircraft,” said Sullivan. “It’s an honor to lead the 69th as their commander.”

The highly trained instructor pilots continue the legacy of training future aviators in the single engine aircraft like their predecessors, except these days in excess of 1,500 mph in the Fighting Falcon.

Over the past eight decades, the constant theme of training pilots for the fight carries on in the unit.

“The 69th FS continues to train elite pilots,” said Sullivan. “I am looking toward the future and know that the 69th will remain a highly functioning training squadron, supporting the needs of the combat Air Force.”