USAF Firebee units
The main sources on the Firebee, 'Lightning Bugs' and 'Fireflies', are very much written from the Ryan viewpoint, and little attention is given to the Air Force units that operated the RPV's. The unit listing shown below however appears to be complete. It seems that basically only one SAC and one TAC unit operated the AQM-34, but they both were renamed a number of times. Also included are various links.
- 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing of SAC at Davis-Monthan AFB was the first unit to operate the Model 147 in 1963. The 4080th was the USAF's only U-2 wing. It consisted of two flying squadrons:
The 4025th deployed to Kadena in 1964 to participate in the Vietnam war. Mainland China, not Vietnam, was the main target for some time. After that the unit moved to Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Renamed to 100SRW in June 1966. More information on the 4080th and its squadrons can be found on Alan Johnson's 'Black Magic' site.
- 4025th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Weather), flying the AQM-34 and DC-130 (formerly flying the RB-57D)
- 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, flying the U-2
- 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing of SAC at Davis-Monthan AFB (formerly 4080SRW, renamed 1966) was the main operator of the Model 147 / AQM-34 during the Vietnam war. It had two operational squadrons, and at least one maintenance squadron:
Alan Johnson's 'Black Magic' site has more information, and a great collection of patches of the various units of 100SRW. 100SRW, having returned from Vietnam, was disbanded in 1976. This probably also marked the end of SAC AQM-34 activity.
- 349th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, flying the U-2
- 350th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, flying the AQM-34 and DC-130
- 100th Airborne Missile Maintenance Squadron, maintaining the AQM-34. The 100th AMMS has an alumni page.
- 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing (a TAC F-4 training unit at Davis-Monthan AFB) was expanded with the 4472nd Combat Crew Training Squadron (CCTS) in March 1968 with DC-130's and AQM-34G/H chaff/ECM Firebees (read more here). The squadron was redesignated as 4472nd Support Squadron (Special Purpose Aircraft) on 1 July 1969. When 4453 CCTW deactivated in July 1971, the 4472nd SS(SPA) was redesignated to the 11th Tactical Drone Squadron / 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.
- 355th Tactical Fighter Wing of TAC, an A-7D unit at Davis-Monthan AFB, was allocated the 11th Tactical Drone Squadron in 1971, operating AQM-34H/G/J/L and BGM-34 drones. In 1973 the squadron had two DC-130A's, three CH-3's and an 'authorised complement' of fifty drones. A 355TFW history can be found here.
- 432nd Tactical Drone Group (TAC) was a former Thailand-based Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, re-established in 1976 at Davis-Monthan AFB, with the following units:
The Group (or the squadrons) also had some CH-3's for MARS retrieval. The group was disbanded in 1979, and most of the AQM-34M and AQM-34V drones were sent to MASDC (later AMARC then 309th AMARG)) at Davis-Monthan for storage. Some Firebees went to the 6514th Test Squadron, see below.
- 11th Tactical Drone Squadron, taken over from 355TFW, operating the new AQM-34V in the electronic warfare role. The history of 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, currently a RQ-1A Predator unit at Creech AFB (formerly Indian Springs AAF), is listed here
- 22nd Tactical Drone Squadron, operating the Vietnam-era AQM-34L and M's in the reconnaissance role. It was also reported to be using an EC-130E. 22TDS now lives on as the 22nd Intelligence Squadron at Ft. Meade.
- 432nd Aircraft Generation Squadron, the maintenance unit responsible for both manned and unmanned aircraft
- 6514th Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, activated May 1970. Moved to Hill AFB in May 1971 (1972/1973 was reported earlier). The unit did a lot of Firebee testing for Teledyne-Ryan. The 6514th had two DC-130A/E's and one or more CH-3's for MARS retrieval. Renamed 514th Flight Test Squadron on 1 October 1992, two years after flying the last AQM-34 missions for Aegis and Over-The-Horizon radar testing.
- 512th Field Training Detachment of Air Training Command (ATC). ATC operated all of the technical schools in the Air Force, and had training detachments at many of the operational bases. The FTD existed in the days of the 100th SRW, and continued their mission when the 432nd TDG absorbed the SAC drone program.
The 512th FTD at Davis-Monthan was the largest in the USAF, as it trained C-130, U-2, AQMs, AIMs, A-7 and A-10. The maximum strength was approximately 70 instructors, where a normal detachment might have 15-20. (Information courtesy of Dave Matthews)
- I don't know much about this unit, but 6988 Security Squadron had a web page with some small but nice Model 147 photos. The link is through the Wayback Machine which luckily archived a partial copy. My best guess is that this is a squadron that relayed and analyzed the stand-off COMINT/SIGINT gathering of the AQM-34Q/R flying near North Korea.
Concluding the page: a DC-130H patch.
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