The 111th Reconnaissance Squadron (111 RS) is a unit of the Texas Air National Guard 147th Reconnaissance Wing located at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, Houston, Texas. The 111th is equipped with the MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The squadron is a descendant organization of the World War I 111th Aero Squadron, established on 14 August 1917. It was reformed on 29 June 1923, as the 111th Observation Squadron, and is one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.
The 111th Reconnaissance Squadron is the oldest unit of the Texas Air National Guard, with over 95 years of service to the State of Texas and the United States.
The Texas Air National Guard began as the 111th Aero Squadron on 14 August 1917 at Kelly Field in San Antonio, TX. The unit, composed of teamsters and laborers, was on special duty at Kelly Field and was known as the „Post Headquarters Squadron.“ The squadron was demobilized 19 August 1919.
The unit was reorganized with the establishment of a permanent air service in 1920, forming in the old Houston Light Guard Armory. The 111th Observation Squadron received Federal Recognition on 29 June 1923, as part of the 36th Division, Texas Air National Guard.
The squadron had no airplanes, so the hot summer of 1923 was devoted to close-order drill and classroom sessions. That was remedied, however, in September of that year when the 111th became airborne in the Curtiss JN-6H Jenny.
In September 1927 the Curtiss JN-6Hs were retired and the squadron gained Consolidated PT-1s and several other trainers until June 1928 when new Douglas O-2H observation aircraft arrived. During the next 10 years, the 111th performed outstanding civic service to the State of Texas, dropping medicine and relief supplies to many of the towns that were isolated by floodwaters, tornados, and fires. New Douglas O-38 observation planes were received in January 1931. By 1938 the squadron was flying both Douglas Douglas O-43As and North American O-47s.
With the onset of World War II, the unit was called into federal service 25 November 1940 and trained with the 36th Division at Brownwood Airfield Texas until Pearl Harbor was bombed, it was sent to the Mexican border, Fort Clark Springs Texas. The border patrol was short, and on 14 February 1942, the squadron left Texas for Daniel Field in Augusta, Georgia, and became part of the 68th Observation Group. Pilots trained on Douglas O-43A, Vultee/Stinson O-49/L-1 Vigilant and Douglas A-20B Havoc aircraft in preparation for deployment to the European Theater of Operations (ETO).
In 1942 the ground echelon and some pilots made their way to Scotland then England in preparation for landing on the Algerian beaches as part of Operation Torch, their shiny new P-39 Airacobras had to be assembled and tested before flying from England to Algeria. Some of the pilots of the 68th Group flew their A-20s directly across the Atlantic on the „Southern Route“ and immediately began flying over the Mediterranean in anti-submarine patrols, sinking at least one submarine. As the invasion force moved inland, the three squadrons of the group divided up the A-20s and P-39s by squadron and the 111th took on the Fighter Reconnaissance role in the P-39.
In March 1943, the 111th left the 68th Group to defend against a possible invasion of French Morocco from Spanish Morocco while the rest of the group was selected to support the Tunisian Campaign of the Army’s II Corps. In June 1943 the newly redesignated 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, flying Allison engined F-6A or F-6B Mustangs (taken from a British order of Mk IAs), became the eyes of the 7th Army in Sicily, Operation Husky. They were temporarily assigned to the 5th Army in Italy, but returned in July 1944 in time to support the 7th Army’s invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon. In addition to the older F-6A/F-6B Mustangs, they began receiving F-6C Mustangs (the photo recon version of the P-51C). The 111th remained with the 7th Army through the end of the war. From VE Day until December 1945, the Squadron served in the occupation force, and conducted postwar photo-mapping of the devastation in France.
During 23 months of continuous combat flying, from June 1943 through May 1945, the 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flew 3,840 reconnaissance missions. While keeping Army Headquarters informed of enemy movements, the 111th destroyed 44 enemy aircraft, damaged 29 others and claimed 12 probable kills. The squadron received eight Battle Stars, a Distinguished Unit Citation, and the French Croix de Guerre for its World War II accomplishments.
The wartime 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was re-designated as the 111th Fighter Squadron, and was allotted to the Texas Air National Guard, on 24 May 1946. It was organized at the Houston Municipal Airport and was extended federal recognition on 27 January 1947 by the National Guard Bureau. The 111th Fighter Squadron was bestowed the lineage, history, honors, and colors of the 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and all predecessor units. The squadron was assigned to the Texas Air National Guard 136th Fighter Group and was equipped with F-51D Mustangs.
The mission of the squadron was the air defense of Texas. During the postwar years, the 111th primarily trained over the southern and eastern parts of the state; the 181st Fighter Squadron, based at Love Field, Dallas, and covered the south east, and the 182d Fighter Squadron, based at Brooks AFB, near San Antonio covered the Hill Country and west Texas.
As a result of the Korean War, the Texas Air National Guard was federalized and placed on active-duty status on 10 October 1950, being assigned to Ninth Air Force, Tactical Air Command (TAC). TAC ordered the 136th Fighter Group to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where the unit was re-designated to a Fighter-Bomber unit, and its status was changed to a Wing. At Langley, the 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing consisted of the following units:
At Langley AFB, the 136th trained with their F-51D Mustangs. Unfortunately losing two 111th FBS pilots in a training accident on 15 December. A third pilot was killed on 27 January 1951 in another accident. In February 1951, the aged F-51Ds that the unit had been flying since its activation in 1947 were replaced by F-84E Thunderjets, and the squadron began transition training on the jet fighter-bomber. Most of the training took place at Langley, although some pilots were sent to Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Maintenance crews, all new to jet aircraft, were trained at Langley and engine specialists were sent to the Allison plant in Indianapolis. Assigned to the Arkansas ANG 154th FBS at the time was a Navy exchange pilot, future NASA astronaut Lt. Walter Schirra (who happened to be the only pilot assigned to the 136th at the time who was a qualified jet pilot).
In May 1951, less than seven months later, the Wing was deployed to Japan, being attached to Far East Air Force and stationed at Itazuke Air Force Base, the first echelon of the 136th arriving on 18 May. The 136th replaced the Strategic Air Command 27th Fighter-Escort Wing, which had deployed to Far East Air Force in the early days of the Korean War. At Itazuke, the squadrons took over the F-84Es of the 27th FEW, which remained in place, its aircraft being reassigned from SAC to Far East Air Force inventory records. On 2 June, the final elements of the 136th arrived in Japan, the National Guardsmen officially relieved the 27th FBW and the SAC airmen departed for the United States. The 136th was the first Air National Guard Wing in history to enter combat.
From Japan the Wing engaged in combat operations over South Korea, however flying in the North Pacific area was a challenge to the wing, losing seven F-84Es in non-combat operations and three in combat. On 26 June, in one of the largest air-to-air battles in Korea, two 182d FBS pilots, Captain Harry Underwood and 1st LT Arthur Olighter shot down an enemy MiG-15 that broke though an F-86 Sabre escort of four B-29s. Two other 111th FBS pilots, 1st Lt John Morse and John Marlins scored probables in the same encounter. These were the first combat victories by Air National Guard pilots. On 3 July the 136th sent their aircraft to North Korea, attacking FLAK batteries in downtown Pyongyang while other aircraft attacked North Korean airfields.
However, the short-legged F-84 had limited combat time over Korea, therefore on 16 November 1951 the Wing moved to Taegu Air Force Base (K-2) in South Korea for its combat operations. In 1952, the 136th was re-equipped with the F-84G Thunderjet, designed for tactical close air support of ground forces.
The squadron flew over 6,000 escort, interdiction, and close air support sorties for the United Nations Troops and 111th Fighter-Bomber Squadron pilots destroyed at least two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jets.
The 111th Fighter-Bomber Squadron returned to the Houston Municipal Airport without aircraft or personnel in July 1952 and began to rebuild. In July 1956 the F-80 Shooting Stars of the 111th Fighter Squadron went on „Dawn to Dusk“ alert at the Houston Municipal Airport.
With the 111th’s return from the Korean War, the 111th was re-equipped with the Very Long Range (VLR) F-51H Mustang, which had been developed to escort B-29 Superfortress bombers in the Pacific Theater from the Mariana Islands to the Japanese Home Islands. The F-51H would allow the squadron to intercept any unidentified aircraft over any part of Texas. The squadron became part of Air Defense Command (ADC) and resumed its postwar mission of Texas air defense.
It wasn’t until 1955 that the squadron received jets from ADC, receiving F-80B and F-80C Shooting Stars and being re-designated as a Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. The 111th received F-80C-11 (modified F-80A to F-80C standards) Shooting Stars on 1 July 1955, and on 1 July 1956 the 111th FIS commenced to participate in the active ADC runway alert program at Ellington AFB.
With the squadron’s conversion from the obsolescent F-80 day fighters to the all-weather/day/night F-86D Sabre Interceptor in 1957, plans were made to reorganize the 600 man Augmented Squadron to an Air Defense Command group structure. On 1 July 1957, the 111th was authorized to expand to a group level, and the 147th Fighter-Interceptor Group was established by the National Guard Bureau. The 111th FIS becoming the group’s flying squadron. Other squadrons assigned into the group were the 147th Headquarters, 147th Material Squadron (Maintenance), 147th Combat Support Squadron, and the 147th USAF Dispensary. In June 1959 the squadron traded their F-86Ds for the upgraded F-86L Sabre Interceptor with uprated afterburning engines and new electronics.
In August 1960 the unit became one of the first to transition to the F-102A Delta Dagger Mach-2 all-weather interceptor and began a 24-hour alert to guard the Texas Gulf coast. On 1 January 1970, the squadron was re-designated as the 111th Combat Crew Training Squadron and served as the Air National Guard’s RTU (Replacement Training Unit) for the TF/F-102A. In 1971, when the active-duty force ceased F-102A training and closed Perrin AFB, Texas on 30 June 1971, the Houston-based 111th FIS became the Replacement Training Unit (RTU) for all Air Defense Command F-102 pilots, and the squadron received several TF-102A dual-seat trainers which were transferred from Perrin AFB while also retaining the T-33A instrument training function.
One pilot who flew TF/F-102As with the 111th was 1st Lt. George W. Bush, a future Governor of Texas and future President of the United States. George W. Bush’s military service began in 1968 when he enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University. After being accepted into the ANG, Airman Basic Bush was selected to attend pilot training even though his test scores were the lowest acceptable for that position. His six weeks of basic training was completed at Lackland AFB in Texas during July and August 1968. Upon its completion, Bush was promoted to the officer’s rank of second lieutenant required for pilot candidates. He spent the next year in flight school at Moody AFB in Georgia from November 1968 to November 1969. Bush then returned to Ellington AFB in Texas to complete seven months of combat crew training on the F-102 from December 1969 to June 1970. This period included five weeks of training on the T-33 Shooting Star and 16 weeks aboard the TF-102A Delta Dagger two-seat trainer and finally the single-seat F-102A. Bush graduated from the training program in June 1970. Lt. Bush remained in the Texas ANG as a certified F-102 pilot who participated in frequent drills and alerts through April 1972. Lt. Bush was honorably discharged from the Air National Guard in October 1973 at the rank of First Lieutenant. An ANG physical dated 15 May 1971 indicates that he had logged 625 flight hours by that time, and he ultimately completed 326 hours as pilot and 10 as co-pilot while serving with the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.
In May 1971, the 111th added F-101B/F Voodoos and became the RTU tar the twin seat F-101F type, while continuing as the F-102 Delta Dagger RTU. In January 1975, after 14 years of service, the unit’s F-102s were retired, but the unit maintained a full fleet of F-101s.
The 111th also operated detachment 1 of the 147th FIW at New Orleans. The detachment was apart from the squadron in that it maintained constant alert status whilst facing towards Cuba.
In October 1979, in as part of the inactivation of Aerospace Defense Command, the USAF gained command responsibilities which shifted to Tactical Air Command (TAC) and a sub-organization equivalent to a numbered air force designated as Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC). In 1982, the F-101s were retired and ADTAC re-equipped the 111th with the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II and continued its air defense mission. Most of the F-4Cs the squadron received were Vietnam War veteran aircraft. In November 1986, the F-4Cs were replaced by later-model F-4Ds.
In December 1989 the 111th FIS started receiving block 15 F-16C/D Fighting Falcon aircraft to replace their F-4Ds. The last F-16 arrived in April 1990.
In 1992, only a few years following the acceptance of their block 15s, they converted to the ADF variant of the block 15. On 15 March 15th, 1992 the 111th FIS was re-designated the 111th Fighter Squadron when its parent 147th Fighter Group converted to the USAF Objective Organization plan. Also in 1992 the 111th FS celebrated their 75th anniversary. To commemorate this F-16A ADF #82-1001 was painted in special markings including a big Texas flag painted on the fuselage underside. During September 1995, the 111th FS ended its alert detachment in New Orleans with the F-101 Voodoo, also the 147th was upgraded to a Wing, with the 111th Fighter Squadron being assigned to the new 147th Operations Group.
In late 1996 the 111th started to retire their ADF F-16s to AMARC. To replace these aircraft the squadron received the block 25 F-16C/D Fighting Falcon. Transition started in September 1996 and was completed by February 1997. This brought a change in role which officially happened in October 1998. The role went from air-to-air to an air-to-ground mission. After returning from an Operation Southern Watch mission at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia in October 2000, the squadron added Precision Guided Munitions to its arsenal.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, four 111th Fighter Squadron aircraft were launched to escort President George W. Bush, onboard Air Force 1 from Florida to Louisiana, Nebraska and finally back to Washington DC that same day. December 2001 saw the 111th deploy to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to fly Air Defense Combat Air Patrol missions over New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
In August 2005 components of the 111th Fighter Squadron and 147th Fighter Wing deployed to Balad Airbase, Iraq to conduct combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. The men and women of the 111th FS/147th FW once again distinguished themselves by flying 462 sorties and almost 1,900 hours in a two-month span; with a perfect record of 100% maintenance delivery (zero missed sorties), 100% mission effectiveness, and 100% weapons employment/hits under the most challenging combat conditions.
In April 2007, components of the 111th Fighter Squadron and 147th Fighter Wing again deployed to Balad Airbase, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism, where the men and women of the 111th FS/147th FW continued their distinguished combat tradition. On this deployment the 111th Fighter Squadron flew 348 tasked sorties, plus six no-notice Close Air Support (CAS) alert scrambles and four short-notice (less than 30 minute & not on the ATO) pre-planned alert launches. With an average combat sortie lasting almost 4.42 hours, the unit accumulated a total of 1537.1 combat hours. Maintenance delivery effectiveness for this deployment was an astonishing 102% due to the inclusion of the unscheduled CAS scrambles. Mission effectiveness and weapons employment were both once again a perfect 100%.
In November 2007, an F-16C Fighting Falcon from the Texas Air National Guard’s 111th Fighter Squadron received a special paint job in honor of the squadron’s 90th anniversary.
All the colors and markings have specific meanings, reflecting the unit’s nine-decade history. The rudder is painted like a JN-4 Jenny, which the squadron flew in the 1920s. The schemes for the wings and flaps recall the paint schemes of the pre-World War II era.
The blue fuselage represents the Korean War, in which the squadron earned credit for two air victories. The gray underside represents the jet age.
The „N5 A“ was the insignia the squadron’s P-51 Mustangs sported during World War II, in which the squadron claimed 44 air victories. Also representing World War II is the star on the fuselage, while the star on the wing represents the pre-World War II era.
„Ace in the Hole“ and the star on the tail replicate the markings of the squadron’s F-84s during the Korean War. The ventral fin, partially obscured, reads „Est. 1917.“
During the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, it was recommended that the F-16 block 25s be retired. Texas Governor, Rick Perry, reacted quickly and made sure the unit could remain alive and did so by securing MQ-1 Predator operations. This is an unmanned aircraft and although not exactly what the 111th FS had hoped for, it would keep the unit going well into the future.
As was earlier planned in 2005, the 111th FS gave up its last two F-16s on 7 June 2008 and F-16 operations drew to a close. The MQ-1 replaced the F-16 and the parent wing was renamed the 147th Reconnaissance Wing that same month.
** This unit is not related to another 111th Aero Squadron (Service) that was activated in April 1918 at Rich Field, Waco, Texas.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.