I got together with my friend Lt. Col. Jon "Huggy" Huggins and he told me all about the 1st Aero Squadron, the brand new wing of the Commemorative Air Force
Huggy, can you tell me about the new Commemorative Air Force squadron based in Marysville?
I sure can! There were a couple of us that wanted to start flying the T-6 or SNJ and I wanted to start flying one with the CAF Golden Gate Wing that’s down in the Bay Area. They had one based in Livermore and I was trying to get in with those guys but I’d been kind of busy, long trips and what have you, but over the course of two years I found that they were going to end up getting rid of the aircraft. At about that time I was talking to two other guys about starting our own Commemorative Air Force unit. So we started our unit and we worked with the headquarters of the CAF and they said yeah! So we were given the go-ahead to get the aircraft back from the Golden Gate guys and they said, well if they do give it up, you could request the aircraft. So to make a long story short, we started our CAF unit and CAF headquarters gave us, or rather loaned us, the aircraft and as of April 09 we received the aircraft and started flying. I haven't started flying it just yet, I'm working on getting my paperwork done and getting my checkout but we do have a couple pilots checked out in the aircraft and we’re pretty excited to have access to our own local warbird. We want to fly the aircraft whenever possible and get it out there and show the CAF mission which is to “keep them flying”. It’s great to be able to take it to airshows and let people know the great history of these aircraft.
Now we had to get a name for our unit so we looked at the rich heritage of the area around Beale AFB where we’re keeping the aircraft at Marysville airport. You know the SR-71, when it was at Beale from the 60’s until about 1990, was in the first reconnaissance squadron and after they went away, the U-2's took the first reconnaissance squadron name so there's a lot of great history from the 60s until now of the first reconnaissance squadron in that area.
The unique thing about the First Reconnaissance Squadron is that it is today's modern development of the original First Aero Squadron which was the very first military flying squadron in the US; the Marine Corps, the Navy, you name it. They actually started out with Blackjack Pershing as their commander and they were on the Mexican border near Columbus, New Mexico where they were flying and fighting against Pancho Villa and his bandits.
General John "Black Jack" Pershing
General Pershing’s expedition (that also consisted of a very young Lt. named George S. Patton) ended up chasing Villa and his men back into Mexico in order to end their border raids into the US, and that's were the first Aero squadron originated from back in about 1911-1913, I think somewhere around there.
So we have at Beale that squadron except with a slightly different name, now it’s called the First Reconnaissance Squadron. So we thought, hey, 1st Aero squadron, that's historically a very significant squadron that's the big part of that area we have out here, we have a lot of folks that are retired from the SR-71 and the U-2 that live out here, so let’s call it the 1st Aero squadron. We've done that and now we’re working on an emblem; we want to get some stuff designed off of the original patch from almost 100 years ago when the original squadron was formed. So we’re working on it, we’re growing it, and we're hoping it’ll be a big success and we’ll be able to keep that aircraft here in Northern California.
What kind airplanes do you have in the 1st Aero squadron?
Right now we just have a 1943 SNJ-5 which is a Navy variant of the venerable T-6 Texan, and one of the guys we have in the unit there is an expert on maintaining T-6 aircraft so we were pretty excited about that. So yeah we just have the one SNJ. Maybe down the road we’ll get another aircraft like an L-bird but right now are going to keep our focus on the T-6.
What do you guys have planned for the future?
Really, just getting our act together and being able to get a solid safety program with a few pilots flying it and getting it on the road, that's the bottom line right now. We want the thing flying a lot so we take it one step at a time.
The Commemorative Air Force is an amazing organization because they not only take great care of these historic airplanes - they fly them too!
Special thanks to my friend Huggy for telling me all about it!