F16 Fighting Falcon landing at Luke Air Force Base in November, 2000.

Luke Air Force Base is home to the56th Fighter Wing, which is the largest fighter wing in the United States Air Force.  According to the wing commander, Brigadier General Steve Sargeant, the wing at Luke is the largest in the Air Force with almost 200 F-16 Fighting Falcons  It produces nearly 1,000 pilots annually.  Since Luke was established in 1941, it has trained more than 51,000 pilots from 41 nations.

Brigadier General Sargeant, Commander, 56th Fighter Wing, welcomed visitors at Luke Days, 2002.  3-02.

The Thunderbirds returned to Luke to demonstrate the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" at Luke Days 2002.   The Thunderbirds were formed at Luke in 1953 when the United States Air Force took its best pilots to establish a demonstration team.  A contest was held, and the name Thunderbirds was chosen.

In the half century of their existence the Thunderbirds have flown planes paralleling the USAF's front line fighters--and planes on which pilots have been trained on at Luke.  They started with the Republic F-84G Thunderjet.  In 1955, they moved to a swept wing version of that aircraft, the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.

In 1956, the Thunderbirds were transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and began flying the North American F-100C Super Sabre, making them the first demonstration team with supersonic capability.  Upon a show sponsor's request, the Thunderbirds would include a supersonic pass.  This option was eliminated when the Federal Aviation Authority banned all supersonic flights at air shows.

For a mere 6 shows in 1964, the Thunderbirds used the Republic F-105B "Thunderchief."  Its use was terminated when one of the planes broke apart in a climb.  They returned to an updated version of the F-100C, the F-100D Super Sabre.

With the Vietnam war raging, the Thunderbirds were given the top-of-the-line fighter, the McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom II in 1969.  The oil shortage caused the Thunderbirds to move to the smaller, more economical Northrop T-38 Talon in 1973.  This was the only non-combat aircraft used by the team. 

In January 18, 1982, a malfunction occurred during a practice over the Nevada desert resulting in the death of 4 pilots.  When the Thunderbirds returned to the sky in 1982, they were flying the first version of their present fighter, the Lockheed Martin/General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon.  In 1992, they upgraded to the F-16C version which was flown at Luke Days, 2002.

The Thunderbirds returned to the base where they were born for Luke Days 2002 on March 23 & 24.  This was the first USAF sponsored air show after September 11, 2001.  3-02.
The inverted mirror pass is performed by the Thunderbirds only a few hundred feet above Luke field.  3-02.
The Thunderbirds have flown the Lockheed Martin F-16 "Fighting Falcon" since 1982, with the upgrade to the F-16C occurring in 1992.  3-02.
Luke Air Force Base is named in honor of native Arizonan Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.  At the time of his death, Luke was the leading ace of the U. S. Air Service, having 18 confirmed victories.   He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in his last patrol.

Were it not for a change in name, we might well have read about the Japanese bombs falling on Luke's namesake as well as Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II.  Until June, 1941, Luke Field was the name given to the air facility on Ford Island in the bay where Pearl Harbor is located.  At that time the field was transferred to the U. S. Navy and Air Corps operations were moved to the recently completed Hickam Field.  The Navy chose not to retain the name of an Army hero for its air field and the name became available for recycling.

Footprint of Luke Air Force Base in 2000, bordered by Northern Avenue on the north (top), and divided from its east most section by Litchfield Road.

The Arizona base began as Litchfield Park Air Base, a site selected by the army for advanced training in conventional fighter aircraft.  The City of Phoenix purchased 1,440 acres of land and leased it to the Federal government for $1 a year starting March 24, 1941. Five days after the start of the lease, the Del E. Webb Construction Co. began excavation for the first building.


Lt. Frank Luke, Jr.
Medal of Honor (Posthumous)
Awarded to: Lt. Frank Luke, Jr. (Air Mission)
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Air Service.
Place and date: Near Murvaux, France, 29 September 1918.
Entered service at: Phoenix, Arizona.
Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Arizona.
G.O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.
Citation: After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.
Source: World War I Medal of Honor Recipients, U.S. Army Center of Military History, accessed December 3, 2000.
See also: Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., USAF Museum, WWI History, accessed December 3, 2000.

The first class arrived on June 6, 1941 to begin fighter training in the AT-6. The following year, Captain Barry Goldwater served as director of ground training.  The first class of 45 fighter pilot students was followed by more than 12,000 graduates making Luke the largest fighter training base in the Air Corps, and earning Luke the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot."

The end of World War II lead to the deactivation of Luke on November 30, 1946.  On February 1, 1951, soon after combat developed in Korea, Luke Field was reactivated as Luke Air Force Base, part of Air Training Command under the reorganized U.S. Air Force.

The North American Aviation T6 Harvard, was known as the AT-6 to the US Army, the SNJ to the US Navy and the Harvard to the Royal Air Force.  3-02.
The two seat T-33  above was developed from the single seat F-80 fighter to train pilots already qualified on propeller planes.    3-02.

Sources:

The Base", Luke Air Force Base, accessed June 23, 1998.

F16 Fighting Falcon, USAF Fact Sheet, Air Force Library, accessed December 2, 2000.

The History of Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, accessed 12-3-00.

Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., USAF Museum, WWI History, accessed December 3, 2000.

History of Hickam Air Force Base, United States Air Force, 15th Air Base Wing, Public Affairs, Hickam Air Force Base, HI; accessed December 3, 2000.

Presentation Graphics, Bomb-Airbase Wings, Aerospace Studies, Florida State University; accessed December 3, 2000.

Warbird Flying, Transportation Command, Ltd, West Sussex, United Kingdom, accessed 3-24-02.

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds History, United States Air Force, 1996-2002 U.S. Air Force, accessed 3-24-02.

Steve Sargeant, "56th FW commander salutes Luke visitors," Luke Days 2002, Luke Air Force Base, March 23-24, 2002.

Arnold E. van Beverhoudt, Jr., The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Sandcastle V.I., 1996-1999.