After entering World War I on the 6th of April 1917, the United States’ participation in Europe led down a path of air power that resulted in our current day United States Air Force. On 5 May 1918, the American Expeditionary Force in Europe activated the 1st Pursuit Group at Gencoult, France. Commanded by Major Bert M. Atkinson, this unit was the first American group-level fighter organization and is now known as the 1st Fighter Wing, the Air Force’s oldest Wing. The 1st Pursuit Group consisted of five Aero Squadrons: 27th, 94th, 95th, 147th, and 185th. Of these five, the 27th and the 94th remain part of the wing to this day, and ensure air dominance with their F-22 Raptors.
During combat throughout Europe, the pilots of the 1st Pursuit Group conducted over 1,400 aerial engagements and accumulated 202 confirmed aerial victories. The 27th Aero Squadron’s 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. achieved 18 aerial victories before he was shot down and killed while engaging the enemy on the ground on 29 September 1918. For his actions, Luke received the Air Force’s first ever Medal of Honor. The 94th Fighter Squadron’s Captain Eddie Rickenbacker achieved 26 aerial victories, more than any other American pilot in WWI. While on patrol on 25 September 1918, Rickenbacker engaged seven enemy planes on his own, destroying two, and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry against the enemy. On 10 November 1918, the day before the war ended, Major Maxwell Kirby of the 94th Aero Squadron recorded the last aerial victory of WWI. Throughout the war, the 1st Pursuit Group remained constantly engaged with the enemy in the skies over the battlefields and earned eight campaign credits.
It was during WWI that the Air Forces of the three countries participating in Atlantic Trident 2017, namely the US, France, and Great Britain, began building a relationship that has lasted 100 years. The 27th Aero Squadron’s origins are tied closely to the Royal Flying Corps of the British Army. The 27th received its advanced aerial training from British instructors in Canada before deploying to Europe. In addition, the commander of the squadron when they entered the war was Major Harold E. Hartney, a former Royal Flying Corps veteran who had already flown in combat and been shot down by Baron Manfred von Richthofen. The British cultural influence and training helped make the 27th one of the most lethal American squadrons during the war with 56 confirmed aerial victories.
Atlantic Trident 2017 is not only a multi-national training exercise but a celebration of the alliance the UK, France, and United States maintain. The 2017 exercise includes French Rafales, Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s from the UK, as well as home-based F-22 Raptors, F-35As from Eglin AFB in Florida, and F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home AFB in Idaho. The Strike Eagles got the opportunity to team up with Langley T-38 Talons to serve as the bad guys, or “red air”.
To help commemorate this anniversary, the base hosted a media day and small airshow during the exercise. The morning consisted of a USAF F-22 Raptor demonstration followed by a French Air Force Rafale demonstration. The Patrouille de France finished it up with their aerobatic performance. Following the demonstrations, we were given the chance to interview the crews from the demonstrations and then visit the alert hangars for a static display that included all the exercise aircraft. The day finished up with a mass launch of 24 aircraft for the only planned sortie of the day; quite a lot of military metal in the skies over eastern Virginia!
We would like to extend our gratitude to Jeff Hood, Maj. Whitlatch and everyone at the 633d Air Base Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis for going above and beyond to make this day happen.
Photos courtesy of guest contributor Andy Backowski.