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Century of combat: first fighters still flying for freedom

By Senior Airman Preston Webb 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

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UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, May 9, 2017 — On a cool September evening just as the sun began to set, 21 year-old pilot, 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, listened to deafening rushing of air as he soared toward Dun-sur-Meuse to shoot down German balloons, six miles behind enemy lines. Though heavily fortified, he carried on with a single thought on his mind: victory. Dancing his plane through a deluge of enemy flak, he shot down his first target; then another, and another.

Lt. Col. Shell, 27th Fighter Squadron commander, pilots an F-22A Raptor toward a KC-10 Extender boom May 2, 2017, over an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. The 27 EFS reaches its 100th anniversary May 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb)
Lt. Col. Shell, 27th Fighter Squadron commander, pilots an F-22A Raptor toward a KC-10 Extender boom May 2, 2017, over an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. The 27 EFS reaches its 100th anniversary May 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb)
Lt. Col. Shell, 27th Fighter Squadron commander, pilots an F-22A Raptor toward a KC-10 Extender boom May 2, 2017, over an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. The 27 EFS reaches its 100th anniversary May 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb) Century of combat: first fighters still fly for freedom
Lt. Col. Shell, 27th Fighter Squadron commander, pilots an F-22A Raptor toward a KC-10 Extender boom May 2, 2017, over an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. The 27 EFS reaches its 100th anniversary May 8, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Preston Webb)
As his pride faded, he was overwhelmed with pain and blood permeating his left shoulder; he'd been shot. He'd soon be forced to land his SPAD XIII in enemy territory. Sprinting away from the aircraft, his strength finally failed him and he collapsed. Drawing his pistol, he aimed toward the pursuing enemy soldiers and fired.

These were Luke's last moments according to the 1st Fighter Wing historian at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Also known as the "Arizona Balloon Buster," Luke became the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for aerial combat while serving in the 27th Aero Squadron during World War I.

Throughout the years the unit would evolve into what is now known as the 27th Fighter Squadron under the 1 FW. The 27 FS is currently deployed in combat operations against ISIS as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve under the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. On May 8, 2017, the 27th Fighter Squadron officially reaches 100 years of service.

"[The 27th Fighter Squadron] was designed for a combat mission and fulfilled that mission, dominating the air combat with 56 aerial victories and 5 Aces," said Col. Peter M. Fesler, 1 FW commander. "The members of the 1st Pursuit Group who formed the foundation of the air component of the Army during WWI developed new tactics to secure the airspace over the trenches in France and Belgium."

Consistently at the spearhead of operations, the 1 FW boasts a number of “firsts,” such as the first U.S. unit to destroy an enemy aircraft in WWI and share in the first U.S. unit to destroy a German aircraft in WWII. They were the first U.S. unit to fly the P-38 Lightning, deploy en masse over the North Atlantic, operate as a jet fighter unit, fly the F-15 Eagle, deploy as a tactical fighter unit to Saudi Arabia in support of DESERT SHIELD, and fly the F-22 Raptor.

The 27th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is comprised of approximately half of its home unit, is currently carrying on its legacy of valor in the fight against ISIS. This month, the 27 EFS set a record of bombs dropped by an F-22 squadron, letting loose almost 100 munitions in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Superintendent Chief Master Sgt. Richard.

"For 100 years, the 1 FW has been at the forefront of aerial combat," Fesler said. "To have the 27 FS deployed on their centennial, participating in combat against our enemies, is one of the greatest ways to honor its heritage and tradition of combat excellence."

At the forefront of the Fifth-Generation jet fighter transition, the 27 FS was the first to receive the F-22A Raptor, declared operationally ready with the airframe Dec. 15, 2005.
"Today, our Airmen continue to provide Air Dominance worldwide with the F-22," Fesler said. "The 1st Fighter Wing has been at the forefront of air-to-air combat and Air Superiority for a century now, and we will continue to fulfill this mission in the future."

The 27 FS provides one of the 380 AEW's five core missions of Global Strike through their operations against ISIS. Since ISIS isn't a sovereign nation, said 27 EFS Commander Lt. Col. Shell, it differs from traditional targets and presents unique challenges. Shell, however, is confident in his Airmen.

"The Airmen of the 27 FS are second to none. We have a lot of younger pilots that stepped up to the plate right when we got here," Shell said. "[The pilots] never flinched or faltered, and are ready to take the fight to the enemy."

Shell feels commanding the 27 FS and overseeing the support of CJTF-OIR mission during such a significant point in their history is an honor.

"Every fighter pilot's dream is to become a commander of a fighter squadron, but deploying to a combat environment with your squadron is as good as it gets," Shell said. "We train consistently at home-station, and it's great to finally be able to put our skills to use."

While the 27 FS consistently delivers air superiority through combat operations for CJTF-OIR, pilots aren't alone in the mission. 1st Lt. Jonathan, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer in-charge, says the 27 AMU ensures the aircraft are ready for operations around the clock.

"Maintenance and ops work hand-in-hand; without one side, you can't have the other," Jonathan said. "Without [maintenance Airmen's] incredible knowledge and professionalism, the Air Force would not be able to do its job."

As evidenced when the 27 FS received the 2010 Hughes Raytheon Trophy for best air-to-air combat squadron, Airmen continue to deliver decisive airpower and live up to the high standards set for them more than 100 years ago.

"The men and women of the 1 FW provide the highest levels of service and commitment to the Air Force every single day," Fesler said. "Their dedication and expertise enable 100 percent mission success in every task. They live up to the legacy of all the 1 FW Airmen that came before them, taking great pride in their heritage as the oldest Wing in the Air Force and the premier Air Dominance organization."