Air National Guard Converts to Jets

By SM Sgt Wilbur Tackaberry

B-26 flight line of Missouri Air National Guard mechanics and specialists at summer field training at Volk Field (1956)

[Enlargement]

After years of training with F-51 Mustang fighters and B-26 light bombers, the 131st would soon make the transition to jet fighter aircraft. The first jets received in the early spring of 1957 were T-33 and F-80 trainers. In June of that year the first flight of Republic F-84 Thunderstreak jet fighters arrived at Lambert Field. It was a proud moment when Capt. John D. Connnaghan led the flight to parking spaces on the Air National Guard ramp.

In the 35 years of its existence the 110th had spanned to era "From Jennys to Jets" with distinction.

Arrival of the new jets heralded the beginning of an extensive training program for air crews and ground crews alike. Pilots received their initial training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Maintenance and armament personnel were trained by a regular Air Force Mobile Training Unit. The Thunderstreak presented some unique training and operational requirements since it had the capability for nuclear weapon delivery. Armament section load crews had to achieve certified proficiency in weapon loading procedures and air crews were trained in special weapon delivery technique.

As with each earlier transition to a new weapons system, the highly skilled personnel of the Guard accepted the challenge and accomplished it with little difficulty.

The commander of the 110th at this time was Maj. Robert L. Smith, now a Colonel and commander of the 299th Tactical Forces Planning Group at the base. Initially the mission of the new jet unit was identified as "Fighter Interceptor". Immediately after receiving the F-84ís the unit went to summer encampment at Gulfport, Miss. One thing I remember well about this summer encampment was the fact that it took more than one day to make the trip by train and the distance was covered in little over an hour by the F-84ís. I remember also that the "ground crews" along with a Republic Aviation Technical Representative , acquired an old bathtub from the local dump. As each pilot returned from his first solo flight in the F-84, he received a "dunking" in the water filled tub.

The transition period required 50 hours of dual flight in a T-33 jet trainer. This was followed by an F-84F solo flight with a qualified chase pilot close behind to advise the solo pilot, by radio, of procedural error or to warn against unsafe conditions in early stages of the training period.

Late inn 1957 the U.S. Navy announced its plans to deactivate the Naval Air Station at Lambert Field which had been constructed during World War II. The Missouri Air National Guard received approval to occupy the facility and on February 1, 1958 the unit moved from the old facilities at the Southwest corner of the field along with support elements that had been housed in old buildings on Federal property on Brown Road north of the field. The new facility would enable the unit to function for the first time with all elements "under one roof". In formal ceremonies on May 17, 1959 the facility was most appropriately dedicated Robertson Air National Guard Base in memory of Maj. William Bryan Robertson. Maj. William B. Robertson, who was killed in a glider crash at Lambert Field was the first commander of the 110th Observation Squadron. He was head of the former Curtiss-Robertson Corporation and had been an airmail pilot for the Robertson Aircraft Corporation.

Gov. Dalton participated in the dedication along with Mrs. William B. Robertson, her son Jim, Dan Robertson, a brother, and a sister, Mrs. Edwin H. Uhl. One month after the ceremony Dan Robertson passed away as a result of a heart ailment. Mrs. Uhl has often expressed the deep ill, had lived to see the base dedicated to "Brother Bill".

The unit had undergone several operational readiness tests with the F-84F and had performed exceptionally well. Air crews participated in air defense exercises, had become proficient in weapons delivery tactics and in low level bombing and gunnery training. Armament crews received high praise of their weapons loading capacity and personnel displayed the competency of top-notch professionals in their respective fields. They would soon have the opportunity to prove their ability. The Berlin wall had been built and tensions were mounting throughout the world. Once again the 131st and its supportive units would be called to fill the ranks of the Regular Active Forces. Over 1,000 men of the Missouri Air National Guard from St. Louis entered active duty on October 1, 1971 to face the "Berlin Crisis".  Photo: F-84F of the Missouri Air National Guard, flying above Gulfport, Mississippi in 1956. [Enlarged Image]

 

F-84 undergoing maintenance. [Enlargement]

1962 Missouri Air Guard Airmen posing alongside Danish Airmen. F-84F aircraft. [Enlargement]

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