Wing makes move to Nebraska

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Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series that annotates the history of the 55th Wing from its early days as a World War II pursuit group to its current form as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unit.

After nearly two years of planning, the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing moved from Forbes Air Force Base, Kansas, to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, Aug. 16, 1966.

This past August, the wing marked 50 years in the greater Omaha community.

Just prior to the wing’s full move, the wing’s detachment at Offutt assumed flight operations of Strategic Air Command’s airborne command post, known as the EC-135 Looking Glass.

SAC began the Looking Glass mission Feb. 3, 1961, and from that day forward the aircraft was airborne 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Looking Glass name was used because the aircraft’s mission was to mirror ground-based command, control and communications of the nation’s strategic nuclear forces. In essence, it was to be able to control the nation’s bombers and missiles if ground control was lost at SAC.

After initially being flown by the 34th Air Refueling Squadron at Offutt, the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing assumed Looking Glass responsibilities July 1, 1966. The EC-135C was assigned to the wing’s 2nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron and later the 7th ACCS, and its crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator, an airborne refueling systems operator and communications systems operators.

The Looking Glass’ battle staff was divided into seven operational teams from all branches of the armed services and was under the command of a flag officer when airborne.

On July 24, 1990, after nearly thirty years, Looking Glass ceased continuous airborne alert, but remained on ground or airborne alert 24 hours a day.

When SAC was deactivated on June 1, 1992, the mission became part of U.S. Strategic command until Sept. 25, 1998, when the U.S. Air Force handed the mission over to the U.S. Navy’s E-6B aircraft.

In total, EC-135C crews accumulated more than 281,000 accident-free flying hours. In addition, the Looking Glass mission provided a key element of the U.S. nuclear deterrence and was a significant contributor to U.S. victory in the Cold War.

In addition to the Looking Glass, the wing also assumed another high-profile mission in just under 10 years at Offutt when Air Force’s entire E-4 fleet and its National Emergency Airborne Command Post mission was transferred here Nov. 1, 1975, from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

The E-4’s mission during the late 1970s and 1980s was to provide the president a safe location to conduct wartime operations in the event of a nuclear attack, earning the jet the dubious moniker, “the doomsday plane.” The aircraft and her Nightwatch team have been continuously ready, serving “hot” alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As the Cold War came to a close in the 1990s, the E-4 remained on alert status, but saw its mission expand and name change to the National Airborne Operations Center in 1994. And just this past October, its mission was transferred to Air Force Global Strike Command and out of the wing.

 Beyond those two C2 missions, the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth continued its worldwide ISR missions and gained host responsibility for Offutt in 1986.

The wing deployed to the Persian Gulf Aug. 9, 1990, and began 24-hour-a-day reconnaissance of the region for U.S. Central Command. Amazingly enough, the wing remains there today.

To reflect the wing’s performance of a diversity of missions, the 55th SRW became the 55th Wing Sept. 1, 1991. The unit was transferred to Air Combat Command June 1, 1992, when SAC disestablished.

As the clock turned towards a new century, the 55th Wing continued to expand its mission set with the addition of the EC-130H Compass Call. The unit was assigned to the wing under the 55th Electronic Combat Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

Today the 55th Wing is the largest wing in Air Combat Command, the second largest in the Air Force and conducts operations out of Offutt, Davis-Monthan, Kadena Air Base, Japan; Royal Air Force Mildenhall, U.K.; and Souda Bay Naval Support Activity, Crete.