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137th Special Operations Wing History Fact Sheet

Black and white aerial photo of F-80 Shooting Star flying over a city.

After returning from activation during the Korean Conflict in 1953, the 137th transitioned to the jet-powered F-80 Shooting Star and flew a fighter-bomber mission for five years. (Photo from the 137th Special Operations Wing historical archive)

The history of the 137th Special Operations Wing began with the 185th Fighter Squadron in 1947 at Max Westheimer Field in Norman, Oklahoma, as part of the 137th Fighter Group and flew P-51 Mustang fighters. A tornado damaged the airport in 1949, which coincided with a need to improve facilities and lengthen runways, so the unit relocated to Will Rogers Army Air Field adjacent to what is now Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. What was the air field is now known as Will Rogers Air National Guard Base.

 

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY F.H. NEWMAN
Retired Maj. Gen. Stanley F.H. Newman was the wing commander from March 1973 to September 1978 for what started as the 137th Military Airlift Wing and in December 1974 became the 137th Tactical Airlift Wing. His career started in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1944 from pilot training. He flew the P-51 Mustang with the 9th Air Force in Europe and was credited with shooting down one of the last German planes in World War II. After the end of the war, new post-war National Guard units were activated, and the P-51s of the 506th Fighter Squadron from the 404th Fighter Group in Drew Field, Florida, were sent to the 185th Fighter Squadron at Max Westheimer Field in Norman, Oklahoma, as part of the 137th Fighter Group. The location of the Norman air field to the University of Oklahoma made it an ideal location to recruit GI’s who were attending college. Newman joined this squadron in 1948 and was called to active duty for the Korean Conflict in 1951. He flew 100 combat missions over Korea before completing his tour and returning to the Oklahoma Air National Guard. He then went on to become Operations Officer (1953), Squadron Commander (1956), 137th Group Commander (1960), Deputy Wing Commander (1969) and commander for the Wing (1983). He also was an Air National Guard Assistant to the Commander in Chief of the Military Airlift Command in September 1978. During the Vietnam War, he flew several cargo missions into South Vietnam. In all, Newman flew over 12,000 hours before his retirement in 1983 after 41 years in service.

 

After returning from activation during the Korean Conflict in 1953, the 137th transitioned to the jet-powered F-80 Shooting Star and flew a fighter-bomber mission for five years. After this time, it again switched to a fighter-intercept mission with the F-86 Sabre in 1958 to combat Soviet bombers.

In 1961, the Wing’s mission changed to a military airlift mission, continuing for a decade and beginning with the C-97G Stratofreighter, which was also used to fly the “Talking Bird” airborne command and control mission of the 185th Tactical Airlift Squadron.

 

TALKING BIRD
The C-97 Special Category Airborne Command Post was a flying communications platform that received its orders directly from Air Transport Command in Washington, D.C. It was specially equipped to act as an airborne command post and flew many communications missions deployed to 22 foreign countries. The “Talking Bird” was notably used to maintain constant secure communications between Washington, D.C., and President John F. Kennedy on several different international trips. The first was during his trip to Venezuela in December 1961 for his proposal of an Alliance for Progress for Latin America; the second to Mexico the summer of 1962 for a state visit; the third was the first visit of a U.S. President to Costa Rica in March of 1963, were he attended Conference of Presidents of the Central American Republic; and lastly, a dual trip to Dublin, where he addressed parliament and visited his ancestral home, and to Rome, where he met with the Italian president and Italian and NATO officials – as well as had an audience with Pope St. Paul VI – in the summer of 1963.

 

The airlift mission continued through to 1979, with a few changes to our airframe: the C-124 Globemaster in 1968 and the C-130A Hercules in 1974. At this time, the 137th was designated as a tactical airlift wing. With the C-130A, the 185th joined with many other squadrons and flights under the supervision of the 137th Tactical Airlift Wing. Upon the delivery of eight factory-fresh C-130 Hercules aircraft in 1979, the 137th provided world-wide military airlift until September 2007.

 

AVIATION MILESTONE
In December 1990, the 137th Tactical Airlift Wing achieved an aviation milestone with the completion of 500,000 flying hours since the Wing’s last accountable major flight mishap, which is the equivalent of 57 years and 14 days. This was the first Air National Guard unit in history to achieve this accomplishment and receive an Air Force Safety Program award.

 

OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING
Nearly 300 members of the 137th Wing offered their help in the recovery effort after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City. This number included Airmen from security forces providing perimeter protection around the bomb site, medical and mortuary affairs members helping the medical examiner’s office with victims, chaplains and casualty notification officers offering help in notifying and counseling families and loved ones of victims, the aerial port flight loading and unloading large amounts of cargo related to the bombing recovery effort, and pilots providing aerial photography of the 15-block area surrounding the Murrah Building to help the FBI with model reconstruction. Additionally, the public affairs and audio visual offices worked for over a month to provide news media and government agencies with photos, video and other information.

 

OPERATION HAYDROP
In December and January 1997, the Wing and its C-130s led an airlift of more than 50,000 pounds of feed to 180,000 stranded cattle that were snowbound after a blizzard in New Mexico.

 

HURRICANE KATRINA
During Hurricane Katrina, the 137th Tactical Airlift Wing's air evacuation squadron evacuated 143 Veterans Administration hospital patients, took 145 Oklahoma Army National Guard personnel to NAS New Orleans, airlifted Oklahoma Gas & Electric employees to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, and helped with many other aspects of hurricane relief efforts using its airlift capabilities.

 

In 2005, the 137th received a directive for the transfer of its C-130 aircraft and the transition to the KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling mission. The 185th and maintenance group were relocated as a geographically separated flying squadron to Tinker Air Force Base to create the first Air Reserve Component association between the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command. For this arrangement, the aircraft was owned by the Air Force Reserve Command’s 507th Air Refueling Wing while the 137th Air Refueling Wing flew and maintained it.

After 10 years with this airframe, the 137th was officially designated as a special operations wing with the implementation of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2016. This led to the departure of the KC-135 and the arrival of the MC-12W in 2016. Will Rogers had an airframe back on the base after a decade of separation from the aircraft it maintained.

The 137th Special Operations Wing became the second Air National Guard wing to be a part of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command and the only U.S. Air Force unit with the MC-12W. With this manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission came the creation of the 189th Intelligence Squadron and the 285th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron to support the intelligence-driven mission, as well as the addition of the 306th Intelligence Squadron as a tenant training unit. Members of the 137th Operations Group are part of a continuous deployment cycle in order to maintain the Wing’s operations tempo and have since supported major commands around the globe, including U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. European Command.

Many tenant units have also been maintained on base at Will Rogers. These include the 205th Engineering and Installation Squadron (1954), the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron (2008), and the 306th Intelligence Squadron (2017).

With every change in airframe and mission that affect the landscape on base, the Airmen of Will Rogers continue to professionally and successfully complete missions world-wide alongside their active and joint partners in the U.S. and NATO partners around the globe.