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What Is an Air Force Squadron?

The USAF was made a separate service branch in 1947.
A USAF squadron operates up to 24 aircraft of a particular type and that are intended to function together as a unit on specific missions.
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  • Written By: John Markley
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2014
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An Air Force squadron is the primary organizational division in the United States Air Force (USAF) and the smallest unit with both administrative and tactical duties. In addition to its aircraft and crews, each squadron also includes its own technical, supply, mess, maintenance, and headquarters personnel. A modern squadron has up to 24 aircraft and and several hundred personnel, with the precise size varying according to the squadron's mission, the conditions in which it operates, and the type of aircraft flown. Squadrons are specialized by mission, with different squadrons dedicated to functions such as reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and strategic bombing.

United States Air Force squadrons usually have names consisting of up to three numerals and the squadron's function, such as 8th Fighter Squadron or 717th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron. Squadron numbers 101 through 299 are always used to indicate Air National Guard units. In addition, squadrons often have nicknames, such as the Black Birds or the Fightin' Fuujins. Squadrons also have distinctive heraldry, often depicting an image reflecting the squadron's nickname.

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An Air Force squadron is composed of smaller units called flights, with each flight consisting of at least two aircraft. An Air Force squadron's commanding officer is usually a lieutenant colonel, although in some cases he or she is lower ranked. Below the lieutenant colonel are the commanders of each flight, who usually hold the rank of captain. Squadrons with similar functions are organized into into larger units called groups, usually containing three or more squadrons that train and fight as a unit. Groups, in turn, are organized into larger units called wings.

Organization of aircraft into units called squadrons in the US military dates back to the creation of the first Provisional Aero Squadron by the Signal Corps of the US Army in May of 1913. At that time, a squadron in the Army referred to a horse cavalry formation, and the first military airplanes were used for reconnaissance, which had historically been a cavalry function. In December of the same year, the term Provisional was dropped from the squadron's name and the 1st Aero Squadron became the United States' first officially designated military flying unit, although it would not technically be a US Air Force squadron until the USAF was made a separate service branch in 1947. It originally consisted of eight aircraft, 16 officers, and 90 enlisted men. Despite a series of name changes, the squadron still exists today as the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, a training unit flying U-2 surveillance planes and the U-2's two-seated trainer variant, the U-2ST.

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Melonlity
Post 2

@Logicfest -- all too true, but are you aware that the C-130 is due to be phased out over the next decade or so with another transport plane? The Air Force clearly recognizes the importance of the C-130's role as a supply ship and will spend billions of dollars upgrading its capabilities in that regard.

Whatever plane replaces the C-130 will have some big shoes (wings?) to fill.

Logicfest
Post 1

Don't forget about the ever important squadron function of supply. While the glory tends to go to squadrons that bomb, fight or carry out surveillance, a good number of squads are dedicated to the equally important -- and underrated -- task of supplying troops and allies surrounded by enemies.

A lot of those tasks have been carried out by the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which has been in service in the U.S. Air Force since 1957. That massive, propeller based plane has transported troops and supplies reliably for over 50 years now. A squad of those may not be the most romantic thing in the world, but the ability of those planes to carry huge amounts of supplies and troops has made the difference in a lot of conflicts.

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