If you follow USAF aviation closely, you know this week is a big week in the service’s history. While you might have noticed the C-17’s first flight anniversary earlier this week, or know that the USAF’s 68th birthday is right around the corner, you might not know about another momentous cause for celebration at a history-making unit at the top of CONUS, on the edge of Lake Superior.
It was on September 17, 1948 that a small group of 37 enlisted personnel and 13 officers gathered at the Duluth, Minnesota airport for the official establishment of the 179th Fighter Squadron. The “Bulldogs” initially fell under the command of the 133rd Fighter Wing (now the 133rd Airlift Wing) at Minneapolis-St. Paul, but in 1960 the newly formed 148th Fighter Group (and later 148th Fighter Wing) assumed control of the 179FS.
The Bulldogs’ first fighter whip was the legendary North American F-51D Mustang which soldiered on until the 179th entered the jet age in 1954 with the arrival of the Lockheed F-94 Starfire, an all-weather interceptor.
Over the next few decades the unit would transition through multiple aircraft types, notably the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom (the unit flew both the RF-4C and F-4D) and the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. Some of the new jets brought with them a different mission for the 179th, and the squadron cycled through an air defense mission, reconnaissance, and then back to air defense.
The first F-16s arrived at Duluth in 1990, and the squadron specialized in the air superiority role until late 1999, when their mission shifted to general purpose in keeping with the times. But on September 11, 2001, the unit was immediately tasked with an alert mission covering Minneapolis, and the Bulldogs soon found themselves flying CAP missions over New York and Washington. The long-standing history with the aerospace control alert mission has only recently ended in late 2014, concluding over 50 years worth of experience in air defense.
The North Star State has every reason to be proud of their Bulldog airmen. They continue to make history and are devoted to doing their job well. So well in fact, that the 179FS earned the coveted Raytheon Trophy for being the best USAF fighter squadron in 2008.
The very next year they underwent yet another change in mission, divesting the Block 25 Vipers. Now armed with the only Block 50 F-16CJs to be found in the Air National Guard ranks, the 148th Fighter Wing has joined the South Carolina ANG’s 169th Fighter Wing as one of the only two wings specializing in the SEAD mission.
From humble beginnings without any full time personnel or facilities, the 148th Fighter Wing now employs over 1000 personnel in Duluth with a stellar retention rate of over 90%. And who wouldn’t want to work for such a reputable organization? The Bulldogs are an active component of the AEF deployment cycle, and completed their first aviation package deployment with the Block 50 in 2012. Last year they deployed to Europe for multinational exercises, and the Bulldogs are again hard at work preparing for a potential deployment next year.
With the squadron’s recent participation in exercises Sentry Savannah, Combat Hammer, and Red Flag-Alaska under their belt, rest assured the Bulldogs will be ready to take the fight downrange whenever called upon.
Happy Birthday to the BULLDOGS! Cave Canum!
The author would like to thank Major Scott Ingalsbe, Minnesota National Guard JFHQ/PA and Master Sergeant Ralph Kaputska, 148FW/PA.