Created by the U.S. Army Air Corps in early July 1942, Laughlin Army Air Field began as a B-26 Marauder and Douglas A-26 Invader flight training school. Teaching bomber crews to fly was the base’s mission during the Second World War. It performed its function well in what were often regarded as primitive conditions. The Army decided in September 1945 to close the base and keep the land Laughlin was built on, though it was leased to local goat farmers for use as grazing land.
Tension with the Soviet Union flared quickly after World War II, and the U.S. Air Force reopened Laughlin Air Force Base as a flight training school for American and allied nations pilots in May 1952. Later that year, the Air Force redesignated the wing as the 3645th Flying Training Wing. The 3645th’s primary mission provided jet fighter combat operations (gunnery and weapons delivery) training in the T-33 Shooting Star, F-80 Shooting Star, and the F-84 Thunderjet. Given the shifting nature of the threats the U.S. the U.S. faced during the Cold War and the massive peacetime military buildup of the 1950s and 1960s, the USAF continually moved units around to make better use of land, airspace, and technology. As such, on April 1, 1957, the Air Force transferred Strategic Air Command’s 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Light, from Turner AFB, Georgia to Laughlin, while Air Training Command inactivated the 3645th.
The 4080th deployed aircraft and personnel worldwide and provided high altitude reconnaissance and meteorological gathering (the latter for operational weather forecasting), conducted signal and electronic intelligence flights and collected air samples from nuclear above-ground tests using the Lockheed U-2F and the Martin RB-57D Canberra. On June 15, 1960, the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Light, was redesignated the 4080th Strategic Wing. In mid-October 1962 at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis Major, Rudolph Anderson, Jr., while flying the U-2F, took photographs of Soviet missile sites, giving the US conclusive proof of Soviet long-range missiles in Cuba. Flying again on October 27, Major Anderson became the only casualty of enemy action during the Cuban Missile Crisis when Anderson was shot down near Banes, Cuba, with a surface-to-air missile.
In 1961, the USAF announced that Laughlin’s mission would expand to include an undergraduate pilot training (UPT) program, while the 4080th remained as a tenant unit. Effective February 15, 1962, the USAF redesignated the 3645th as the 3646th Pilot Training Wing. In April 1963, the 4080th moved to Arizona, and UPT remained Laughlin’s only mission. Change was constant here, but finally, on September 1, 1972, USAF inactivated the 3646th Pilot Training Wing and activated the 47th Flying Training Wing. Laughlin's critical mission has remained the same since 1962: train and develop the finest military pilots. Beginning with the first UPT class in the mid-1950s, silver wings have been pinned on nearly 21,000 pilots. Currently, the base uses the T-6 Texan II, T-38C Talon, and the T-1A Jayhawk to teach American and allied nation’s pilots to fly.