LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
One of the U.S. Air Force’s oldest flying squadrons celebrates its 100th anniversary at Laughlin Air Force Base, Aug. 18, 2017.
The 87th Flying Training Squadron, now known as the “Red Bulls,” dates back to the activation of 87th Aero Squadron. Today, the Red Bulls train U.S. Air Force and allied officers how to fly high performance aircraft in preparation for a fighter or bomber follow on.
“Although producing pilots is our primary mission, part of the driving force that allows us to do that is honoring our heritage,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Allen, 87th FTS commander. “What we do here is vital to the Air Force and being able to celebrate our squadron’s achievements shows how a squadron will grow to meet the needs of the Air Force.”
After its original activation, the squadron became reconstituted and consolidated with the 87th Pursuit Squadron in 1936. It wasn’t until 1942 that the squadron was constituted as the 87th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor), and later redesignated as the 87th Fighter Squadron at Morris Field, North Carolina.
In May 1942, the squadron operated P-40 Warhawks, which allowed Airmen access to fly against Rommel’s Corps in the North African Campaign. During the squadron’s 5-year role in the campaign, it transitioned to the P-47 Thunderbolt, and earned ten campaign streamers and two unit citations. These campaign streamers signified their participation in combat areas, whereas the citations were given for their overall performance.
“The 87th made its name known by the end of World War II for its skilled pilots,” said Capt. Christopher Suhar, 47th Flying Training Wing historian. “By the time the squadron was reactivated, it became responsible for one of the most impressive jet aircraft – the F-86D Sabre. The Sabre allowed the squadron the ability to fulfill its commitment as an alert and combat responsive squadron.”
Producing next generation pilots and combat Airmen is inevitable.
“For years the 87th was designated as an Interceptor Squadron,” said Suhar. “That same mentality – combat driven, focus, and desire to defend the constitution – has fueled our training mission since 1990. Nevertheless, we still produce pilots who will likely see combat within a year of graduation.”
Today, the squadron does not see combat; however, its pilots log many hours producing approximately 115 graduates each year, which that number is increasing over the next several years.
“Even though our mission has changed over the last 100 years, it is our duty to ensure our legacy is carried on,” said Allen. “This is a rare achievement that allows us the opportunity to take a moment to look back and acknowledge what it takes for a squadron to sustain for so long. The Air Force is significantly smaller than before, yet our squadron still remains and continues to leave a mark in history.”
The 87th FTS’s roots started with developing combat-ready pilots, and that focus has carried over throughout missions and decades, where now being a "Red Bull" means to be a pilot ready to train as a warrior, and master of the T-38C Talon.