85th Flying Training Squadron celebrates 50 years at Laughlin

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keira Rossman
  • 47th Flying Training WIng

The 85th Flying Training Squadron, Commanded by Lt Col Gregory Show, just celebrated its 50th anniversary as a Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin, since its activation here in September 1972.

“The entire purpose of the squadron for the last 50 years has been to train the world’s best pilots,” said Maj. Christopher Stewart, 85th FTS B-flight instructor pilot. “Ultimately, our aim is to contribute to the wing’s goal of producing 372 pilots a year.”

To do this, the squadron utilizes approximately 65 instructor pilots to train over 180 students annually, flying over 26,000 sorties and 35,000 hours. With a long track record of training like this, it's no surprise that the 85th Tigers are the go-to squadron in pioneering new programs at Laughlin.

“The 85th ushered in the first Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 class at Laughlin,” said Stewart. “We also have a civilian flight instructor pilot program, PALACE Acquire, that has started up and is going to be spearheaded by the 85th. We're going to train civilian pilots to be instructors to come back and instruct in the T-6A Texan II.

” With the 50th anniversary approaching, the 85th FTS plans on paying homage to their heritage on 1 Sept. 2022. They hosted former Tigers and spouses, including eight previous 85th commanders, showing former members the new T-6 simulators, opened a 25-year-old time capsule and replaced it with their very own. Additionally, they deliberately incorporated 17 first-term Airmen into the celebration, giving them a tour of pilot training mission related facilities.

“Our previous Tigers were excited to come back,” said Stewart. “Once a Tiger, always a Tiger. There's still that squadron pride in a lot of people.” According to the squadron factsheet, the 85th was originally constituted 20 November 1940 and activated 15 January 1941. Then known as the 85th Bomb Squadron, it served an active and integral part in World War II.

Flying the B-18 Bolo and DB-7 from McChord Field, Washington, and later Fresno, California, the 85th's war record began two days after Pearl Harbor. Its mission was flying anti-submarine patrols off the west coast of the U.S. Six weeks later, the squadron began its training operations overseas.

Following ten months of training, the 85th, as a squadron of the 47th Bomb Group, moved to North Africa to become part of the 12th Air Force. The training included methods of operation and a change to the A-20 Havoc. It was in North Africa where the proud history of the unit came of age.

Stationed at many airfields along the Mediterranean Theater, the 85th flew support and interdictory operations. Its primary targets were tanks, convoys, bivouac areas, troop concentrations, supply dumps, roads, pontoon bridges, rail lines, and airfields.

With the accolades of two Presidential Unit Citations, one in Tunisia in February 1943 and another near Messina, Italy after returning to the states in 1945 postwar.

Its mission was to train in a variety of tactical operations, including night operations. The 85th was one of the first squadrons to receive the B-45 Tornado, America's first jet bomber, which the squadron flew until 1958 when the B-66 Destroyer was introduced.

The 85th bomb Squadron ended its career in May 1962 while stationed at RAF Sculthorpe, England. In September 1972, the squadron was reactivated as the 85th Flying Training Squadron, replacing the 3645th Pilot Training Squadron, which is its present day designation. The 85th flew the Cessna T-37 "Tweet" until December 2004 and was replaced by the T-6A Texan II.

“We uphold the Tiger standard always,” said Stewart. “And I would say, selfishly, that we have the best T-6 pilots in the nation.”