Beale's History: Past to Present


The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is responsible for providing national and theater command authorities with timely, reliable, high-quality, high-altitude reconnaissance products. To accomplish this mission, the wing is equipped with the nation's fleet of U-2 and RQ-4 reconnaissance aircraft and associated support equipment. The wing also maintains a high state of readiness in its expeditionary combat support forces for potential deployment in response to theater contingencies. The 9th Reconnaissance Wing is composed of more than 4,500 personnel in four groups at Beale and multiple overseas operating locations.


On May 1, 1999, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing celebrated the 50th anniversary of its activation at Fairfield-Suisun (present-day Travis) AFB, Calif. The wing's lineage and honors history extends back even further. Soon after the 9th Bombardment Wing activated, the 9th Bombardment Group inactivated and the group's lineage and honors passed on to the wing. The group stood up at Mitchel Field, New York, on Aug.1, 1922, as headquarters for the 1st (the oldest Air Force squadron) and 5th Squadrons. The 99th Squadron joined the group on Nov. 9, 1928.

In March 1916, the 1st Aero Squadron, with Capt. Benjamin D. Foulois as commander, supported General "Black Jack" Pershing's punitive expeditions into Mexico. Pancho Villa had raided Columbus, New Mexico, and Pershing pursued and hoped to capture him. On March 16, 1916, Capt. T.F. Dodd, with Capt. Foulois as observer, flew the first American aerial reconnaissance mission in combat. (The wavy line in the middle of the wing's emblem represents the Rio Grande River and the 1st Aero Squadron's operations in 1916).

Both the 1st and the 99th Aero Squadrons flew in World War I. Between 12 and 15 September 1918, they joined the great air armada of 1,481 airplanes in a massive air offensive in the St. Mihiel sector of France. The squadrons also participated in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, and Meuse-Argonne combat operations. (The four black crosses on the wing's emblem commemorate these air battles).

In World War II, the 9th Bombardment Group fought in the Pacific Theater. On April 15-16, 1945, 339th Group B-29s flew 1,500 miles, low-level to avoid detection, over water, at night, to attack heavily-defended Kawasaki, Japan. Enemy searchlight, anti-aircraft guns, and flak boats destroyed four of the group's 33 bombers and damaged six others. But the attack demolished Kawasaki's strategic industrial district. The group earned a Distinguished Unit Emblem (DUE) for its actions. The unit won another DUE the following month for mining the Shimonoseki Straits and the waters around Honshu and Kyushu blocking Inland Sea traffic and isolating important Japanese ports.

After its activation in 1949, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing's 1st , 5th , and 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadrons flew RB-29s and RB-36s on visual, photographic, electronic and weather reconnaissance missions. The Air Force redesignated the wing the 9th Bombardment Wing on April 1,1950. In 1953, the wing moved from Fairfield-Suisun AFB to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. There, B-47s replaced the B-29s. The wing's B-47s were an integral part of the Strategic Air Command's (SAC) nuclear deterrent force until 1966. In November 1955, the wing displayed SAC's ability to strike anywhere in the world by flying nonstop from Mountain Home AFB to New Zealand, a distance of 8,300 miles.

The 9th returned to its roots on June 25, 1966, when the Air Force redesignated the wing the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and transferred it to Beale AFB. The wing would fly the new SR-71 "Blackbird," a supersonic, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Flying above 80,000 feet at more than 2,000 mph, the SR-71 could survey over 100,000 squares miles in an hour. The airplane quickly became operational and began flying missions throughout Southeast Asia. Rescuers used SR-71 photos to plan the raid on Son Tay prison to free American prisoners-of-war. After the Vietnam War, the SR-71 established a level-flight-at-altitude record at 85,131 feet and a straight-course speed record of 2,194 mph.

On July 1, 1976, the U-2 joined the SR-71 in the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing giving the unit two of the most unique aircraft in the world. The "Dragon Lady" had gained national and international recognition with flights over the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Southeast Asia. The U-2 was the perfect complement to the SR-71. The Blackbird could penetrate highly-defended areas, take a "quick look," and depart at high speeds. The Dragon Lady could spend more time "on-station" and furnish a "long look" at the desired target. The U-2 was also much less expensive to fly. In 1989, the Air Force decided the SR-71 was too expensive to operate and retired the Blackbird on January 1, 1990. Although it made a brief revival in the mid-90s, today the aircraft is again retired.

The U-2, meanwhile, continued to prove its worth. In 1990-91, the wing deployed the largest contingent of U-2s ever to Saudi Arabia to support Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM. The Dragon Lady tracked Iraqi troop and armor buildups, assessed bomb damage, and monitored a massive oil spill in the Persian Gulf. U-2 pilots alerted ground stations of Scud missile launches and guided fighter aircraft to destroy Scud launchers. After the Gulf War, the U-2 stayed in Saudi Arabia to monitor Iraqi compliance with the peace agreement. In 1998, the Dragon Lady set a weight-to-altitude record and in 1999 won the Collier Trophy, aviation's most coveted award.

In 2001, the historic 12th Reconnaissance Squadron joined the wing as the parent unit for the RQ-4 Global Hawk. An unmanned, remotely piloted high-altitude reconnaissance platform, the Global Hawk can linger over a target for 24 hours. In 2008, Beale received the Block 20 model. This adds another weapon to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's vital role in our nation's defense. Today, the U-2 furnishes the National Command Authorities critical information on which to base important decisions. To do this, the wing operates permanent detachments and temporary operating locations at critical sites around the world.

Today, Beale AFB is home for the U-2 Dragon Lady, T-38 Talon and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

At any given moment, day or night, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, there is probably a 9th Reconnaissance Wing aircraft is flying an operational mission somewhere in the world.