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421st Fighter Squadron

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421st Fighter Squadron

421st Fighter Squadron
F-16C block 40 #89-2119 from the 421st FS releases a GBU-31 during a Combat Hammer mission on 11 May 2011
Active 1943-1947; 1962-Presnt
Country  United States
Branch  United States Air Force
Type Squadron
Role Air Defense, Attack
Part of 388th Operations Group
Garrison/HQ Hill Air Force Base, Utah
Nickname(s) Black Widows
Motto Kiss of Death
Colors Red, Black, White, Grey
Mascot Black Widow

  • World War II Asia-Pacific Theatre

  • Vietnam War

  • 1991 Gulf War

  • Armed Forces Expeditionary
* Operation Northern Watch
* Operation Southern Watch

  • Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary
* Operation Enduring Freedom
* Operation Iraqi Freedom

  • Presidential Unit Citation (3x)

  • Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Combat "V" Device (7x)

  • Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm

  • Philippines Presidential Unit Citation
Lt. Col. Mike "Danger" Meyer
Emblem of the 421st Fighter Squadron

The 421st Fighter Squadron (421 FS) is part of the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. It operates the Block 40 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft conducting air superiority missions. The squadron is one of the most decorated fighter squadrons in the United States Air Force, being awarded three Presidential Unit Citations and seven Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for Valor in Combat.

The unit was originally formed as the 421at Night Fighter Squadron in 1943. After training, it was deployed to Fifth Air Force and ordered to New Guinea to provide air defense interceptor protection against Japanese night air raids on USAAF airfields. It later served in the Philippines Campaign where in addition to night interceptor missions it also flew day and night interdiction missions against enemy troop movements, bridges and other targets of opportunity. It later served on Okinawa and in Occupied Japan where it was inactivated in 1947.

It was re-activated by Tactical Air Command in 1962 as the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron. Equipped with F-105 Thunderchiefs, it deployed to Southeast Asia and engaged in combat operations over North Vietnam. It returned to the United States and was re-equipped with the F-4D Phantom II and returned to Southeast Asia for a second and later third tour of duty in the Vietnam War. It was one of the first USAF Squadrons equipped with the F-16A Fighting Falcon in 1980; and went on to serve in the 1991 Gulf War. In recent years, the squadron has deployed to the United States Air Forces Central Command, engaging in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


The 421st is one of the longest operating F-16 units together with its sister squadron assigned to the 388th, the 4th Fighter Squadron. It trains to deploy worldwide to conduct Day/Night air superiority and precision strike sorties employing laser-guided and inertially aided munitions during contingencies and combat.[1]

The squadron's nickname "Black Widows" is derived from its World War II combat heritage of flying the Northrup P-61 Black Widow night fighter, the only dedicated night fighter produced by the United States during the war.


World War II

P-61B-20-NO Black Widow 43-8317 landing at Tacloban Airfield, Tacloban, Leyte, 8 February 1945.

The squadron was activated on 1 May 1943, as the 421st Night Fighter Squadron, in Orlando, Florida. After several months of training with Douglas P-70 Havoc night fighters, the squadron was deployed to the Southwest Pacific, arriving at Milne Bay, New Guinea, and assumed duty with the 5th Fighter Command, 5th Air Force, in the Southwest Pacific.[1]

However, it was found that the P-70 was not very successful in actual combat interception of Japanese fighters at night. It was issued P-38H Lightnings stock day fighters with no radar or any other equipment for finding the enemy at night. The Lightning pilots would wait until the enemy was over a target and, hopefully, illuminated by the defender's searchlights. They would then try to pick out the outline of the enemy aircraft and intercept. This method had its dangers since the P-38 was subjecting itself to antiaircraft fire from defenders as well as gunners aboard the Japanese bombers. The squadron received the P-61 Black Widow to replace the P-38s/P-70s in June 1944.[2] The squadron and its detachments moved several times throughout New Guinea providing cover for U.S. Army assault landings, shipping reconnaissance while protecting the various new air bases.[1]

In October 1944, squadron personnel moved to the Philippines, and after bitter fighting, established a camp at San Marcelino in February 1945. During the next 6 months, the squadron's activity was intense aerial combat and bombing missions became an everyday occurrence.[1]

Following the Japanese surrender, the squadron became part of the occupation forces at Itazuke Air Base, Japan. On 20 February 1947, the squadron was inactivated, with 16 victories to its credit.[1]

Vietnam War

421st Tactical Fighter Squadron F-105 Thunderchief. Note the new southeast Asia camouflage paint motif, and no tail code.

Fifteen years later, on 8 July 1962, the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated and named a tactical fighter squadron with the [3]

At McConnell, the wing took on a NATO commitment, its mission being the delivery of tactical nuclear weapons in case of a war in Europe.[3] For the next two years, the squadron deployed frequently, performing rotational TDY duties at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. In the spring of 1965, the squadron deployed to PACAF, spending five months at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.[4] While at Kadena, flight crews rotated to a sister squadron in Southeast Asia enabling squadron members to gain combat experience.[1]

The requirements of the Vietnam War led to the 421st to change its mission from nuclear weapons delivery to that of being a tactical bomber over North Vietnam. From April 1966 to April 1967 the 421 TFS was stationed at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. For the next two years, the squadron was stationed with three different stateside wings, though in name only.[1]

F-4E of the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron - 1972

On 23 April 1969, the 421 TFS transferred to Kunsan Air Base, Korea, transitioning to the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II for defense alert. On 21 June 1969, the squadron was transferred to Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, and remained there through October 1972, flying 15,420 combat missions in the F-4D. On 31 October 1972, the unit moved to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, with the 432d Reconnaissance Wing.[1]

At Udorn, the squadron was briefly re-equipped with the RF-4C reconnaissance version of the Phantom, before being equipped with the F-4E, the last and most advanced version of the Phantom. Combat missions continued in Southeast Asia until the cease-fire on 28 January 1973, in Laos until February 1973, and in Cambodia until 15 August 1973.[1]

The squadron then changed to a training environment and participated in countless tactical air exercises. During April 1975, squadron pilots participated in the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. In May 1975, the squadron flew in tactical missions associated with the recovery of the SS Mayagüez and its crew.[1]

For its tremendous efforts in Southeast Asia, the 421 TFS earned three Presidential Unit Citations, six Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with "V" devices, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, and flies 12 campaign streamers for Southeast Asian duty.[1]

Cold War

In December 1975, the 388 TFW transferred from Thailand to Hill Air Force Base, and by 30 June 1977, the 421 TFS unit was combat ready with F-4E Phantom IIs. On 29 December 1978, the squadron was reduced to zero aircraft, yet remained with the 388th until June 1980 when they received their first F-16 Fighting Falcon. The 421st FS was the second of the Hill AFB units to receive the F-16. New aircraft came straight from the General Dynamics production line at Fort Worth .[1]

General Dynamics F-16A Block 5 Fighting Falcon 78-0025

After attaining combat readiness in the F-16, the 421 TFS was tasked to provide formal training for pilots transitioning to the F-16. In November 1981, the squadron deployed to Egypt where it trained Egyptian pilots in exercise Bright Star. From 1 July 1982, until 1 January 1983, the 421 TFS had trained pilots from Britain, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as U.S. pilots. In 1983 the squadron formally became a Replacement Training Unit (RTU). Squadron deployment locations in the 1980s included Egypt, Oman, Norway, Italy, Ecuador, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. By the beginning of 1984 the 421st TFS dropped the training role completely leaving only the 16th TFTS as the sole training unit at Hill AFB. During the 1980s the 421st was tasked with conventional air-to-ground and attack. Since the importance of the squadron for this task, newer, updated aircraft came to the squadron that were better designed for the mission than the initial group of F-16s. By 1983 the squadron was completely converted to the block 15 aircraft.[1]

The 421st kept flying with these airframes up until 1990. It was then that they started receiving the upgraded F-16CG Block 40 aircraft the second squadron to do so. With this newer version the squadron was able to conduct its missions with even greater accuracy and also added a night-time possibility to it.[1]

In the early 1990s, the introduction of the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) pod to the 321st. The squadron started operating this pod in mid 1990 as one of the first USAF squadrons to deploy it in an operational environment. With tensions rising in the Middle East the squadron had to adopt this new weapon system very quickly and had to train in very different scenarios then previously flown in a couple of months time.[1]

Modern era

421st Fighter Squadron General Dynamics F-16C Block 40C Fighting Falcon 88-0452

On 30 August 1990, the squadron deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. On 20 March 1991, the 421st redeployed to its home at Hill Air Force Base after distinguishing itself by flying 1,300 combat sorties (1,200 at night) without any losses or battle damage. Since then, the 421st FS has deployed around the world in support of various operations, including Operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, and Noble Eagle.[1]

In August 2002, the 421st transferred all its maintenance personnel to the 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron as part of the wing reorganization. The 421st FS deployed with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to support Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from May to September 2003.[1]

The 421 FS and AMU became the first-ever active duty F-16 squadron to deploy to Balad Air Base, Iraq, however the 107th Fighter Squadron of the Michigan Air National Guard from Selfridge ANG Base Michigan was the first F-16 squadron to fly out Iraq In 2003. The 421st was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom from August 2004 to January 2005. The squadron flew over 1,300 sorties during its first deployment to Iraq. The squadron then returned to Balad Air Base from May to September 2006 flying 1,400 sorties and 6,400 hours.[1]

On 22 June 2009 a single-seat F-16 from the squadron on a training mission, a nighttime high-angle strafing run, crashed in the [5] A USAF mishap investigation concluded that the cause of the crash was pilot error, finding that Houghton's inexperience and apparent disorientation during the strafing run caused him to fly the aircraft into the ground.[6]

2013 Sequestration

Air Combat Command officials announced a stand down and reallocation of flying hours for the rest of the fiscal year 2013 due to mandatory budget cuts. The across-the board spending cuts, called sequestration, took effect 1 March when Congress failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan.[7]

Squadrons either stood down on a rotating basis or kept combat ready or at a reduced readiness level called “basic mission capable” for part or all of the remaining months in fiscal 2013.[7] This affected the 421st Fighter Squadron with a reduction of its flying hours, placing it into a basic mission capable status from 5 April-30 September 2013.[7]


Photo of the 421st Night Fighter Squadron emblem painted on a P-61
  • Constituted 421st Night Fighter Squadron on 30 April 1943.
Activated on 1 May 1943.
Inactivated on 20 February 1947.
  • Re-designated 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, and activated, on 13 April 1962
Organized on 8 July 1962
Re-designated 421st Fighter Squadron on 1 November 1991.[4]
Deployed elements designated as 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron when assigned to an Air Expeditionary Group after 1 October 1998



Known Air Expeditionary Force Deployments


See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r 421 FS Fact Sheet
  2. ^ Northrop P-61 Black Widow—The Complete History and Combat Record, Garry R. Pape, John M. Campbell and Donna Campbell, Motorbooks International, 1991.
  3. ^ a b Davies and Laurier (2010), F-105 Thunderchief Units of the Vietnam War Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1846034922
  4. ^ a b c d e AFHRA 421st Fighter Squadron Lineage and History
  5. ^ Gehrke, Steve, and Melinda Rogers, "Hill F-16 Pilot Killed In Training Accident", Salt Lake Tribune, 24 June 2009.
  6. ^ Rolfsen, Bruce, "Pilot error caused fatal F-16 crash", Military Times, 28 September 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Reduced flying hours forces grounding of 17 USAF combat air squadrons
  8. ^ a b c 421st Fighter Squadron.


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Kolln, Jeff. The 421st Night Fighter Squadron in World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7643-1306-1.
  • Pape, Garry R. and Ronald C. Harrison. Queen of the Midnight Skies: The Story of American Airforce Night Fighters. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-415-4.
  • Thompson, Warren. P-61 Black Widow Units of World War 2. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-85532-725-2.
  • Zbiegniewski, Andre R. 421 NFS 1943–1947 (bi-lingual Polish/English text). Lublin, Poland: Oficyna Wydawnicza Kagero, 203. ISBN 83-89088-47-9.
  • Northrop P-61 Black Widow—The Complete History and Combat Record, Garry R. Pape, John M. Campbell and Donna Campbell, Motorbooks International, 1991.

External links

  • USAF 421st Fighter Squadron History
  • 421st Fighter Squadron Fact Sheet

See also

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