May 7, 2009 (by MSgt. Stephen Delgado) - March 12 marked the 16th birthday of the 63rd FS "Panthers" at Luke AFB, although this squadron had more than 50 years of service before arriving at Luke. The sun will set for the 63rd FS May 22.
The squadron will be deactivated as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's decision to reduce F-16 squadrons in the Air Force, according to Gus Vinas, 56th Fighter Wing historian.
The 63rd FS
's roots go back to World War II. As war raged in Europe and the Far East, the United States was not yet engaged in the fighting, but was building up its military readiness.
It was Jan. 15, 1941, nearly a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, the
63rd FS was activated as the 63rd Pursuit Squadron at Savannah Air Base, Ga. The 63rd PS was originally assigned to the 56th Pursuit Group, which as many pursuit squadrons in the early 1940s, flew the Seversky P-35 and the Curtiss P-36 Hawk. A profound change came a year later when the 63rd PS was under the control of the 1st Interceptor Command flying the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.
The 1940s continued to mark change for the 63rd PS. It was redesignated a fighter unit in mid-1942 and began flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The 63rd Fighter Squadron made another move in 1943 to Camp Kilmer, N.J., and shortly after, it was on to England, where it became one of the most successful squadrons in WWII. Its mission was to fly escort for U.S. bomber fleets and in the process destroyed 168 enemy aircraft in the air and 110 on the ground.
The 63rd FS returned to Camp Kilmer after the war and was inactivated Oct. 18, 1945. It did not stay inactive for long, reopening with the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Mich., briefly transitioning to the P-51 Mustang. The 63rd FS became one of the first fighter squadrons to be equipped with the new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. The following years provided a continuous change in aircraft. The F-86A Sabres arrived in 1950 and then Northrop F-89 Scorpions became the 63rd's newest aircraft.
Again, the squadron was deactivated in 1957, but was reactivated in 1975 as the 63rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, MacDill AFB
, Fla. The new mission was to train pilots and weapon systems officers for the F-4D Phantom II. There was a slight name change to the 63rd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron in 1981, the year the F-16A Fighting Falcon arrived.
Finally, its long journey would take the 63rd to Luke in 1993. The squadron flew the block 42
. The 63rd graduated its last class of F-16 pilots April 4.
Throughout the decades and diverse missions, the 63rd FS has performed with distinction earning two Distinguished Unit Citations, seven campaign streamers and the American Theater Service streamer.
Although the 63rd FS will once again be deactivated, if history dictates, it could rise again.