The 479th Flying Training Group traces its lineage to World War II. In September 1943, Lt. Col. Leo Dusard began selecting key personnel from the 329th Fighter Group to form a new fighter group. He sent those individuals to the Army Air Forces School of applied Tactics at Orlando Fla., to learn the latest information and methods of operation for fighter groups in combat. This new group, the 479th Fighter Group, activated on Oct. 15, 1943, with the mission of providing high-altitude, long-range escort for Eighth air Force bombers.
In November, Colonel Dusard was reassigned to the Southwest Pacific and Lt. Col. William Dyess arrived at Grand Central air Station in Burbank, Calif., where the Group had set up operations. Colonel Dyess had survived the brutal Bataan Death March and recently escaped Japanese captivity. Prior to accepting command of the 479th, Lt. Col. Dyess perished in a P-38 Lightning training accident near Burbank. On Dec. 23, his Lightning caught fire, but he refused to bail out over a populated area and died while guiding his burning aircraft into a vacant lot. Lt. Col. Kyle riddle, commanding officer of the 328th Fighter Group at Hamilton Field, assumed command of the Group, which would become known as “riddle’s raiders.”
By February 1944, the Group’s three squadrons had relocated to various airfields in the area to more effectively train for their overseas deployment. Along with training for their deployment, each squadron provided coastal defense by patrolling the Western coast. On April 16, 1944, 145 officers and 910 enlisted men boarded trains for their cross-country trip to Camp Kilmer, N.J., and 12 days later boarded the USS Argentina for a cross-Atlantic journey to Greenock, Scotland. Immediately after disembarking, the Group transferred to troop trains for the switching yards at New Market, England, and then traveled by truck to their new home, Wattisham Royal Air Station near the village of Ipswich.
Only 11 days after arriving at Wattisham, the 479th FG participated in its first combat mission. Maj. John Kowell led 34 Lightnings on a sweep over Holland and Belgium. On May 31, Capt. Frank Keller of the 435th FS recorded the Group’s first kill by destroying a Junkers Ju-88 Zerstorer on the ground near Humfeld, France. on July 29, Capt. Arthur Jeffrey recorded the Group’s first aerial victory and was the first pilot in the unit to shoot down a rocket-propelled aircraft, a Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet over Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Beginning in August 1944, the Group began trading in its P-38 aircraft for the better-performing North American P-51 Mustang.
On Aug. 10, while on a mission over France, Colonel Riddle’s plane was hit by flak. Noticing damage to the left engine, he reduced his airspeed and was able to belly the aircraft into a small grain field. After scrambling from the downed aircraft, a Frenchman working in the field motioned for riddle to follow him to a small town where riddle changed out of his flight gear. After roughly a week in hiding, riddle began his return trip back to England. Led by the French farmer’s 8-year-old son on a 1 1/2 day bicycle ride to a small town of Paris, the next day riddle rode by car to where he was able to join the advancing portion of General George S. Patton’s Third U.S. army. Four days later riddle found himself back at Wattisham.
During riddle’s adventures in occupied France, Colonel Hubert “Hub” Zemke, commander of the 56th Fighter Group, assumed command of the 479th. He soon led the Group on one of its largest attacks against the air-dromes at Nancy and Essey, destroying 43 enemy planes and damaging 28. Unfortunately, on Oct. 30, 1944, while leading a mission over Hamburg, Zemke flew through an imbedded “cue” lurking in the stratus, immediately tearing the wings off his Mustang. Zemke was able to parachute to safety but was taken prisoner for the remainder of the war.
Colonel riddle resumed command of the Group again after Zemke’s capture and remained commander for the remainder of the war. During the Group’s 11 months of combat flying, it participated in 351 missions and was credited with 155 enemy aircraft destroyed and 38 damaged in aerial victories, along with 442 destroyed and another 167 damaged on the ground. On Thanksgiving Day 1945, the Group boarded the USS Enterprise for the return trip to the United States, where the 479th inactivated on Dec. 1, 1945, at Camp Kilmer.
Seven years to the day after inactivation, the Group breathed new life when it was activated and redesignated the 479th Fighter-Bomber Group at George AFB, Calif., in December 1952, flying the North American F-51 Mustang. at the same time, the 435th Fighter-Bomber Squadron was detached to Headquarters, Ice- land air Defense Force at Keflavik, providing air defense of Iceland on behalf of NaTo. By June 1953, the Group phased into the North American F-86 Sabre and, one year later, into the F-100a Super Sabre, becoming the first air Force unit equipped with the new Century- series aircraft. In October 1957, the Group deactivated.
After 34 years of inactivity, the Group was activated as the 479th Fighter Group on July 26, 1991, at Holloman AFB, N.M., where it con- ducted Lead-in Fighter Training. The Group’s existence was short-lived, however, when it was inactivated in mid-November of the same year. Nine years later, the Group, redesignated the 479th Flying Training Group, was activated at Moody AFB, Ga., providing Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals. The Group was the first unit in air Education Training Command to provide JSUPT training in the new raytheon T-6a Texan II. once again, however, the Group was active for only a few years, inactivating on June 21, 2007, having completed more than 120,000 hours in the Texan II and 89,500 hours in the Northrop T-38C Talon.
The Group was reactivated on Oct. 2, 2009, as the 479th Flying Training Group in NAS Pensacola, Fla. Tenet units of the 479th FTG include: the 479th operational Support Squadron, the 451st Flying Training Squadron and the 455th Flying Training Squadron. The Group’s mission is to train Combat System officers (CSO) in the United States air Force. The Group currently flies the T-6a Texan II and the T-1a Jayhawk. When at full capacity the Group will put up to 400 students through the CSO training program per year.