Beale AFB unit celebrates centennial |

Beale AFB unit celebrates centennial

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Today, the Marysville Appeal-Democrat continues its coverage of the 100th anniversary of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base with profiles of a B-47 navigator, an SR-71 pilot, an SR-71 navigator and a U-2 pilot. Read more at ">

Pilots in the 1st Aero Squadron trained in fabric-covered single-engine biplanes called “Jennys.”

Fast forward 100 years and the unbroken record of service continues as U-2 pilots soar above 80,000 feet.

The U.S. military’s oldest flying unit, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, had a centennial celebration last week at Beale Air Force Base.

The U.S. Army organized the 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) March 5, 1913, and asked the squadron to help with security along the U.S. border with Mexico in Texas and New Mexico.

In March 1916, the squadron became the first tactical aviation unit to deploy to a foreign land when Capt. Benjamin Foulois took eight Curtiss JN-3s Jennys into Mexico to pursue Mexican bandit Pancho Villa.

“I joke a little bit that 100 years ago there was a terrorist that came across the border into the U.S., killed US citizens, then retreated into a foreign country up into the mountains, and the first mission of the airplane was to go and look for him,” said Col. Phil Stewart, 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander.

Not a lot has changed.

“Now we are involved in another foreign country looking for terrorists who came on U.S. soil and killed American citizens,” Stewart said.

Both the U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk, high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, are used today over Afghanistan and were on display during the squadron’s 100th anniversary open house at Beale.

Several hundred former airmen and invited guests came out for the two-day event.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “There’s been a lot of great people who have been members of the 1st the past 100 years.”

Guests toured the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron’s facilities and talked with air crew members about the U-2 Dragon Lady, RQ-4 Global Hawk, T-38 Talon and the MC-12, which are flown at Beale and were on display.

Personnel with the 9th Physiological Support Squadron demonstrated how a U-2 pilot gears up in a $250,000 full-pressure suit.

First Reconnaissance Squadron pilots have flown 47 different aircraft and been stationed at 52 locations around the globe, including four times at sea.

“Everything we do is so highly classified that a chance to show off my airmen is a real treat,” Stewart said.

David Bitton is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.

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