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National Aviation Day and the 437th Airlift Wing

By Stan Gohl | 437th AW Historian's Office | Aug. 17, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation declaring August 19, 1939 National Aviation Day in honor of the 68th anniversary of Orville Wright’s birthday.  Orville was the younger brother of Wilbur Wright, who, together, became American aviation pioneers.  On  December 17, 1903, the Wrights made aviation history, when they successfully completed the first controlled flight of a powered flying machine.   

To put that achievement into perspective, the 437th Troop Carrier Group (TCG) was activated a mere 40-years later on May 1, 1943 and a year later they were flying combat sorties over France during Operation NEPTUNE, known by most as D-Day. 

In 1947, the United States Air Force was established as a separate and equal service alongside the Army and Navy. Two years later, on June 27, 1949, the 437th Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) was activated as a reserve wing at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport, Illinois. 

On August 10, 1950, the 437 TCW made Air Force history when it became the first reserve wing activated for combat operations, leaving for Brady Field Japan in November 1950, where they flew combat sorties into and over the Korean peninsula.  In June 1952 the wing was inactivated and returned to reserve status back at Chicago-O’Hare where it remained as a traditional reserve wing until it was again inactivated in November 1957.  In December 1965, the Air Force activated the 437th, this time designated as a Military Airlift Wing (MAW) and assigned to Charleston AFB, South Carolina.

Now only 63-years from the Wrights first powered flight in 1903, the 437 MAW was again making aviation history.  Only 4-years after taking the helm at Charleston AFB, the 437 MAW received the Air Force’s first C-5 Galaxy, the Air Force’s newest and largest airlifter ever!  Then in 1975, a C-141A, assigned to the 437 MAW, was selected to become the first C-141 to be “stretched,” and redesignated as a C-141B. 

 In the mid-1980s, they again made history when they trained and conducted Special Operation Low Level (SOLL) missions in specially equipped C-141Bs.  Then in June 1993, only 90-years since the Wrights first powered flight, the 437th, now designated as an Airlift Wing (AW), received the first C-17 Globemaster III. 

The C-17 marked a huge advancement in airlift capability; it not only had the strategic lift capability of the C-141 and C-5, but it also retained the tactical airlift capability of the C-130.  By 2002, the 437 AW resumed their SOLL II tasking, now in the new C-17, and quickly proved not only the worth of the C-17, but also the enhanced capabilities provided by the SOLL II aircrew. 

Over the next 20 plus years the Airmen of the 437 AW continued to make aviation history as they not only flew combat sorties in countries to include; Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but they also flew humanitarian missions to virtually every point on the globe.  The 437 AW not only delivers the tip of the spear, but they also deliver hope in the wake of despair. 

So today 115-years from the Wrights first powered flight, aviation has made huge advancements, historical milestones, and a legacy of innovation.  At the same time, the 437 AW, in only 75-years, has been a huge contributor to that legacy.