Operation WHITE SHOES &
The Air Defense of Alaska

After World War II, the first public appearance of the Tupolev Tu-4 "Bull" bomber and the concern that this or another type of long-range bomber would use routes over the Arctic Ocean to attack North America, led the United Stated to prioritize the development of a plan for a comprehensive air defense system across Canada and Alaska.


In August of 1946, the 57th Fighter Group reactivated at Shemya Army Airfield, based in the Alaska Territories Aleutian Island Chain (strategically located between the United States and Soviet Union) as a part of the air defense of the Northern Pacific. In 1947, the Group and its assigned squadrons (64th, 65th, & 66th Fighter Squadrons) relocated to Elmendorf Field, Alaska and, a year later; it would see a major upgrade in equipment that would improve effectiveness in the unit's dual tactical & air defense mission, converting from the piston-engined F-51H Mustang to the Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star jet fighter. With the tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union increased, the 57th began to use Galena, McGrath, and Marks Fields as forward operating bases.  


On 19 May 1947, another unit, the 415th Fighter Squadron (All Weather) with its eight Northrop P-61 Black Widows would move from Shaw Field, SC to Adak Field on Adak Island to defend the Aleutian Island chain. On 01 September 1947, the 415th FS would inactivate and be renamed as the 449th Fighter Squadron. In late 1948-1949, the 449th replaced its P-61 Black Widows with the winterized F-82H Twin Mustangs and moved to Ladd AFB, Alaska.


In the fall of 1948, the 94th Fighter Squadron deployed to Ladd AFB to conduct cold weather tests in support of potential F-80 operations. After the aircraft were deemed feasible for arctic conditions, the 94th returned back to the U.S. and converted to the F-86, while their aircraft stayed behind and became a part of the 57th Fighter Group.


This interim air defense system of interceptors and temporary radar sites was not perfect, but gave limited ability to protect Alaska and gave assigned units excellent training for the air defense mission. After many in-depth air defense studies and planning sessions from Alaskan Air Command (AAC) from 1946 through 1948 developed a plan approved by the Department of Defense (DoD), the US Congress appropriated funding in 1949 to the ACC for the creation of a more comprehensive air defense network in Alaska. On 27 June 1950, the system constructed to protect Alaska from attack became a continuous around the clock operation, by the end of 1954, a three-part defense system was fully functional. This air defense "Triad" consisted of Interceptors, distant early warning radar sites (the DEW Line), and a communication system between the interceptors and radar sites known as "White Alice".


As radar capabilities improved, a more advanced interceptor, the Lockheed F-94 Starfire, entered the system in August of 1950. To keep the forces as strong as possible, the 449th added the F-94 to their existing F-82 fleet doubled their squadron strength. As the F-94's became operational, it would be used exclusively in the air defense mission, the squadrons F-82's would focus on their ground support mission. The squadrons last operational F-82, 46-377, retired from service on 12 November 1953, ending the conventional fighter service in the active USAF.   


For their transition, squadrons of the 57th FG flew their F-80's back to United States in batches of four of eight to Lockheed to exchange for F-94's. After transitional training, the crews returned to their base fully trained and ready for combat. The 57th FIG inactivated on 13 April 1953, its assigned squadrons realigned under the 10th AF. F-94's station at Ladd and Elmendorf would utilize Naknek (later known as King Salmon) & Galena as Forward Operating Bases.     


In 01 November 1950, the ACC established two air divisions to assist in the management of the air defense units in Alaska, the 10th and 11th Air Divisions. The 10th Air Force, Headquartered at Elmendorf AFB, commanded the 57th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) and other air defense units assigned to defend the airspace over the Southern portion of the Alaska. The 11th Air Force, Headquartered at Ladd AFB, with the 449th Fighter Squadron, and associated units would provide defense for the Northern half of Alaska.    


A F-94A Starfire is pictured during a downtime on a warm day at Ladd AFB


For a number of reasons F-94's were not suited for cold weather operations, the ACC found a suitable replacement, the Northrop F-89 Scorpion. On 06 September 1953, the first three F-89C began service with the 65th FIS, the other Elmendorf based squadrons would soon follow. The basing of these advanced aircraft was a must for the defense of the northern airspace, especially after two unprovoked incidences where Soviet MiG-15s fired on a USAF WB-29 and a Navy P2V Neptune. The WB-29's gunners were able to ward off the attacking MiG, but the Navy P2V Neptune was not so fortunate, the maritime resonance aircraft was hit by gunfire, damaged it was able to make an emergency landing saving the crew from a watery death.  With these attacks on U.S. aircraft and the Soviet detonation of their first hydrogen bomb in 1954, the U.S. began to review the effectiveness of Alaska's air defense system.  


In November of 1954, the F-89C's would be replaced by the F-89D's. In the same month the Ladd, based 449th FIS would also take on F-89D replacing their well-worn F-94's. The Alaska F-89 squadrons would take on 4 to 6 of the upgraded "D" models per month replacing their "C" model Scorpions. Ladd would see additional men and equipment from two squadrons of F-89s from the "lower 48", both among the most experienced Scorpion squadrons in the Air Defense Command,  the 433rd FIS from Truax Field, WI and the 18th FIS from Minneapolis-St Paul IAP, MN.  At the height of the F-89 period the AAC would posses between 150 to 200 F-89's assigned to six squadrons maintaining alert aircraft at their home bases, and at their two forward operating bases at Naknek & Galena. As the ACC improved other segments of the defense system, a push to acquire a more modern aircraft with better weapons, speed, and range than the current fleet of interceptors - that interceptor was the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger.    


On 15 August 1957, an entire squadron of F-102's, the 317th FIS, transferred from McChord and the Air Defense Command to a new assignment at with the AAC at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. A month later, another experience F-102 squadron, the 31th FIS from Wurtsmith AFB, MI, joined the 317th at Elmendorf. The basing of the F-102's gave the Command the ability to reduce the squadrons in Alaska to by three, with the 449th FIS at Ladd upgrading to the F-89J Scorpion, this posture did not last very long.  


A maintenance crew from the 317th FIS make adjustments to F-102A S/N 56-1268 in the cold of Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, in January 1958.


On 08 October 1958, the 31st FIS would inactivate with the squadrons aircraft moving to the 317th FIS making it the largest squadron in the Air Force with 46 aircraft. By the end of July 1960, the F-89 of the 449th FIS would be phased out, leaving the 317th as the lone defender of the "Top Cover of America".


The basing of the F-102's prompted the Soviets to test the effectiveness of the F-102's and the air defense system in Alaska. In March of 1958, AAC radar screens lit up with blips of Soviet reconnaissance bombers off Alaska's west coast, but in international airspace. This provocation continued, and in September of that year, two F-102's scrambled from Galena failed to intercept two Soviet TU-16's "Badgers" over the Bering Sea. The "Ironmen's" Delta winged fighters would have better luck on 05 December 1961; with two of their F-102s successfully intercept two TU-16's.  


In March 1963, two F-102's out of King Salmon attempted to intercept Soviet reconnaissance bomber flying over Nunivak Island and the west coast of Alaska, the interceptors never reached their target, low on fuel the two F-102s were recalled 20 miles from the Soviet aircraft. This display of the limitations of the F-102 rekindled a debate concerning the capabilities of interceptors assigned to the ACC. The command considered replacing the Daggers with more capable aircraft, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart, or the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. After discussions with Air Force leadership, the ACC was informed that neither of the fighters would be available for the command since production for the F-106 ended with the 340th and last interceptor rolling off the production line in 1961, and a move to prioritize production of the F-4 for units fighting the war in Southeast Asia. Without an immediate replacement for the F-102s, the AAC agreed to a rotational deployment of ADC F-106s from the centennial United States under the code name "White Shoes" (later renamed College Shoes).


Before they received the tailflash of their new organization, the 325th Fighter Wing, one of the newly accepted F-106As (S/N 59-0145) to enter the 498th FIS inventory taxis across the Elmendorf AFB flightline after completing 2,200 mile flight from McChord .


On 15 July 1963, the first F-106's from the from the 318th and the 498th Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons landed at Elmendorf AFB to reinforce the F-102 and the air defense of Alaska. Designated as Detachment 1, 325th Fighter Wing, these interceptors maintained 24-hour strip alerts from King Salmon & Galena airfields. Approximately 80 men were permanently assigned to the detachment to support a cadre of rotational pilots and aircraft. On 08 September 1963, the F-106s passed their first test by intercepting two TU-16s over the Bering Sea off the northwest coast. The 318 FIS and the 498 FIS continually rotated through Alaska until the first F-106's from the 71 FIS replaced the McChord based squadrons on 03 December 65. The "Ironmen" of the 71st would be the first of 10 Air Defense Command F-106 Squadrons to participate in the White Shoes/College Shoes deployments. The list of units are as follows:    


5th FIS, Minot AFB, ND (3 deployments) - 04 January 67, 03 April 68, 10 July 69. 


11 FIS, Duluth MAP, MN (2 deployments) - 06 September 67, 01 August 68.  


27 FIS, Loring AFB, ME (5 deployments) - 04 May 66, 01 Nov 67, 29 January 68, 30 August 68, 08 December 69.   


48 FIS, Langley AFB, VA (3 deployments) - 07 September 66, 03 May 67, 07 April 69.  


49 FIS Griffiss AFB, NY (1 deployments) - 08 September 69.


71 FIS Selfridge AFB, MI/Richards-Gebaur AFB, MS/Malmstrom AFB, MT (3 deployments) - 03 December 65, 04 January 68, 02 February 70.      


84 FIS Hamilton AFB, CA (2 deployments) - 05 June 69, 15 June 70


94 FIS Selfridge AFB, MI/Wurtsmith AFB, MI (3 deployments) - 07 September 66, 28 February 68, July 70.  


318 FIS McChord AFB, WA (7 deployments) - Continuous rotations the 498 FIS from 15 July 1963 through 03 December 65, 14 December 67.   


438 FIS Kincheloe AFB, MI (2 deployments) - 01 March 67, 29 May 68.       


460 FIS Oxnard AFB, CA (1 deployments) - 09 December 68.


498 FIS McChord AFB/Paine AFB WA (8 deployments) - Continuous rotations the 318 FIS from 15 July 1963 through 03 December 65, 04 May 66, 05 July 67. 


Almost 20 years after it had come to Alaska in the the F-80, the 94th FIS returns with F-106A's. A Delta Dart (s/n 58-0780) from the 94th leads a F-102A (s/n 56-1278) from the 317th FIS. Along with the 317th squadron insignia on the nose, it also displays a Alaskan Air Command shield on the tail.


In White Shoes/College Shoes generally, two squadrons would deploy 4 F-106s each standing alert from King Salmon & Galena airfields, with tours lasting for an average of 4 months. These deployments continued into 1970 with the last squadron (84 FIS) leaving Alaska for its home base on 02 October 1970. During the White Shoes/College Shoes deployment, F-106's successfully conducted 17 intercepts while the F-102's from the 317th accounted for the remaining 13 of 30 between 15 July 1963 and 02 October 1970. 


The ADC's F-106s would outlast the F-102s of the 317th FIS with the squadron inactivating 31 December 1969. The F-106s filled the gap in the Alaskan air defense mission until the transfer of 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron and their 18 F-4E's from MacDill AFB, FL to Elmendorf AFB on 23 June 1970.

318 FIS IN Operation WHITE SHOES
Coming Soon