AWARDS & exercises
USAF Fighter Gunnery & Weapons Meet
by Larry Davis & Marty Isham

Yuma, Arizona, is normally a sleepy little town in the middle of the Arizona desert about 200 miles west of Phoenix. But in the years during and after World War Two, Yuma was a bustling town filled with servicemen since the Army began using the local airport as a training base. Beginning in January 1954, it was the home of a large number of jet jockeys. And not your run of the mill fighter jocks, these were Air Defense Command interceptor pilots sent to Yuma to practice live-firing the primary armament of USAF's interceptor force, air-to-air rockets.


Air Defense Command rocket training operations began on 1 January 1954, after the 4750th Training Wing(Air Defense) was activated at Yuma County Airport The 4750th had two major components, the 4750th Training Group(Air Defense) and the 4750th Training Squadron. Col. Robert Worley was the first commander of the 4750th TW. But there were many famous people assigned to the 4750th including Col. Glenn Eagleston as Group Commander, and Maj. Jim Jabara commanded the 4750th Squadron. The group had two flying squadrons assigned - the 4750th TS equipped with six F-86Ds and six F94Cs; and the 4750th Tow Target Squadron equipped with twelve T-33As and eight B-45As used to tow targets for the live fire portion of the course.


Since Air Defense Command (ADC) was equipped almost solely with rocket-firing interceptors (or soon would be), Headquarters USAF decided they should have their own training base separate from the normal 'Gunfighter Air Force. Yuma County Airport was chosen for the site. The last 'gunnery crew' left Yuma in December 1953. nd the first ADC squadron arrived at Yuma for the Rocketry Proficiency Program on 1 February 1954. ADC squadrons rotated through Yuma on a regular basis for a two week proficiency program that included 'live-fire' exercises over the Williams AFB and Luke AFB ranges.


The two week course included a controller course, many hours in the F-86D simulator and at least one 'live fire' mission flown each day. The targets, usually towed behind B-45A tow ships, were 9'x45' target sleeves, with two radar reflectors attached for the interceptor fire control systems to lock onto. Most of the TDY personnel were quartered in tents near the flight line, at least until April 1954 when the first permanent barracks buildings were finished and air conditioned. By June, seven ADC units had rotated through the Yuma program.


Also during the conference at Las Vegas AFB (became Nellis AFB in Spring 1950) that brought the ADC program to Yuma, Headquarters USAF decided to add a separate air-to-air rocketry competition to the annual USAF gunnery meet that was held at Las Vegas AFB. The Interceptor Phase of the competition would be held at Yuma between 20 June and 27 June 1954. Col. Worley chaired the rules committee meeting at Yuma in mid-January.


There were four teams involved in this first ADC rocket competition - two F-94C Starfire units from the Air Training Command squadron at Moody AFB, and a Western Air Defense Force squadron; and two F-86D teams from the Eastern Air Defense Force (13th FIS) ar the Central Air Defense Force (made up from elements the 15th FIS and 93rd FIS). The first F-89D Scorpion squadron, the 18th FIS, also participated but did not compete.


Each team pilot and airplane flew three missions against the targets, first at 20,000' and then again 30,000'. Scoring was done by a judge flying one of the T-33As - 1000 points for a hit on the first run, 800 for the second, and 600 for the third. Unfortunately for the 'good guys', the F-94C teams swept the honors, with the Moody team taking First with 10,400 points, followed by the WADF team. The EADF F-86D team was Third and the CADF team came in Fourth. Gen. B.J. Chidlaw, Commanding ADC, presented the trophies at the end of the competition.


Several changes occurred during the last half of 1954. On 24 August, Yuma County Airport was redesignated Yuma Air Force Base. On 1 September, the 4750th Training Wing became the 4750th Air Defense Wing(Weapons). The 4750th Group and squadrons were also redesignated. And on 8 January 1955, the 4750th Tow Target Squadron became the 17th TTS. Between July 1954 and the end of the year, ADC rotated eleven more squadrons through the Yuma program - nine in F-86Ds, and one each in F-94Cs and F-89Ds.


One of the more interesting events was Exercise CHECKPOINT, a joint exercise between ADC and SAC units in July 1954, during which ADC units from Yuma successfully 'intercepted and destroyed' seventy-three out of seventy-four SAC inbound bombers, either BA7s or B-36s. In late 1954, USAF and ADC decided to open a second rocketry center at Moody AFB, Georgia The 4756th ADG(Weapons) and 4756th ADS were assigned to the Moody Rocketry Center. Beginning 1 January 1955, only F-86D units would go through the program at Yuma. The F-94 and F-89 crews went to Moody. In November 1954, the first TB-29 tow target aircraft arrived at Yuma, and the first night 'live-fire' missions were flown.


By 1955, with Moody now training the '94 and '89 crews, ADC began rotating four squadrons through the Yuma program simultaneously. And in February, the 317th FIS set a new record for hits with 177 actual hits. In 1955, USAF established a three phase competition for the first annual World-Wide Fighter Gunnery and Weapons Meet - Phase One was for day fighters, Phase Two was the Special Delivery phase (i.e. 'nukes'). Both of these were held at (now) Nellis AFB. Phase Three was the Interceptor Phase, again held at Yuma AFB in October 1955.


But first ADC held a Shoot-Off' at Yuma from 8 August to 24 August 1955. Pour teams from each air defense force (ADF) were invited to participate. At the end of the ADC Shoot-Off, one team from each ADF would represent ADC in the October interceptor competition. The Shoot-Off actually began on 16 August and had the same rules as the 1954 Rocketry Meet. At the end of the Shoot-Off, ADC crowned the WADF F-94 team from the 78th FIG the winner with 14,800 points. The 26th AD F94Cs (EADF) were Second, and the CADF F-86D team from the 328th FIG was Third.


The first 'World-Wide' USAF Fighter Gunnery and Weapons Meet (Interceptor Phase) was held at Yuma AFB beginning on 2 October 1955. Eight teams participated, which included for the first time ever, teams from overseas units. The overseas units would borrow aircraft from stateside squadrons for use in the competition. Participants included the EADF team of 26th Air Division F-94Cs, ATC F-86Ds from the 3555th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Perrin AFB, USAFE F-86Ds from the 431st FIS at Wheelus AB, Libya, 78th FIG F86Ds represented WADF, Alaskan Air Command F-89Ds from the 18th P15, Northeast Air Command F-89Ds from the 64th AD, Far East Air Force F-86Ds assigned to the 51st FIG, and F-86Ds from the 328th FIG/ CADF.


Most of the units had representatives from several squadrons within a group or wing, such as the EADP team that was made up of aircraft and crews from the 46th FIS at Dover APB, the 96th FIS at New Castle County Airport, the 48th FIS at Langley, and the 332nd FIS based at McGuire AFB; and the top scoring crews from the three squadrons in the 78th FIG (the 82d, 83rd, and 84th FIS) represented the CADF.


The overall winner was again an F-94C Starfire team from the EADF 26th AD, led by Col. Milton Ashkins, who would later command the 4750th ADW(Weapons) at Yuma. Col. Ashkins' team would come from behind on the final day of the meet to beat out all the other teams. The ATC F-86Ds flown by 3555th pilots, took Second, while FEAF '86s finished Fourth, CADF finished Fifth, WADF was Sixth, and the USAFE team was Seventh.


On 18 October, Gen. Thomas D. White, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded the trophies. First Place went to Col. Norman Orwat's F-86D team from the 94th FIS. The EADF team had scored a total of 13,800 points for the victory. The F-89Ds from the 437th FiS placed Second with 11,400 points. F-86D teams placed Fourth (40th FIS), Fifth (406th FIW), Sixth (3625th CCTW), and Seventh (13th FIS). High Team Captain Event honors were split between Col. Donald Graham and his Radar Operator l/Lt. Billy Thompson, an AAC F-89D crew; and l/Lt Robert long, a member of the 94th FIS F-86D team. Overall High Aircrew score went to Col. Graham and Lt. Thompson.


The 1956 meet was the last meet held at Yuma because USAF moved the Interceptor competition to Tyndall AFB, Florida in October 1958 under Project WILLIAM TELL The 1958 William Tell Meet was the last in which F86Ds competed. But they went out with a flourish. All the F-86D/L teams flew in Category III competition. Category I was for Century Series interceptors, Category II being for two-place F-89 interceptors. For the first time, Air National Guard teams were allowed to compete. The F-86D team from the 125th FG, Florida ANG, shot a PERFECT SCORE, 40,800 points, to grab First Place. Second was the 526th FIS/USAFE, Third - the 3555th FTW/ATC, 322nd FIS/WADF F-86Ls placed Fourth, and 4th FIS F-86Ds from PACAF were Fifth. The weather at Yuma and the Century Series of advanced interceptors had relegated both Yuma and the Dog Sabre to reserve status. But it had been a good run.

(INFORMATION COURTESY OF Sabre Pilots Association - No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

318TH AT Fighter Gunnery & Weapons Meet
1952 ROCKET MEET (F-94) - ??? Place
1953 ROCKET MEET (F-86D) - 1st Place
1955 ROCKET MEET (F-86D) - ??? Place