The 71st Fighter Training Squadron, also referred to as the Ironmen, is one of three flying squadrons assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The squadron's mission is to provide professional adversary air support to enhance the 1st Fighter Wing's F-22 combat capability.
The 71st was formed December 14th, 1940, as the 71st Pursuit Squadron. Upon activation on January 1st, 1941, it was assigned to the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, where initial activation training was conducted in the P-35. Three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 71st reported to San Diego Naval Air Station to perform anti-submarine duty along the Pacific Coast utilizing the YP-43 Lancer. Soon after, the 71st transitioned to the P-38 Lighting and was renamed the 71st Fighter Squadron. In June 1942 the 71st participated in the first deployment of a single-seat, twin-engine fighter unit to deploy to England as part of the 1st Fighter Group. The 71st served the entirety of the war in the North African, Mediterranean and South European theaters, earning three Distinguished Unit Citations and producing four aces.
In July 1946, the 71st was assigned to March Field, California, flying the new P-80 Shooting Star. Just prior to moving to George Air Force Base, California, in July 1950, the squadron was equipped with the F-86 Sabre. After being assigned to Griffiss Air Force base, New York, in August 1950, and Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pennsylvania, in October 1950, the 71st returned to its home at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, in August 1955. In keeping with the tradition of flying the newest Air Force fighters, the squadron transitioned to the F-102 Delta Dagger in 1958 and the F-106 Delta Dart in 1960, flying both aircraft in support of Air Defense Command as the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron. In January 1967, the unit moved once again, to Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, Missouri, followed by another move to Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, in July 1968. In July 1971, the squadron returned to Tactical Air Command at MacDill AFB, Florida, as the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron, under the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing. There, it served as a replacement training unit for the F-4E Phantom. In July 1975, the 71st transferred with the wing to Langley Air Force Base, where it was soon equipped with the F-15 Eagle.
In August 1990, the 71st deployed to Saudi Arabia as the first US combat force to land in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD. Over the next 5 months, the Ironmen flew over 13,000 hours and 3,300 sorties - all a prelude to war. The squadron was one of the first units to engage in Operation DESERT STORM and, in the early morning hours of January 17th, 1991, while patrolling the skies near Baghdad, achieved one of the first coalition aerial victories of the war and the wing's first since WWII. After the Gulf War, the unit was redesignated the 71st Fighter Squadron in November 1991 and successfully supported Operations NORTHERN and SOUTHERN WATCH with three deployments to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In 1993, the squadron set the all-time flying safety record for the F-15 with 124,790 accident free hours.
Minutes after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the 71st launched its F 15s to patrol the skies over Washington D.C. and the east coast, intercepting and escorting dozens of airliners to safe landings at airports around the country. A contingent of 71st aircraft that were deployed to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, became the first fighters to take to the skies to patrol Las Vegas and southern California. In February 2003, the 71st deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, where they flew Combat Air Patrols and helped gain total air superiority for the duration of the conflict.
On September 1st, 2010, the last F-15s assigned to the 71st departed Langley Air Force Base as a prelude to unit inactivation, ending the 34-year association of the F-15 with Langley. On September 30th, 2010, the 71st Fighter Squadron was inactivated in a ceremony held in the 71st Fighter Squadron Hangar.
On June 17, 2015, the Ironmen were redesignated the 71st Fighter Training Squadron and reactivated on Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia on August 14, 2015. The unit provides dedicated, professional adversary air with its 17 assigned T-38A/Bs and over 40 assigned and attached Active Duty and Virginia Air National Guard pilots. In an average month, the Ironmen will fly over 300 sorties to keep the 1st Fighter Wing's F-22 pilots combat mission ready and prepared to deploy on short notice. The squadron generates close to 3,500 sorties and logs over 4,000 flight hours each year.
Throughout its distinguished history, the Ironmen have continually been recognized for their excellence, garnering numerous awards. The unit was awarded the prestigious Hughes Achievement Trophy, which recognizes annually the most outstanding air superiority unit in the Air Force, five times: 1969, 1993, 1998, 2001, and 2005. The Ironmen have also received eleven Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.