Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., a native of Phoenix, earned the name as the "Arizona Balloon Buster" having scored 18 aerial victories during World War I in the skies of France. 14 of the "kills" were German observation balloons- all before he was killed at the age of 21 in 1918. His successes were so outstanding and important that he was the first aviator to receive the Medal of Honor.
On March 24, 1941, the Del Webb Construction Company began excavation for the first building on what was Litchfield Park Air Base in greater west Phoenix. The base's first commander, Colonel Ennis C. Whitehead went on to distinguish himself as a Lieutenant General officer and commander of the Air Defense Command in 1950.
On June 6, 1941 the first class of 45 aviation students arrived to begin advanced flight training in the AT-6. Flying out of Sky Harbor Airport until the Luke runways were ready, pilots received ten weeks of instruction and the first class graduated Aug. 15, 1941. Capt. Barry Goldwater served as director of ground training the following year.
During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Air Corps, graduating more than 12,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51 and P-38, earning the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot." By Feb. 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time.
The base has adapted over the years primarily to train pilots of a large number of flying weapons such as: the P-51 Mustang, the F-84, F-104 Starfighter, F-100, and thousands of American pilots left Luke to carve their niche in the annals of Air Force history in the skies over Vietnam.
Another sequence of air weapons systems started in 1971 with air crew training in the following: the F-4C Phantom II, the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the C and D models of the Fighting Falcon, and the E model of the F-15 Eagle. In 1987 the 944th Tactical Fighter Group was activated to fly the F-16C/D.
Luke Air Force Base may be the most significant training location for fighter pilots in the history of the Air Force. As time marches forward, there will undoubtedly be new training missions assigned to this historic and high achieving Air Force installations already spanning over 70 years of spectacular success.
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