Brand new 63d MAW C-141As on the ramp at Norton AFB, 1967. Serial 66-0177 is in foreground. This aircraft will become the famous "Hanoi Taxi" which flew Bob Hope to USO shows in South Vietnam and in 1973, during the final days of the Vietnam War
, repatriated American POWs from North Vietnam
Senator John McCain
was one of the POWs who flew home on the Hanoi Taxi. 66-0177 was the last C-141 to be withdrawn from Air Force service after a career of almost 40 years, as the last of the fleet was retired in 2006. 66-0177 today is on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
A 63d MAW C-141B over Norton AFB in 1988. The 63d Airlift Wing (63 AW) is an inactive unit of the United States Air Force. Its last assignment was with Air Mobility Command, being stationed at Norton Air Force Base, California. It was inactivated on April 1, 1994.
Recently released United States POWs from North Vietnamese prison camps being flown on-board the 63d MAW "Hanoi Taxi" (C-141A 66-0177) from Hanoi, North Vietnam to Clark Air Base, Philippines, March 1973.
- For additional history and lineage, see 63d Troop Carrier Group
The 63d Troop Carrier Wing was established on 10 May 1949. It was activated in the Air Force Reserve on 10 May 1949 as part of Tactical Air Command It was equipped with C-54 Skymasters and assigned to Floyd Bennett Field, New York. It was activated to Federal Service on May 1, 1951, and its personnel and equipment were sent to Japan to be used in the Korean War with the 61st Troop Carrier Group. With its personnel and equipment deployed, the group was inactivated on May 9, 1951.
After the Korean War, the unit was redesignated as the 63d Troop Carrier Wing, Heavy and activated at Altus Municipal Airport (later Altus AFB), Oklahoma on June 20, 1953, being assigned to Tactical Air Command. It trained on C-124 Globemaster IIs and transported personnel and supplies, and participated in exercises and maneuvers with Army airborne troops.
On October 15, 1953 the 63d Troop Carrier Wing was transferred to Donaldson AFB, South Carolina. At Donaldson, the unit participated in maneuvers, exercises and the airlift of personnel and cargo to many points throughout the world. Large hangars and expansive ramps were constructed to support these large aircraft, and the base was known as the Troop Carrier Capitol of the World . In 1955 the wing transported construction equipment from bases in Canada to points north of the Arctic Circle for use in setting up the Distant Early Warning Line network in the Canadian Arctic; for this operation, accomplished in severe weather and without adequate navigational equipment, the group received an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
In the following years, the 63d's special humanitarian airlift role continued to increase. This included an airlift by the 14th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) in March 1956 of 21 Iron Lungs from Boston, Massachusetts, to polio stricken Argentina. Thirteen months later, a crew from the 15 TCS transported U.S. Ambassador Charles E. Bohlen and his family from Moscow, Russia, to Rhein Main AFB, Germany (enroute to his new assignment as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. Thus, the 15th became the first to land a C-124 "Globemaster" in the Soviet capital.
In 1957 a reorganization of troop carrier forces included the transfer of TAC's heavy-lift C-124 wings to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) where they retained their troop carrier identity and were remained dedicated to support TAC on troop deployments. Under MATS, the 63d performed global airlift missions, including occasional humanitarian or mercy missions, using C-124s as its primary aircraft in the 1958 Lebanon crisis; the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis; where the 63d assisted in a complete operational Air Force squadron being airlifted in a single-package operation; the Congo Crisis of 1962 and to Southeast Asia where wing C-124s transported Thai and United States Marines to locations near the Mekong River in Thailand to deter communist aggression in 1962.
With the closing of Donaldson, the wing was reassigned to Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia in January 1963. By this time, the wing flew only the C-124 aircraft. Although the wing relocated, its mission remained unchanged. In November 1964, the 63d flew 15 missions behind the Iron Curtain and provided relief in the flooded areas of Yugoslavia during an outbreak of hepatitis. During that same month, 15 of the wing's C-124s (and their associated aircrews) supported Belgian C-130 paratroop operations to free hostages held by rebel forces in Belgium. The paratroopers' efforts proved successful with the liberation of the hostages. After a military siege of the elected government in the Dominican Republic, the wing supported Operation Red Fox/Power Pack (29 April to 8 May 1965), by providing 23 aircraft. At Huner the wing coordinated with Army infantry and airborne units at Fort Stewart, and flew many thousands of troops to air bases in South Vietnam in the mid-1960s.
On 8 January 1966, the 63d Troop Carrier Wing was reassigned from the inactivating Military Air Transport Service to the newly-established USAF Military Airlift Command (MAC). With this reassignment, the wing was redesignated as the 63d Military Airlift Wing (MAW). Less than six months later, on 1 July, the wing sent a small provisional element to Norton AFB, California, to begin the wing's eventual move to the Southern California airfield on 1 April 1967.
Vietnam War era
On 1 April 1967, Headquarters, Military Airlift Command (MAC) discontinued the provisional unit, and officially transferred the 63 MAW to its new home Norton AFB, California and entered the jet age, being equipped with the new C-141 Starlifter. From Norton, the wing's notable operations were airlifts and airdrops to floating ice islands in support of scientific stations in the Arctic Ocean, airlift and airdrop support in the Antarctic in support of the Navy's Operation Deep Freeze and airlifting of a complete army units on rotation to Europe in support of Reforger Exercises.
Within the next few years, the 63d MAW expanded its mission by providing airlift support for the astronauts assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Apollo program. On 22 July 1969, an aircrew from the 14th Military Airlift Squadron (MAS) flew to Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and transported the crew of the history-making Apollo 11 flight (the first men to walk on the moon) in the Mobile Quarantine Facility to Ellington AFB, Texas. The wing continued to play a vital role in future NASA programs by providing transportation for personnel, biological samples, and equipment.
During the Vietnam War, 63d MAW C-141s were common sights throughout Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia, flying airlift missions to Asia during the Vietnam War. 63d MAW C-141 66-0177 flew Bob Hope to USO shows in South Vietnam and in March 1973, was used in the final days of the Vietnam War to repatriate American POWs from North Vietnam. Arizona Senator John McCain was one of the POWs who flew home on the aircraft, known as the "Hanoi Taxi". The Hanoi Taxi's name comes from the writing on the flight engineer's panel by the POWs aboard the plane for the freedom flight.
In 1975, C-141s from Norton took part in the airlift of Vietnam refugees from their homeland to the United States (Operation New Life). Throughout the last half of the 1970s, the 63 MAW continued to provide assistance in a variety of humanitarian relief efforts. These missions included support in the aftermath of the 1976 Guatemalan earthquake; quick response to typhoon victims in Guam in both 1976 and 1977; and the 1978 blizzard that left the northeastern portion of the U.S. virtually crippled.
Beginning in 1977, the 63d's C-141s were modified to the C-141B configuration by adding sections before and after the wings. This lengthened the fuselage and allowed the carriage of 103 litters for wounded, 13 standard pallets, 205 troops, 168 paratroopers, or an equivalent increase in other loads. Also added at this time was a boom receptacle for inflight refueling. The conversion program was completed by 1982. It was estimated that this stretching program was the equivalent of buying 90 new aircraft, in terms of increased capacity.
Man-made disasters also required help from the 63d. On 2l November 1978, two C-141s and their 14 MAS aircrews retrieved over 900 corpses from the Jonestown mass murder-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. And, as a result of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant meltdown in April 1979, the 63d flew two missions that provided approximately 100,000 pounds of charcoal filters needed in the cleanup.
Captain Kathy LaSauce-Arlington became the first female pilot in Air Force history to command a C-141 when she received her certification by the 63 MAW's Review and Certification Board on 8 January 1980. The wing logged three more firsts when it received its first C-141B aircraft on 19 July 1980, and on 22 June 1981 when the wing accomplished the first-ever C-141B air-refueling mission on a flight that delivered fresh produce, mail, and other supplies to the South Pole and McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Almost a year to the day later (21 June 1982), a 63 MAW C-141B received fuel from the new KC-10 aerial tanker, in total darkness and on a similar South Pole mission.
Throughout the 1980s, the 63 MAW continually responded to both military and humanitarian needs. The wing launched 14 C-141s in response to Operation Urgent Fury the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 where they flew troops and equipment from Pope AFB, North Carolina, to the Caribbean island. Two years later, on 21 September 1985, the wing flew respiration equipment and lights to Mexico City to help in the recovery efforts following a massive earthquake. In November and December of 1985, the 15 MAS flew members of Joint Casualty Recovery Center and some heavy earth-moving equipment to Hanoi to assist in the recovery of the remains of seven Americans from the Vietnam War. And on the home front, the 63d flew supplies to the cattle ranchers in the southeastern U.S. during Operation Hayride in July 1986.
Two military operations in the late 1980s reflected the quick responses of the 63 MAW. In 1988 the wing supported Exercise Golden Pheasant--an emergency deployment of U.S. Army troops to Honduras to show American support to the democratic government of that Central American nation. Then, on 20 December 1989, aircrews and aircraft from the 63d participated in the initial airdrop of troops in the assault on Panama's Torrijos International Airport. During the three week contingency, the 63d's accounted for 72 of the 147 missions flown by aircraft under the Twenty Second Air Force (22 AF) during Operation Just Cause.
During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, C-141s from the 63d MAW flew American Army and Air Force units and equipment into Saudi Arabia, transporting more than 41,400 passengers and 139,600 tons (125,690 metric tons) of cargo. Shortly after the end of hostilities in Iraq, the wing was redesignated as the 63d Airlift Wing (AW).
The 63d AW provided assistance throughout the world that included relief help to the Kurds in Northern Iraq, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)--the former Soviet Union, and war-torn Yugoslavia. Additionally, the 63d took part in the efforts to transport food and supplies to hurricane-ravaged southern Florida, Hawaii, and Guam. The May 1992 riots in Los Angeles, California, also required the aid of the 63d Airlift Wing (redesignated as such on 1 January 1992). The wing transported riot personnel and equipment from various locations into Norton AFB. The 63d Transportation Squadron (TRNS) then provided ground transportation into the Los Angeles area for these assets. And even though the wing operated only two C-141 squadrons, it still managed to take an active role in the support of relief efforts to famine-stricken Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope.
With the end of the Cold War and the general drawdown of American military forces, Norton AFB was selected for closure due to environmental wastes, inadequate facilities, and air traffic congestion (due to air traffic from Ontario International Airport, twenty miles (32 km) west, and Los Angeles International Airport, 60 miles (97 km) west) .
The 63d Airlift Wing was inactivated on April 1, 1994 along with Norton AFB.
- Established as 63d Troop Carrier Wing, Medium, on May 10, 1949
- Allocated to the reserve May 10, 1949
- Activated in the Reserve on June 27, 1949
- Ordered to active service on May 1, 1951
- Inactivated on May 9, 1951
- Redesignated 63d Troop Carrier Wing, Heavy, on December 18, 1952
- Activated on January 8, 1953
- Redesignated 63d Military Airlift Wing on January 8, 1966
- Redesignated 63d Airlift Wing on January 1, 1992
- Inactivated April 1, 1994
- First Air Force, June 27, 1949 May 9, 1951
- Eighteenth Air Force, January 8, 1953
- Continental Division, Military Air Transport Service (later, Western Transport Air Force), July 1, 1957
- Eastern Transport Air Force (later, Twenty-First Air Force), October 1, 1958
- Twenty-Second Air Force, April 1, 1967 June 1, 1992
- Air Mobility Command June 1, 1992 April 19, 1994
- 64th Troop Carrier: attached October 15, 1953 March 1, 1954
445th Military Airlift: attached July 1, 1973 April 1, 1994
- Attached August 25, 1954 June 30, 1957
- Assigned July 1, 1957 October 8, 1959 (detached July 23 c. September 15, 1958)
- 63d Troop Carrier Group: 27 Jun 1949-9 May 1951; 20 Jun 1953- 18 Jan 1963
- 64th Troop Carrier: attached October 15, 1953 February 15, 1954
- 465th Troop Carrier: attached October 15 November 30, 1953
- 944th Military Airlift: attached March 25, 1968 July 1, 1973
7th Air Transport Squadron: July 1, 1964 January 8, 1966.
14th Troop Carrier (later Military Airlift; later Airlift) Squadron: January 18, 1963 1994.
15th Troop Carrier (later Military Airlift; later Airlift) Squadron: August 25, 1954 1994 (not operational, c. February August 14, 1967).
- 21st Helicopter Squadron: attached July 9, 1956 June 30, 1957.
- 52nd Transport (later Troop Carrier; Later Military Airlift; Later Airlift) Squadron: 1942 1944; 1949 1957; January 18, 1963 January 8, 1967; June 1, 1988 - September 30, 1992.
- 53rd Troop Carrier (later Military Airlift; later Airlift) Squadron: January 18, 1963 July 8, 1966; January 8, 1972 1994.
- 54th Troop Carrier Squadron: July 1, 1957 October 8, 1959; January 18, 1963 June 25, 1965.
- 58th Military Airlift Squadron, Special: January 8 July 1, 1966.
- 309th Troop Carrier Squadron: attached October 8, 1954 July 9, 1956.
- Floyd Bennett NAS, New York, June 27, 1949 May 9, 1951
- Altus Muni Aprt (later, AFB), Oklahoma, January 8, 1953
Donaldson AFB, South Carolina, October 15, 1953
- Hunter AFB, Georgia, April 1, 1963
Norton AFB, California, April 1, 1967 April 1, 1994
- C-54 Skymaster 1949 1951
- C-119 Flying Boxcar 1953 1954
- C-124 Globemaster II 1953 1967
C-141 Starlifter 1967 1994
- Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
- Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947 1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
- Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.