71st FS (Fighter Squadron)

The 71st FS (Fighter Squadron) is one of three fighter squadrons based at Langley AFB, VA. All are assigned to the 1st FW (First Fighter Wing).

It is the only squadron of the three that flies the F-15 Eagle. The other two squadrons fly the F-22 Raptor.


The 71st FS traces its beginnings back to December 14, 1940 when it was known as the 71st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor). With world war imminent, the 71st wasted no time in training pilots for combat.

Training began with the Seversky P-35 and later the Republic YP-43 Lancer (precursor to the P-40 Thunderbolt). In 1941 they were redesignated the 71st Pursuit Squadron (Fighter).

Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the squadron reported to San Diego NAS to help defend the Southern California coast. Just two months later, the squadron relocated to Los Angeles where they began flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. They were renamed the 71st Fighter Squadron.

In June of 1942, the squadron became the first single-seat, twin engine fighter unit to deploy to England during World War II. December of 1942 saw their first combat kill when Capt John D. Eiland downed a Focke-Wulf 190.

The squadron distinguished itself in the European theater with 102 combat kills and produced 5 aces. With the war in Europe over, the squadron was deactivated in October, 1945.

Post WWII:

In July, 1946 the 71st was reactivated as part of the 1st Pursuit Group at March Field, CA. They entered the jet age flying the new P-80 Shooting Star.

Their reactivation saw a new patch (see photo below) which they still use today. The winged mail (knight's armored glove) with clenched fist symbolizes the solidarity of purpose of the 71st Fighter Squadron.

After the P-80 Shooting Star, the squadron flew the F-86 Sabre, F-102 Delta Dagger, and F-106 Delta Dart. The outfit was relocated several times before winding up at MacDill AFB, FL.

The 1970s:

July, 1971 saw the squadron redesignated as the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron and join the Tactical Air Command (TAC) with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida. It was equipped with the F-4E Phantom II.

The 71st transferred with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing to Langley AFB in July, 1975, where it started to take delivery of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle that it still flies today.

In 1976, the squadron was nicknamed the “Ironmen” because of the fist of mail (knight's armored glove) on the patch. Then, in 1982, the 71st became the first TAC squadron fully equipped with the F-15C Eagle.

The 1990s and Beyond:

In 1990, the squadron deployed with the F-15C to Saudi Arabia and participated in Operation Desert Shield. It became the first US combat force to land in support of Operation Desert Shield.

Over a 5 month period in a prelude to war, the Ironmen and its 24 F-15C Eagles flew over 13,000 hours and 3,300 sorties. When war commenced on January 17, 1991, the squadron achieved one of the first aerial victories.

During Operation Desert Storm, the 71st completed 1091 missions and 5881 hours in six short weeks. On 7 March 1991, the 71st returned to Langley AFB, Virginia.

Since the first Gulf War, the 71st successfully supported the UN-sanctioned Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch numerous times in Iraq without loss or damage to a single aircraft.

In 1992 the 71st FS set the all time flying safety record for the F-15 with 124,790 hours of accident free flying.

Minutes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 71st launched its F-15s to patrol the skies of the US east coast, intercepting and escorting dozens of airliners to safe landings at airports around the country. The 71st also had aircraft deployed to Nellis AFB, Nevada at the time of the attacks, and were the first fighters to take to the skies to patrol Las Vegas and southern California.

Photo below by Horace Sagnor.

During the second Gulf War in 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 71st Fighter Squadron deployed to Saudi Arabia, flew patrols for the first part of the war, and helped to gain total air superiority for the duration of the conflict.

In 2006, the 71st Fighter Squadron was awarded the coveted Hughes/Raytheon Trophy for Outstanding Aerial Achievement for a record 5th time.

Navigation Index

Return to the top of this 71st FS page
Return to our Aircraft Squadrons page
Return to our Home Page