317th Airlift Wing

The 317th Airlift Wing is the latest in a long line of airlift organizations to lead the Abilene Airlifters C-130 mission.  Five different wings/groups have led the Dyess AFB C-130 mission since the first C-130A arrived in the Big Country in 1961.  The 317th assumed control of the Dyess AFB airlift mission from the 7th Wing in 1997. The 1997 reorganization joined the 39th and 40th Airlift Squadrons, which had been operating at Dyess since 1993, with the reactivated 317th Operations Support Squadron, 317th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the 317th Maintenance Squadron.   From 2010-2013 the group converted from 33 1970 era C-130H aircraft to 28 new C-130J-30 stretch version Super Hercules transport aircraft.

The distinguished history of the 317 AW began in the early days of World War II when in February 1942 two officers and 18 enlisted Army Air Corps Airmen formed the 317th Transport Group in San Antonio, Texas.  By the end of 1942, the 1,280 combat-ready personnel of the 317th Troop Carrier Group departed California for Australia with four squadrons of new C-47 aircraft.  Within a week after arriving in Australia, the 317th transferred their new C-47s to another unit and immediately began flying an inherited mixture of DC-2s and DC-3s hastily converted for military use as well as B-17s and B-24s converted for transport use.  The four 317th flying squadrons were pressed into combat and began flying resupply missions supporting Australian troops attempting to stop the advancing Imperial Japanese Army in New Guinea.  Just two weeks after their arrival, the 317th earned it’s first of two Distinguished Unit Citations of the war for its role in the defense of Wau Airdrome.  Under enemy fire, the 317th delivered combat troops and supplies to Wau, with allied soldiers returning fire immediately after stepping off the aircraft.  Over three days and 190 missions to Wau Airdrome, the 317th delivered 948,000 pounds of cargo and troops with the loss of three aircraft keeping the airdrome in allied hands. 

Flying unarmed and heavily loaded transport aircraft in the uncharted mountainous terrain of New Guinea, often behind enemy lines, 317th aircrews quickly recognized the need to pass lessons learned from each preceding mission to fellow crews.  Through this mentality arose its motto, “I Gain By Hazard.”  317th crews flew in all five major airdrop operations of the Pacific War and served as the sole airlift force in the February 1945 recapture of the Philippine Island fortress of Corregidor earning their second Distinguished Unit Citation.  The 39th and the 40th led the low-level airdrops to two small drop zones under continuous enemy fire.  Due to the small DZ sizes, over 600 passes were made over two days to deliver 1,999 paratroopers and 1,292 bundles with 26 of 51 317th C-47s sustaining battle damage.  Throughout the 33-month long march to Japan, 317th maintainers kept their C-47s flying despite constantly moving forward to primitive grass airfields with no hangars and limited access to spare parts. 

During three years of occupation duty in Japan, the 317th converted to the much larger C-54 four-engine transport, joined the fledgling United States Air Force, and was re-designated as the 317th Troop Carrier Wing (Heavy).  In September 1948, the 317 TCW received a short notice tasking to send all 36 of their C-54s 12,000 miles across the globe to join the Berlin Airlift, never to return to Japan.  317th crews and maintainers again lived their motto and shared their experiences to quickly turn aircraft to meet the fuel and food demands to sustain 2.5 million West Berliners solely through air transport. During ten months of operations, the 317th flew an average of 100 missions a day to Berlin delivering 261,399 tons of coal and 28,153 tons of food helping to break the Soviet blockade of the city.

  Following the end of the Berlin Airlift, the Air Force inactivated the 317th until returning it to service three years later in 1952.  Stationed in West Germany but with a new aircraft, the C-119 Flying Boxcar, the 317th continued a long tradition of humanitarian assistance around the world.  Soon after accepting their new C-119s crews spent two weeks dropping supplies to flood victims in the Netherlands.  Future missions included earthquake relief missions to Central and South America, Yugoslavia, and Iran, famine relief missions to various parts of Africa, and numerous hurricane relief efforts closer to home. 

In 1957, the 317th moved to France and transitioned to the new C-130A. During the early 1960s Congo Crisis, the 317th helped move 48,000 UN peacekeeping troops the 1,500 miles from Europe to the Congo.  In one instance of the airlifters can-do spirit, maintainers tied two trees together to form an A-frame used to support a winch for an engine change.  Around the same time, the forerunners of the 317 MXS were challenged to make a 600 mile tow of a C-130B fuselage from France to Germany.  During the four day tow the most often heard comment was “You’ll never make it.”  Despite the naysayers they did make it, and the fuselage was mated to another damaged C-130 with the “Frankenstein” aircraft soon flying again.

For the first time since departing for Australia in 1942, the 317th returned to the United States in 1964 bringing their C-130s from France to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio.  The 317th served as the C-130 Replacement Training Unit before this mission was moved to Little Rock AFB in the early 1970s.  While in Ohio, the 317th was tasked as the AF test unit for the new Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery Systems (AWADS).  Soon after relocating to Pope AFB in 1971, 39th and 40th crews were called upon to perform the first ever combat AWADS airdrops when tasked to support Vietnamese troops which were surrounded by three divisions of enemy forces at An Loc. Under heavy AAA and SA-7 fire in which three C-130s were shot down, crews delivered critical supplies to friendly forces. 

317th aircrews again flew in harm’s way coming under enemy fire during airborne assaults airdropping Army Rangers onto Grenada in 1983.  In 1989 they again met the call and dropped paratroopers into Panama under enemy fire.  Soon after returning from successful operations in Panama, 317th maintainers and aircrews were the first tactical airlift units to deploy to Saudi Arabia for Operations DESERT SHIELD and STORM.  They returned from their eight-month deployment following the liberation of Kuwait.  In 1993, the 39 AS and 40 AS relocated to Dyess AFB from Pope AFB and joined the combined C-130/B-1 7th Wing.  Four years later in 1997 the 317 AW was reactivated at Dyess AFB with the 39 AS and 40 AS moving over from the 7th Wing.  Just weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, 317th Airmen deployed again to Southwest Asia to bring the fight to the enemy.    In America’s longest war, the 317th committed forces for combat operations for all but a few months for an unprecedented 16 years executing critical resupply missions through airdrop and airland operations while maintaining a 98 percent mission effectiveness rating.

For over 80 years, 317th Airmen, refined by fire from 12 conflicts and seven aircraft conversions, continue to honor their past and lead the Air Force mobility community.  317th Airman will continue to “Gain By Hazard” and meet our nation’s call whatever the challenge.