EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Since 2014, efforts have been underway to consolidate the 445th Flight Test Squadron into three other Combined Test Forces, and on May 1, base leadership and 445th FLTS personnel were on hand to finally bid farewell to the historic squadron known as "Test Operations" during an inactivation ceremony at Club Muroc.
"The decision to inactivate the 445th was primarily made by Brig. Gen. Michael Brewer [former 412th Test Wing commander], for two main reasons. The first is based on the requirements to stand down eight F-16s due to budget limitations, which also resulted in the loss of 75 civilians and 75 military positions from maintenance," said Lt. Col. Darren Wees, former 445th FLTS commander and current 416th FLTS commander. "With this large reduction in maintenance manpower in the Shadow fleet, we needed to combine the two maintenance teams to get the most out of the reduced fleet that we now have. This means using the Falcon F-16s to fly chase and photo support and any other missions that the 445th used to do in addition to their test missions in the 416th. With the maintenance fleets merged and the missions combining, it made sense to combine operations as well."
According to Wees, the second main reason to stand down the 445th was to reorganize the ramp in the most efficient manner to support future new test programs that will come to Edwards in the coming years. Wees assumed command of the 416th FLTS during a ceremony held May 5 at Hangar 1630E.
"Instead of having two squadrons that have been reduced in size in separate locations, the decision was made to combine them and move them into one combined test force. This would then create space on the ramp for new work later on," Wees said. "So the 416th moved into Bldg. 1199, and there are provisions for the 411th FLTS to move into the old 416th FLTS compound, which will free up the 411th FLTS space for new work. This decision was an extremely cheaper option than building a new combined test force compound for future work."
As part of the consolidation, the 412th TW ensured the mission of Test Operations was divided efficiently and effectively amongst the units.
"This legacy will continue as this mission is now merged in the 416th, 418th and 419th FLTS, along with many of the men and women that executed the mission from Test Ops. No one from the 445th FLTS lost their job and no missions have been eliminated as a result of this reorganization. All the fighter (F-16) and trainer (T-38) personnel moved to the 416th with those missions," said Wees. "Active duty tanker crews, engineers and program managers moved to the 418th FLTS along with those aircraft and missions. The reserve members of the Test Ops CTF, although they aren't members of the 445th, moved to a separate building and will have operational control of the tanker support mission under the flag of the 370th FLTS. The C-12 Formal Training Unit moved under the 419th FLTS for operational control but will live in the same building as the 370th on this side of the ramp to conduct operations."
During the ceremony, Wees not only took the time to recognize squadron members past and present but also took time to recognize retired Lt. Col. Troy Fontaine, the 445th FLTS' former commander who initially stood the squadron up in 2002 after it being inactive.
"The closing of the unit is sad, but as Col. Todaro (412th Operations Group commander) said, the needs of the Air Force come first. That was true in 2002 and in 2015, and is still true," said Fontaine. "I appreciated being invited. It was a true class act and it was neat that we had a lot of the initial cadre here."
After the ceremony, attendees were treated to a display of memorabilia and a video showing the legacy of the squadron while it was active.
"I think the legacy this squadron will leave is a standard of excellence that shows what you can do when you can have the right people in the right jobs and when you are really focused on the mission and getting it done," added Fontaine. "With growth comes change and change is kind of hard sometimes. An easy way to put it is the house I grew up was demolished, the high school I attended was also knocked down and the squadron I started has been closed, but when you look back on it, the house that is sitting on the foundation where my old house was is a lot better and there is a new family in it who's making their own history. The new high school that will open in a couple of months will be a state-of-the-art learning center and the closing of Test Ops doesn't diminish, in the least, the unbelievable job that the men and women who put it together and made it work did."
Unit History of the 445th Fight Test Squadron:
-The 445th FLTS started as the 445th Fighter Squadron in February 1943. It was then re-designated the 445th fighter-Interceptor Squadron I in February 1953 and became the 6512th Test Squadron in October 1969. The 445th flight Test Squadron was named in March 1994. In November 2001, it was merged with the 416th FLTS to later then be re-activated as the 445th FLTS in March 2004. It has been de-activated and re-activated multiple times throughout history.
-The 445th conducted testing of aircraft and tactics from March 1943 to March 1944; operational training from March 1944 to January 1946; was an operational fighter squadron from January to July 1946. Air defense from March 1953 to September 1968. Managed support aircraft fleet for 412th Test Wing and operated more than 100 aircraft test and evaluation programs from 1969 to 2001. Conducted all aspects of flight test support for world-wide testing including photo and safety chase, aircrew training, air refueling and actual ground and other flight tests as directed by the Director of Flight Operations for the AFFTC. From 2002 until present, the mission of the 445th FLTS and Test Operations Combined Test Force has been to conduct flight testing for the warfighter, support flight test execution, and to be a center of excellence for all types of flight test training.
-Aircraft flown under the squadron: P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, P-63, A-24, BT-13 C-78, L-3, L-4, XR-3, XR-4 and Beaufighter (1943-1944); YP-59A, A-24, A-25, A-36, P-38, P-51, P-59B, B-17 and Zeke-52 (1944-1945); P-5, P-80 (1945-1946); F-86 (1953-1955); F-89 (1955-1960); F-101 (1960-1968); f-4 A-7, T-38, C-135, T-37, F-15 (1969-2001); F-16, T-3A, L-39, KC-135 and C-12 (2004-2015)