The U.S. Air Force’s 1st Reconnaissance Squadron is the U.S. military’s oldest flying unit and the first military unit of the U.S. Army devoted entirely to aviation. Originally known as the 1st Aero Squadron, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron was established on March 5, 1913.
In 1916, under General John J. Pershing, the 1st Aero Squadron deployed to the Mexican border to search for Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa. The squadron flew 540 missions in support of the operation, making it the first tactical aviation unit to participate in American military action. The pursuit of Pancho Villa ended when Pershing and the squadron were called to service in World War I.
During WWI, the 1st Aero Squadron made a significant contribution to the Allied air war on the Western Front: twelve officers, fifty-four enlisted men, and six aircraft. The squadron participated in the four campaigns, 262 combat mission and shot down 13 enemy aircraft.
During the Vietnam War, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron operated the SR-71 Blackbird. “Flying over 2,000 mph at approximately 80,000 feet, the Blackbird gathered photographic and electronic intelligence products of the Southeast Asian nations involved in the Vietnam conflict,” according to the Air Force Historical Research Agency. The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron has flown 47 different airframes while being stationed at 52 locations throughout the world, including four stints at sea, according to the AFHRA.
Today, the squadron is part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, with the responsibility of training high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2S pilots and sensor operators, according to Airmen Magazine.