144th Airlift Squadron C-130H
Fly with the 144th Airlift Squadron in this wooden C-130H model. Each model is carefully carved and hand painted to provide a unique piece you’ll love.
In July 1952, at a meeting for city officials and businessmen at the Anchorage YMCA, National Guard Air Division Commander Maj. Gen. Earl T. Ricks announced that the territorial government of Alaska was willing to invest $1.5 million to establish an Air National Guard unit in Anchorage, either at the city’s international airport or on Elmendorf Air Force Base. The only condition: that enough people could be recruited to man the unit.
The Alaska Air National Guard was organized 15 September 1952 as the 8144th Air Base Squadron. At its creation, the 8144th included 11 enlisted men and five officers. It had no planes. Its headquarters were located in a small office above what was then the bus depot on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. Because the office was so small, the men convened for their first training assembly in a nearby Quonset hut.
The unit’s first aircraft, a 1941 AT-6D Texan trainer, arrived in February 1953. Soon five more trainers arrived, operating out of Elmendorf AFB Hangar No. 3. In keeping with the Air Guard’s mission to provide national air defense, the pilots began training in earnest for their planned transition to jet fighters.
As that training progressed, the unit was re-designated the 144th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in July 1953. The unit training assemblies were conducted at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Ultimately, five T-6G Texan trainers were assigned and everyone was busy getting ready to transition into jet aircraft.
Air Defense mission
The first jet, a T-33 Shooting Star trainer, arrived in October 1953 and in the spring of 1954, the unit received its first operational aircraft, the F-80C Shooting Star jet fighter. By the first annual training period, unit strength has increased to 15 officers and 49 enlisted men, and was fully equipped with 14 F-80s, two T-33s, three T-6G trainers, two T-6 observation planes and a single C-47A transport.
In 1955, the unit moved from Elmendorf AFB to its own base by the Anchorage Airport. Kulis Air National Guard Base was named after First Lieutenant Albert Kulis, an ANG pilot who lost his life while flying his F-80C during a return flight from a night training mission.
In July 1955 the 144th’s F-80s were exchanged for brand-new, top-of-the-line F-86E Sabre fighter jets. Along with the new aircraft came the unit’s third designation in as many years, this time the 144th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. This was at the time other Air National Guard units around the country were receiving surplus aircraft, The 144th took over much of the mission of the 720th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, which was inactivated at Eielson AFB.
The mission of the 144th was changed to airlift in 1957. With the arrival of the C-47A Skytrain (nickname Gooney Bird), the unit was re-designated the 144th Air Transport Squadron (Light) on 1 July 1957. The 144th is the only Air National Guard unit ever to be assigned C-47’s as the primary mission aircraft. The mission of the squadron became the logistical support of the Alaskan Air Command Aircraft Control and Warning (Radar) Sites, all of which were in remote areas with rough gravel runways.
The C-47 was ideal for this mission, as it could get into and also fly out of the rough small landing strips. Also the C-47 was quite durable, which meant it could handle the weather of Alaska unlike other aircraft. It could land on a snow-covered runway, a frozen lake, and sloping gravel strips in all types of weather. These abilities were not possessed by the larger C-119 Flying Boxcar or C-46 Commando. The 144th ATS received six C-47As from other Air National Guard squadrons in the CONUS.
One of the more notable missions flown by the 144th ATS was “Operation Santa Claus”, which began in December 1957 when the squadron was called on to make an emergency airdrop of supplies to the community of St. Mary’s Mission on the Yukon River in southwestern Alaska. The 144th later “adopted” the village. The program continued over the years and grew to the point that, by 1972, virtually the entire city of Anchorage supported it. The annual Christmas gifts continued until 1977 when other mission requirements forced the unit to end it.
In 1960, the aging C-47s were replaced by the larger C-123J Provider; a tactical airlift transport—and the unit was again re-designated as the 144th Air Transport Squadron (Medium). The C-123Js were equipped with wingtip mounted J-44 jet engines and could handle heavy payloads and also helped offset the drag of the ski modification added to give the aircraft the capability to be operated off frozen runways and icy surfaces. The C-123Js were transferred from the SAC 4083d Strategic Wing, Ernest Harmon Air Force Base, Newfoundland. The 144th operated the only ski-equipped C-123Js in the Air Force system, and were far better equipment than the C-47As.
The C-123Js could be operated anywhere in Alaska, with landings on open snow fields, glaciers and frozen lakes being routinely made. The 144th also supported Harvard University’s glaciology experiments on the Taku Glacier near Juneau. The aircraft were also used as part of the 1957–1958 International Geophysical Year experiments, which were conducted in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory.
On 27 March 1964, the largest earthquake in the recorded history of North America struck South-Central Alaska. Tsunamis devastated Valdez, Seward and Kodiak. Gaping fissures, crumbled buildings and burst pipes dotted Anchorage. In the immediate aftermath, Major James Rowe arrived at Kulis from the airport, reporting that its control tower had been demolished. Two Air Guard members sped over with a wrecking truck, which they used to free three men trapped in the rubble. Rowe, meanwhile, started the engines of a C-123 and went aloft, serving as an emergency control tower and relaying what he could see to the rest of the world.
Within 20 minutes after the quake ended, the Anchorage Times reported, Guard members began streaming into Kulis without being called. Personnel from the Motor Vehicle Section supplied electricity using emergency power units. Maintenance Squadron members took emergency steps to bring heat to strategic buildings, and the dispensary was prepared by medical technicians. A warehouse on base was converted to a shelter for civilians rendered homeless by the quake, with a makeshift dining hall and over 100 beds. By midnight, 97 of those beds were occupied. Over the next few weeks the 144th would fly 131,000 pounds of cargo and 201 passengers in support of earthquake relief efforts
The Alaska ANG won an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in 1964 as a result of its efforts in assisting small communities bordering Prince William Sound following the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. As most of the personnel of the 144th were from the Anchorage area, which was badly damaged in the quake, they left their homes and families to assist others and were considered to be highly professional and helped others in a time of their own extreme stress.
A second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award was earned by the 144th ATS in assisting residents of Fairbanks during the 1967 flood. An ice-jam on the Nenana and Tanana Rivers caused flooding in the city and only five hours after receiving a call for assistance, the squadron began a series of many C-123 flights to evacuate survivors and move supplies into the stricken area. Also some of the homeless were sheltered at Kulis AGB until the waters receded and they could return to their homes.
In July 1969, the unit was reorganized and designated as a Group level and renamed the 176th Tactical Airlift Group. Concurrently, the squadron was re-designated as the 144th Tactical Airlift Squadron and became the Group’s primary mission unit. There were more than 700 positions authorized in the Group.
In 1975, the 144th gaining command was changed from the Alaskan Air Command (AAC) to the Military Airlift Command (MAC) as part of the “Total Force” concept. After 16 years operating C-123’s, the squadron converted to the C-130E Hercules aircraft. The first of eight four-engine Vietnam veteran turboprops was received in early 1976, and the 144th became equipped for a truly global mission. Their range, speed, and airlift capabilities were more than double those of the C-123’s they replaced.
With its new C-130s, the 176th Group began participating in the Total Force almost immediately, flying to Panama, West Germany, South Korea and elsewhere to support U.S. military and humanitarian missions. It also began taking on greater responsibilities in the annual Brim Frost joint force exercises, and took part in the “Red Flag” war games program at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
All this new activity would require a stronger support infrastructure, and in 1977 Alaska Air National Guard kicked off one of its largest construction projects ever. More than $3 million was invested in a new composite maintenance building, an aerospace ground equipment (AGE) support building and a new petroleum operations facility on Kulis AGB.
In July 1983, the 144th again updated aircraft, this time converting to brand new C-130H2 Hercules aircraft directly from the factory. The new aircraft has even longer range and more speed than the “E” model, essential to the unit’s growing worldwide mission commitment. In mid-1992, the squadron was re-designated as the 144th Airlift Squadron and gained by the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Shortly thereafter, the unit upgraded in the Enhanced Station Keeping System (E-SKE) to enable it to fly formation in the weather.
The 144th Airlift Squadron performed humanitarian airlift missions for famine relief in Somalia and Rwanda, supported Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia, achieved an Excellent rating in its first Operational Readiness Inspection from PACAF. On 1 October 1996, the squadron entered a one-year conversion to deployment tasking from its previous in-place generation tasking.
Aircrews of the 144th, have flown to the far reaches of the globe, performing missions in Panama, Thailand, Japan, Australia and Germany. The unit also participated in Operation Full Accounting, an effort to bring back remains of Americans from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Recently, the squadron has deployed members in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that Kulis AGB be closed and the wing be relocated to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). The move was considered a good fit, given the growing mission of the wing, and the state of Alaska supported the recommendation.
The 144th Airlift Squadron closed Kulis AGB and moved to facilities at JBER in February 2011.