The 3205th Drone Group is a discontinued United States Air Force unit that operated obsolete aircraft during the 1950s as radio-controlled aerial targets for various tests. It was the primary post-World War II operator of surplus Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress aircraft, and also operated Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and a few Boeing RB-47 Stratojet bombers that were converted into drone aircraft during the early years of the Cold War. It was last active with the Air Proving Ground Center, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where it was discontinued on 1 February 1961.
A notable moment in the Group's history is that a Douglas DB-17P (Formerly B-17G-90-DL) 44-83684 of the unit's 3225th Drone Squadron flew the last operational mission by a USAF Flying Fortress on 6 August 1959.
|3205th Drone Group|
Unidentified QB-17L Flying Fortress, 3225th Drone Squadron, Holloman AFB, New Mexico, 1959
Lockheed P-80B-1-LO Shooting Star 44-58641 as QF-80 drone, about 1952
|Branch||United States Air Force|
At the end of World War II, the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator were obsolete as strategic bombers, having been replaced by the B-29 Superfortress. B-24 production ended after the surrender of Germany in May 1945, B-17 production ended a month earlier, in April. Many of these new aircraft were simply not needed due to the fortunes of war, and most of them were sent directly from the factory to storage depots.
Initially, these unneeded aircraft were scheduled for scrapping and metal reclamation. These included thousands of war-weary combat aircraft returned from the overseas theaters. A few B-17s were sold to the civil marketplace, however most wound up in the smelters for aluminum recycling. The Army Air Forces, however, decided to retain several hundred new B-17s.
The postwar Air Force B-17s found uses as personnel and VIP transports (CB/VB-17), loaned to defense contractors for various research purposes (EB-17 and JB-17), for mapping (FB-17), for air-sea rescue (SB-17), for weather reconnaissance (WB-17), and for trainers (TB-17). All postwar B-17 conversions and ongoing depot-level maintenance was managed by the Middletown Air Depot at Olmsted Air Force Base, Pennsylvania.
When they were worn out or the need was diminished, other postwar military B-17s would more often than not be sent to Middletown and converted to the QB-17 drone configuration. They would then be transferred to Proving Ground Command to be expended as aerial targets.
In 1946, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group was activated at Eglin Air Force Auxiliary Field #3, Florida. The unit's formation was a result of the Air Materiel Command's Engineering Division at Wright-Patterson AFB looking for places to allow its contractors to launch missiles. It was with this group that the DB-17/QB-17 Fortress Drone Director/Drone pairing was developed. In May 1946, sixteen B-17s were withdrawn from storage for conversion into drones with the addition of radio, radar, television, and other equipment. Six other Fortresses were converted as drone controllers.
On 13 January 1947 the group flew a QB-17 drone, guided by a director DB-17, from its base at Eglin to Washington D.C. on a simulated bombing mission as a demonstration of capability. It also made preparations for operating QB-17s for the Operation Sandstone atomic bomb tests during April and May 1948. The group also picked up responsibility for drone QB-17 bombing tests (e.g., Operation Banshee)
The 550th Guided Missiles Wing was activated in 1949 as an expansion of the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group. The 1st Guided Missiles Squadron operated MB-17s, and the 2d Guided Missiles Squadron operated QB-17/DB-17s. Although based at Eglin Air Force Base, the wing established Detachment 1 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico and Detachment 2 at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California.
In 1949, the 2nd GMS tallied 3,052 flight hours without mishap and secured the green and white pennant denoting safety supremacy for USAF B-17 type aircraft for the fourth straight time, gaining permanent possession of the three-starred flag. The 550th GMW played a prominent part in the spring of 1949 in the aerial filming of "Twelve O' Clock High", filmed in part at Eglin AFB. By March 1950, the 2d Guided Missile Squadron, had 62 pilots manning 14 B-17s, three B-29s, and three QF-80A Shooting Stars, yellow-tailed drone aircraft used in the role of testing guided missiles.
The 550th wing moved to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida on 11 December 1950 as a result of a reorganization of Proving Ground Command into Air Research and Development Command and to facilitate the development of long-range atmospheric guided missiles using the Florida Missile Test Range.
The 3201st Air Base Support Squadron was activated at Eglin on 26 April 1950 from personnel and equipment assigned to the 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron. It assumed the QB-17/DB-17 drone aerial target mission. Redesignated the 3200th Drone Group on 1 June 1951, it took over the detachments at Holloman and Point Mugu. It participated in Atomic tests, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Island Group, Pacific 1950–1951
In July 1951, with the expansion to group level, several squadrons were activated to support operations. the 3205th and 3215th Drone Squadrons were activated at Eglin; the 3225th absorbed Detachment 1 at Holloman, which operated QB-17s and QF-80s over the Army White Sands Missile Range; the 3235th absorbed Detachment 2 at NAS Point Magu, which operated QB-17s over the Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Often, the QB-17 would be the subject of intentional near misses to preserve the drone for as many missions as possible. Other QB-17s were used for various unmanned but destructive tests such as the ditching tests carried out by NACA in San Francisco Bay.
In April 1956, with the development of the IM-99 Bomarc surface-to-air missile, the 3215th Drone Squadron was moved from Eglin to Patrick to support the Bomarc testing program. From Patrick, DB/QB-17s could take off and the missile could be test-fired from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 3 over the Atlantic Missile Range. One such trial on 23 October 1957 (Bomarc 624-11) saw the unarmed missile destroy a Flying Fortress target by a direct collision, more than 100 miles from the missile's launch point.
However, the supply of QB-17s was dwindling in the late 1950s, and in any case the 1930s-designed B-17 could not realistically represent modern Soviet aircraft. This led to the refitting of two RB-47E Stratojets (53-4245, 53–4246) that were being phased out of the inventory to a QB-47E drone configuration. The QB-47s also carried electronic countermeasures gear and chaff dispensers in order to make for a more realistic target for the Bomarc during the tests. The Bomarcs were programmed to intentionally near-miss because the Stratojets were deemed too expensive to be intentionally destroyed in testing. However, one Stratojet drone did end up being shot down when an intended near-miss by a Bomarc turned into a hit.
In parallel with the B-17 drone program, in 1946/47, three P-80A Shooting Star fighters were converted to radio-controlled drones in a test program to develop faster, more maneuverable aerial gunnery targets for the new generation of jet fighters entering the Air Force inventory. All armament was removed, and radio control equipment was installed. The pilot's controls were retained, which made it possible for the drone to be operated either manned or unmanned. Postwar funding and personnel shortages, however, led to the cancellation of this project.
The project was revived in 1951 when eight first-generation F-80As were converted to the QF-80 drone configuration at the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan Air Force Base, California, under a project known as "Bad Boy." These aircraft were assigned to the 3205th Drone Squadron for testing over the Eglin range. A second batch of 14 QF-80s were converted in December 1953 at McClellan that featured larger center-mounted wingtip tanks equipped with cameras rather than fuel so that attacking aircraft could be photographed. These cameras could be jettisoned by remote control and lowered by parachute. In November 1953, 55 more F-80Cs were converted to the QF-80F drone configuration, with improved radio-control equipment and a runway arrestor hook. Ten dual-seat T-33A Shooting Star jet trainers were also converted to DT-33 drone director aircraft to guide the drones.
The drones were usually painted all red, but with natural metal finish on the top surfaces of both wings. Many QF-80s were operated as pilotless drones both at the Eglin as well as the Holloman test ranges. In addition, Several QF-80s were used for sampling of radioactive material from mushroom clouds of nuclear tests at the Atomic Energy Commission Nevada Test Site. The last of the QF-80 drones were still operating as aerial targets in 1962.
By 1958, the group's DB-17P Flying Fortresses were wearing out, and the number of available QB-17 drones was down to a handful. The wartime bombers were not designed or built for long-term use when new, and the supply of replacement parts was extremely limited, causing the aircraft to be very expensive to maintain. The aircraft had soldiered long past their estimated lifetimes and were gradually taken out of service and retired to the 2704th Air Force Aircraft Storage and Disposition Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. From the 2704th group the aircraft were sold to private owners or donated to aircraft museums (see below).
The last active USAF B-17 Flying Fortress, was a Douglas B-17G-90-DL, 44-83684. It was manufactured in Long Beach, California, being accepted by the USAAF on 7 May 1945. It was never assigned to an operational unit, instead being placed in long-term storage at South Plains Army Airfield, Lubbock, Texas in October. With the closure of South Plains AAF, the plane was flown to Pyote Army Airfield, Texas in July 1947 where it was stored by the 2753d Aircraft Storage Squadron. It was pulled from storage in March 1950 and flown to the Middletown Air Depot, Olmsted AFB, Pennsylvania, where it was inspected and modified to a DB-17G. On 18 July 1950 it arrived at Eglin AFB, Florida and was assigned to the 3201st Air Base Support Squadron.
The aircraft was deployed to the Pacific Proving Grounds where it was a support aircraft during the Operation Greenhouse nuclear tests beginning in April 1951. Upon its return to Eglin in June, it was sent to Detachment 1, 3200th Drone Group (later 3225th Drone Squadron) at Holloman. It was modified into a DB-17P at Olmsted Air Force Base in 1956.
The last flight from Eglin Air Force Base of a QB-17 was from Eglin Auxiliary Field No. 3 on 29 May 1958. The drone was sent out over the Gulf of Mexico as a target and was shot down. It was the last QB-17 at Eglin although the 3205th Drone Group still had two to three at Holloman Air Force Base and the same number at Patrick Air Force Base. The requiem for the plane came from Lt. Col. Walter W. Gannon, Deputy Commander of the Drone Group. He discussed the history of the Fortress as Col. Maurice C. Horgan, Commander of the 3205th. Drone Group and Lt. Col. John S. Sparks, Commander of the 3205th. Drone Squadron made a final test of the aircraft before it started its last nullo mission.
Aircraft 44-83684 remained and flew the last operational mission by a USAF B-17 on 6 August 1959 when it directed QB-17L 44-83717 from Holloman as a target for an AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missile fired by an F-101 Voodoo. After the mission, a ceremony was held to commemorate the occasion. A few days later, it was flown to storage at Davis-Monthan.
With the retirement of the Flying Fortress, the group's activities were taken over by Headquarters, Air Proving Ground Center at Eglin in 1961. The program at Eglin went on to use QF-104A Starfighter drone aircraft until 1972, and subsequently was transferred to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida as part of Aerospace Defense Command, for Aerospace Defense Command interceptor aircraft weapons targets using the Eglin range. Over the years, QF-102s (1973–1986), QF-100s (1981–1992) and QF-106s (1990–1998) have been converted into target drones.
Since August 1981 the target drone mission has been assigned to the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, now part of the Air Combat Command, 53d Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall. The 82d operated retired QF-4 Phantom II aircraft (1997–2016) as target drones. The QF-4 saw a total of 238 aircraft being converted, the last of which was phased-out in 2016. In 2010 Boeing was awarded the contract to start initial work on converting the first six F-16A/Bs into aerial targets. These six aircraft are being used now as a testing platform. It is a mix of block 15/25/30 aircraft to show the feasibility of the modifications on these blocks.
The 3205th Drone Squadron is a discontinued United States Air Force unit. It was last active with the Air Proving Ground Center based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where it was discontinued on 25 October 1963. The squadron operated various drones between 1950 and 1963 to provide targets to support development of weapons and for interceptor training.3215th Drone Squadron
The 3215th Drone Squadron is a discontinued United States Air Force unit. It was last active with the 3205th Drone Group at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, where it was discontinued on 22 December 1958.3225th Drone Squadron
The 3225th Drone Squadron is an discontinued United States Air Force unit. It was last active with the Air Force Missile Development Center, based at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. It was discontinued on 25 October 1963.3235th Drone Squadron
The 3235th Drone Squadron is an discontinued United States Air Force unit. It was last active with the 3205th Drone Group, based at NAS Point Mugu, California. It was discontinued on 1 January 1957.B-17 Flying Fortress units of the United States Army Air Forces
This is a list of United States Army Air Forces B-17 Flying Fortress units of the United States Army Air Forces including variants and other historical information. Heavy bomber training organizations primarily under II Bomber Command in the United States and non-combat units are not included.
The B-17 Flying Fortress was perhaps the most well-known American heavy bomber of the Second World War (1939/41-1945), . It achieved a fame far beyond that of its more-numerous contemporary, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The first pre-production Y1B-17 Fortress was delivered to the 2d Bombardment Group, Langley Field, Virginia on 11 January 1936; the first production B-17B was delivered on 29 March 1939 also to the 2nd Bombardment Group. A total of 12,677 production Fortresses was built before production came to an end. In August 1944, the Boeing B-17 equipped no less than 33 overseas combat groups.
The last Boeing-built B-17G was delivered to the USAAF on 13 April 1945. Following the end of World War II, the Flying Fortress was rapidly withdrawn from USAAF service, being replaced by the B-29 Superfortress. Literally thousands of Fortresses used in combat in Europe by Eighth or Fifteenth Air Force or in the United States by II Bomber Command training units were flown to various disposal units. A few were sold to private owners, but the vast majority were cut up for scrap
Aircraft in the final early 1945 production manufacturing block by Boeing or Lockheed-Vega (Block 110) were converted to the B-17H search and rescue model, being modified to carry a lifeboat under the fuselage. Postwar B-17s were used by the Military Air Transport Service Air Rescue Service, in 1948 being re-designated SB-17G. Some RB-17Gs were also used by the MATS Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS). A few SB-17s were used by the Air Rescue Service in Japan during the Korean War (1950–1953), but all of the postwar B-17s were retired from MATS by the mid-1950s, becoming Air Proving Ground Command QB-17 Drones or DB-17 Drone directors. The drones were operated primarily by the 3205th Drone Group, Eglin AFB, Florida.
The last operational USAF B-17 mission was on 6 August 1959, when DB-17P 44-83684 (Originally a Douglas/Long Beach B-17G-90-DL) directed QB-17G 44-83717 which was expended as a target for an AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missile fired from an F-101 Voodoo, near Holloman AFB, New Mexico. 44-83684 arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB for storage a few days later. The few DB-17P remaining operational drone controllers remaining on Air Force rolls afterward were transferred to various museums in 1960.Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps' performance specifications. Although Boeing lost the contract (to the Douglas B-18 Bolo) because the prototype crashed, the air corps ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most produced bomber of all time, behind the four-engined B-24 and the multirole, twin-engined Ju 88.
The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in central, eastern and southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.From its prewar inception, the USAAC (by June 1941, the USAAF) promoted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a relatively fast, high-flying, long-range bomber with heavy defensive armament at the expense of bombload. It developed a reputation for toughness based upon stories and photos of badly damaged B-17s safely returning to base. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of approximately 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, over 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. In addition to its role as a bomber, the B-17 was also employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller, and search-and-rescue aircraft.
As of October 2019, 9 aircraft remain airworthy, though none of them were ever flown in combat. Dozens more are in storage or on static display. The oldest of these is a D-series flown in combat in the Pacific and the Caribbean.Duke Field
Duke Field (IATA: EGI, ICAO: KEGI, FAA LID: EGI), also known as Eglin AFB Auxiliary Field #3, is a military airport located three miles (5 km) south of the central business district of Crestview, in Okaloosa County, Florida, United States.Eglin Air Force Base
Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) (IATA: VPS, ICAO: KVPS, FAA LID: VPS) is a United States Air Force base in western Florida, located about three miles (5 km) southwest of Valparaiso in Okaloosa County.
The host unit at Eglin is the 96th Test Wing (formerly the 96th Air Base Wing). The 96 TW is the test and evaluation center for Air Force air-delivered weapons, navigation and guidance systems, Command and Control systems, and Air Force Special Operations Command systems.
Eglin AFB was established 84 years ago in 1935 as the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base. It is named in honor of Lt. Col. Frederick I. Eglin (1891–1937), who was killed in a crash of his Northrop A-17 attack aircraft on a flight from Langley to Maxwell Field, Alabama.History of Eglin Air Force Base
Eglin Air Force Base, a United States Air Force base located southwest of Valparaiso, Florida, was established in 1935 as the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Base. It is named in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick I. Eglin (1891–1937), who was killed in a crash of his Northrop A-17 pursuit aircraft on a flight from Langley to Maxwell Field, Alabama.
Eglin is the home of the Air Armament Center (AAC) and is one of three product centers in the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC).Hurlburt Field
Hurlburt Field (ICAO: KHRT, FAA LID: HRT) is a United States Air Force installation located in Okaloosa County, Florida, immediately west of the Town of Mary Esther. It is part of the greater Eglin Air Force Base reservation, and is home to Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the 1st Special Operations Wing (1 SOW), the USAF Special Operations School (USAFSOS) and the Air Combat Command's (ACC) 505th Command and Control Wing. It was named for First Lieutenant Donald Wilson Hurlburt, who died in a crash at Eglin. The installation is nearly 6,700 acres (27 km2), and employs nearly 8,000 military personnel.
This facility is assigned a three-letter location identifier of HRT by the Federal Aviation Administration, but it does not have an International Air Transport Association (IATA) airport code (the IATA assigned HRT to RAF Linton-on-Ouse in England).List of aircraft accidents at Eglin Air Force Base
This is a partial list of aviation accidents at Eglin Field/Eglin Air Force Base, Florida or involving Eglin-based aircraft.Piccadilly Lilly II
Piccadilly Lilly II (s/n 44-83684) was the last active B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in the United States Air Force, and retired in 1959 after nine years as a DB-17P drone director. She is currently part of Edward T. Maloney's aviation collection and is being restored to flying condition at the Planes of Fame air museum, Chino, California.This aircraft was possibly the last aircraft assigned to the 8th AF / 447th Bomb Group but perhaps not delivered (Freeman).This aircraft was used in the Dick Powell Theatre episode "Squadron," and The Quinn Martin production of Twelve O'Clock High starring Robert Lansing and Paul Burke. She was redressed to represent the numerous aircraft which comprised the mythical 918th Bomb Group. She also appeared in The Thousand Plane Raid as well as Black Sheep Squadron.