The 55th Rescue Squadron (55 RQS)
The 55th Rescue Squadron (55 RQS) is an aviation unit of the United States Air Force. It operates the HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter and provides rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. They tactically employ the HH-60G helicopter and its crew in hostile environments to recover downed aircrew and isolated personnel during day, night, or marginal weather conditions. The squadron also conducts military operations other than war including civil search and rescue, disaster relief, international aid, emergency medical evacuation, and counter-drug activities
The 55th Special Operations Squadron deactivated on September 16, 1999 at Hulburt Field, FL. The inactivation of the 55th SOS was part of the AFSOC’s preparation for the arrival of the CV-22 Osprey at Hurlburt Field. The squadron’s MH-60G’s were transferred to Air Combat Command.
The 55th Special Operations Squadron was located at Hurlburt Field, FL, and was one of eight flying squadrons within the 16th Special Operations Wing. Prior to its inactivation, with six MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the 55th SOS was the premier Air Force H-60 squadron. The 55th SOS provided a rapidly deployable, long-range infiltration/ exfiltration and combat recovery capability to support worldwide special operations contingencies. The squadron operated in concert with the U.S. Special Operations Command and theater special operations forces.
The 55th SOS’s air refuelable, medium-lift MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter was modified with forward-looking infrared, integrated with a Global Positioning System, an Inertial and Doppler navigation system. It also had secure long-range radios including satellite communications. The Pave Hawk is armed with 7.62mm miniguns and .50 caliber machine guns. The crews used aerial refueling, shipboard operations, and low-level tactics wearing night-vision goggles to conduct covert long-range special operations missions.
The 55th SOS demonstrated its rapid deployment capability during the 1989 search for Texas Congressman Mickey Leland in Ethiopia, deploying in just 14 hours after initial notification. Later that year, during Operation Just Cause, the squadron conducted classic special operations missions, including extracting Navy Sea, Air and Land teams under fire at Patilla Airfield, Panama. During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, the unit conducted operations in a harsh desert environment which included emergency evacuation coverage for SEAL teams who had penetrated the Kuwaiti coast. The squadron also provided combat recovery coverage for coalition Air Forces in the Persian Gulf area.
The 55th SOS deployed to Turkey in support of the Kurdish relief effort, Operation Provide Comfort in October 1991. They conducted sustained combat and combat support operations for coalition aircraft operating in Turkey and Northern Iraq until the squadron’s return in August 1992. They returned to the region for another tour from April 1993 to April 1996 and again from Septermber 1996 to April 1997 for Operation Northern Watch. The squadron flew several earthquake and avalanche relief missions. The 55th SOS has a distinguished 40-year history. Originally, it was activated as the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron Nov. 14, 1952, at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, and remained there until it was deactivated June 18, 1960. The squadron was reactivated in 1961 at Kindley Air Force Station, Bermuda. In February, 1970, the unit moved to McCoy Air Force Base, Fla., then moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., June 3, 1971. The 55th moved to its present location at Hurlburt Field, Feb. 25, 1993.
The squadron received its first four UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in December 1982 to replace its H-3s. The unit interfaced with special operations in the early 1980s, and began receiving numerous avionics and equipment modifications, including aerial refueling probes. The 55th deactivated as a rescue squadron March 1, 1988 and became the 55th SOS. Two 55th SOS pilots were honored with the Cheney Award for leading dangerous low-level search and rescue missions into the United Nations exclusion zone in Northern Iraq in July 1992.
1999 saw the 55th SOS be among the AFSOC units called on to support Operation Allied Force, even though aircrews, maintainers and support people were less than six months away from new assignments. Members of the 55th SOS were among the AFSOC team that rescued the two downed U.S. pilots during the NATO operation.