The “Green Mountain Boys” – Vermont’s Air National Guard History

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All photos by Scott Zeno except where noted

The Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) has roots that can be traced back to the years just before the American Revolutionary War, in the 1760s. Originally a militia organization named the Green Mountain Boys, they controlled land between the Connecticut River west to the State of New York; its troops assisted in the capture of the British stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War. Later the Green Mountain Boys would be called up for participation in major conflicts such as the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish Civil War, among other conflicts.

Here is a brief history of the flying capabilities of the Green Mountain Boys later on in history. From horses and cannons through motorized vehicles, then piston-engined interceptors to the newest fifth generation jet fighters, the Vermont National Guard (Air National Guard after 1946 too) and its forefathers have stood to protect Vermont, America and its interests for more than two centuries.

During World War II, the 530th Fighter Squadron served in the China – Burma Theatre, operating with A-36 Apaches and P-51Cs. After the war ended, the Fighter Squadron was inactivated at the beginning of 1946. A few months later, the 530th’s lineage was transpired to the new 134th Fighter Squadron, which stood up as the fifth Air National Guard (ANG) unit since the ANG’s inception earlier that year.

In May of 1946, a flying unit, named the 134th Fighter Squadron (FS), was organized to fly out of the Burlington International Airport in Vermont… this was the first Air National Guard unit in the State. Recognized in August later that year, it was equipped with F-47D Thunderbolt piston-engined fighters. The Squadron’s first mission was that of an air defense unit, protecting Vermont’s skies. Soon, the Squadron reported to the 67th Fighter Wing (FW) of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which was in charge of the air defense of New England. Not quite a full year later, the control of the 134th Fighter Squadron moved to the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Fighter Group (FG) for that same purpose, to defend American skies against invaders.

F-51H, photo from the USAF Historical Research Agency

In 1950, the Thunderbolts were traded for P-51H Mustangs.During the Korean War, the 134th FS was federalized and came under the command of the active Air Force Wing based at Presque Isle, Maine in 1951. It still was tasked with the air defense mission over New England, now with F-86D Sabres. Three VTANG pilots flew combat missions during the war, 1st LT. Francis Escott was killed in action, Capt. Bruce Cram was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Koreans on his 58th mission. It would be released from federal control in late 1952. 1st Lt. John Nolli evidently had a less eventful tour.

F-94 Starfire

After the Korean War wound down in late 1952, the 134th FS became the sole flying unit of the newly created 158th Fighter Group, commanded by the Vermont Air National Guard. In 1953, the VTANG entered the all-weather jet interceptor age, equipping with T-33 trainers and F-94 Starfire interceptors. While the ANG unit was still based out of the old airport administration building on one side of the Burlington International Airport, the Air Force’s Air Defense Command opened the Ethan Allen AFB across from the ANG area. Home to active Air Force F-86 and F-102 jets, the AFB operated from 1952 through 1960, before closing due to budget tightening.

F-89 Scorpion

In 1960, after the closure of Ethan Allen Air Force Base, the now-158th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) slowly moved into the closed base’s facilities. The 158th FIG was now fully integrated into the Air Defense Command. In 1962, the Group upgraded to the F-89D and later, the -J model Scorpion Interceptor, the latter version was nuclear missile capable. In 1965, the VTANG received the supersonic F-102A Delta Dagger to help defend New England’s skies. A twin-seat trainer, the TF-102 was also present on the Green Mountain State’s ramps.

T-33 Shooting Star

Beech C-45

Along the way, the VTANG operated a handful of support aircraft. C-47, C-45 and C-131 transports, T-6 trainers and L-5 Sentinel liaison were operated in the early years of its existence. Later, T-33 Shooting Stars, TF-102 Delta Daggers (called “Tubs” by some) and F-16B and -D versions added to the T-6’s trainer legacy. A Swearengin C-26 has also been used for liaison and other duties.

EB-57 Canberra, photo from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

In 1974, the 158th gained a new aircraft and a new mission… renamed the 158th Defense Systems Evaluation Group (DSEG), the Group flew new EB-57 Canberra bombers configured into an electronic countermeasures role to train with (and against) ADC units to sharpen their skills in the new electronic age of aerial warfare.

F-4 Phantom II

In 1979, the ADC was reformed into the Tactical Air Command, and soon the Green Mountain Boys were re-tasked and reequipped again, with F-4 Phantoms and primarily a ground attack mission, although air superiority was still a role practiced.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

With the retirement of the F-4 Phantoms from frontline air defense use, in 1986 the VTANG received their first F-16 Fighting Falcon. A year later, a familiar mission returned to the 158th. Transferred to the Air Force’s 1st Air Force, the Green Mountain Boys regained their air defense mission, flying early versions of the F-16, including the Block 15 Air Defense Fighter (ADF). The Group was deemed fully operational on July 1st, 1987, and not quite four months later, had sent a pair of their F-16s to intercept and escort the first of many Soviet Union TU-95 Bear bombers as they navigated east of U S. airspace. In early 1988, a Detachment of F-16s began operations from Bangor, Maine as part of the Northeast Air Defense Sector’s interceptor operations.

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In 1994, the unit would begin to receive newer model F-16C and D versions, and in 1995 the 158th FG became a Fighter Wing (FW). The Air Defense title was dropped, as the unit gained a general purpose fighter mission. Many years later, on April 6, 2019, the thirty-three year history between the 158th and the F-16 came to an end when the final quartet of F-16s at the Air National Guard Base departed the Burlington International Airport, bound for other units.

Sometime in the late summer or autumn of 2019 – some people are saying October – new F-35 Lightning IIs will be arriving at the Air National Guard Base to begin equipping the Green Mountain Boys with their latest mounts. No longer a militia made up of volunteers and revolutionists, the service members of the 158th FW’s “Green Mountain Boys” are all Americans guarding hard won American sovereignty, not looking to gain it in times before the American Revolution.

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