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The 517th Airlift Squadron is one of five flying squadrons assigned to the 3rd Wing, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. With their C-130H Hercules and C-12F aircraft and aircrews, the "Firebirds" fly some of the most demanding missions in Alaska.
The squadron provides airlift in support of two major missions. The first involves support of airborne training for the Army's 6th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright. Secondly the 517th provides airlift support for Pacific Air Forces and the 11th Air Force including logistical resupply of long-range radar sites in Alaska, special assignment airlift missions for Alaskan and Canadian Distant Early Warning stations, and fighter deployment support.
Constituted on Nov. 20, 1940, as the 17th Transport Squadron, the unit was operational by Dec. 11 of that same year at McClellan Field, Calif. During World War II, the 17th TS was redesignated the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron on July 4, 1942. The squadron moved its operations and C-47 aircraft to 15 different locations in the Mediterranean and China-Burma-India theaters. The 17th TCS participated in airborne assaults and provided aerial transportation in France, North Apennines, Po Valley and India-Burma. When World War II ended, the 17th deactivated on July 31, 1945.
On July 14, 1952, the squadron reactivated at Donaldson Air Force Base, S.C., as the 17th Troop Carrier Squadron flying C-82s and C-119s until its second deactivation on July 21, 1954.
The 17th reactivated October 24, 1960, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, to resupply the Distant Early Warning radar stations on the Greenland Ice Cap. The DEW Line relied totally on C-130D aircraft equipped with newly developed ski pads for resupply. Within a year, the squadron had reaffirmed its Firebird title as a result of rocket-assisted ski takeoffs on the 9,000-foot crest of the Greenland Ice Cap.
On June 15, 1964, the 17th moved to Elmendorf as the only airlift squadron in Alaska. In 1966 and 1967, the 17th took part in the massive buildup in South Vietnam. It was redesignated the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron on Sept. 8, 1967.
From July 9, 1969, to June 30, 1975, the squadron maintained a detachment at Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland, in conjunction with its airlift support on the Ice Cap for radar stations and also for scientific studies of the Arctic.
On Dec. 1, 1969, the 17th acquired two C-124A Globemasters to augment its C-130 force and provide support to remote Alaskan sites. Joining the Military Airlift Command on March 31, 1975, the 17th converted to conventional C-130E aircraft (not modified with skis). In 1987, they converted to the more modern C-130H aircraft which they currently fly.
On April 1, 1992, the squadron was redesignated the 517th Airlift Squadron, moving from a subordinate unit of the 616th Military Airlift Group to a unit of the 3rd Wing's operations group. In the move, the squadron gained C-12 aircraft and 160 people as its structure changed to parallel those of its new sister fighter squadrons -- the 19th, 54th and 90th -- by incorporating its maintenance corps into the squadron.