The 20th Helicopter Squadron was activated at Sewart AFB, Tennessee on 9 July 1956, assigned to the 18th Air Force and attached to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing. The 20th was formed by absorbing the personnel, aircraft, and equipment of the 345th Troop Carrier Squadron (Assault, Rotary Wing). The activation of the 20th, as well as its sister squadrons, the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Helicopter Squadrons, was the result of the inactivation of the 516th Troop Carrier Group (Assault, Rotary Wing). The 516th had been a victim of an Air Force and Army dispute over control of assault helicopters.
The 20th was reorganized several times in 1956, but by the end of the year, was authorized 16 H-21 helicopters, 41 officers and 124 enlisted personnel. The squadron concept called for a squadron headquarters with four flights, three of which could be dispersed or deployed. The 20th's mission was to conduct aeromedical evacuation from forward combat zones, air evacuation within the theater of operations, provide airlift support of assault or retrograde operations by airlanded delivery of units or equipment into or from forward combat zones, provide air evacuation and specialized airlifting in support of combat operations as directed by the commander in chief, Tactical Air Command.
Although the 20th had recently been activated and was undergoing organizational changes, they were extremely busy in the last half of 1956. Between July and August, the 20th supported the gunnery range at Wendover AFB, Utah, where 20th crews conducted three rescue missions. Two aircraft and crews were deployed to Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma for rescue support between July and November. Two aircraft were broken down for air transport aboard a C-124 Globemaster in July, with the first aircraft's teardown completed in only six hours. The 20th also provided manning assists to sister squadrons in July. Eight aircraft and crews were committed to an exercise entitled Operation Pine Cone in August, while a 20th aircraft was cannibalized to provide parts for sister squadrons overseas. In October, the squadron provided two crews and aircraft to support the Civil Air Patrol at Allentown, Pennsylvania in Operation Hi-Water.
On 6 November 1956, one H-21B aircraft and crew deployed to Ream Naval Air Station, California for what was then a highly classified mission. The mission involved a series of tests to determine the H-21's ability to take a vessel at sea under tow. Specialized equipment was installed and a number of vessels were taken under tow. The tests were successfully concluded when the H-21 took a Navy landing craft displacing 3000 tons under tow at a speed of four and a half knots. The 20th flew a total of 54 hours in support of this test.
In early 1957, the 20th was tasked with an unusual mission to sling load a 1957 Studebaker automobile weighing more than 2800 pounds. The mission was flown in support of the Chicago Land fair and involved moving the vehicle a distance of six miles from Meigs Field to the Navy pier. It was the 20th's heaviest sling load to date.
In May 1957, the first two of four H-21s and crews deployed to Frobisher Bay in the Canadian Northwest Territory to support a joint Canadian - U.S. Navy Hydrographic Survey Team. The team's mission was to accurately chart the bay. The mission was successfully concluded in early September 1957. The deployment was accomplished by teardown of the H-21s and shipment by C-124s.
On 4 July 1958, the squadron again deployed to cold country. This time two aircraft and 13 personnel deployed to Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland via C-124 to support construction of a site on the eastern end of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line chain of radar stations. In August, two more aircraft and additional personnel deployed to Sondrestrom. Because the squadron was not authorized Arctic gear, it was forced to borrow clothing and equipment from other units.
By the time the mission was completed and aircraft and crews returned to Sewart AFB, the 20th had flown 500 hours and airlifted more than 2,000 passengers and nearly 295,000 pounds of cargo.
20th crews and aircraft supported radiological safety monitoring at Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field, Nevada and the annual William Tell fighter competition at both Nellis AFB, Nevada and Tyndall AFB, Florida in the fall of 1958. The mission at Tyndall involved recovery of Firebee target drones from the Gulf of Mexico.
As a result of its outstanding flying safety record, the 20th was awarded a plaque for Meritorious Achievement in Flight Safety on 31 December 1958. The squadron had logged 8,000 accident free flying hours between 1 January 1957 and 31 December 1958.
The squadron activated Detachment 1 at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina on 1 March 1959, in preparation for the movement of the entire squadron later that summer.
On 21 June 1959, the squadron participated in the unveiling of an Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The 20th crew hovered their H-21 at 100 feet above the erect missile shrouded in a huge parachute. On command, the helicopter lifted the parachute to unveil the museum's latest addition. For its efforts, the squadron received a letter of appreciation from the museum director. (NOTE 18)
On 16 July 1959, the 20th moved to Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina and was attached to the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 20th Helicopter Squadron was inactivated on 8 March 1960.
From 1956 to 1960, the 20th continued to fly Vertol H-21 helicopters, performing airlift support of assault operations, air evacuation, and specialized airlift. Operations took the 20th on missions throughout most of North America and the Arctic in support of exercises and maneuvers.
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