LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On the Texas-Mexico border, near the small town of Del Rio, Texas, lies the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base – where the world’s greatest military pilots are graduated, mission ready warriors are deployed, and professional, resilient and innovative Airmen are developed.
Laughlin’s role in the Air Force and Air Education and Training Command has been one of adventure and rich history, going back to its establishment in March 3, 1943.
Dating back to World War II, Laughlin trained pilots in various aircraft, such as the B-26 Marauder, A-26 Invader, Martin RB-57D Canberra, Lockheed U-2A, T-41 Mescalero, T-33 Shooting Star and the T-37 Tweet. As Laughlin members commute to and from the base, they take a stroll through memory lane daily as they pass by the historical reminders of the aircraft that once inhabited the flight line. The static displays now serve as a vivid evidence of Laughlin’s role in the nation’s defense of freedom.
World War II wasn’t the only conflict where Laughlin’s services were needed. While spending time in other commands, Laughlin played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis with the U-2.
In 1957 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Laughlin provided the first conclusive photographic evidence of the Soviet missile build-up in Cuba. Laughlin U-2 pilot, Maj. Rudolph Anderson, became the only casualty in the crisis when he was shot down over Cuba.
After the missile crisis, the base continued to develop and as the times changed, so did the wing’s aircraft.
Laughlin, known as the home of Team XL, now trains student pilots in the T-6A Texan II, then transitions them into the T-38C Talon or the T-1A Jayhawk. Laughlin is the largest pilot producer for AETC, making it the premiere Specialized Undergraduate Training base in the Air Force.
The name “Team XL,” was introduced in 1982 to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of Laughlin’s founding. The Public Affairs office created the “XL” from the Roman Numerals for “40.” The numerals were loved so much by the base population and local community that it stuck and became Laughlin’s identity.
Today, the wing continues to evolve into the future, training pilots in the most recent technology to keep up with higher demands. In 2016, Laughlin produced 298 pilots which accounted for 28.7 percent of AETC’s total pilots and had more than 45,600 sorties, including international students from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“Laughlin has always contributed heavily to AETC and the Air Force mission as a whole,” said Col. Thomas Shank, 47th Flying Training Wing commander. “The last 75 years have showcased what a powerful force AETC has in the Air Force, and we’re excited to be a part of what this MAJCOM will do in the future.”
*Editor’s note-this article is part of a series focused on the roles AETC’s wings have played in the command’s first 75 years.