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Runway Alert: Foundation of the Total Force

Beginning March 1, 1953, the Air National Guard's (ANG's) 138th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Syracuse, New York and its 194th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Hayward, California each maintained two F-51D fighters and five pilots on five-minute air defense runway alert from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The experiment was the brainchild of Georgia Air Guardsman and former Chief of the Air Division, National Guard Bureau, Major General George Finch. It sought to aid the Air Force's hard pressed Air Defense Command (ADC) in defending the continental United States against the threat of Soviet air attacks, maintaining the nation's air sovereignty by intercepting unidentified aircraft entering its airspace, and providing simulated fighter attacks against the Strategic Air Command's nuclear-capable bombers. The experiment provided badly needed additional training opportunities for ANG fighter pilots. Despite serious Air Force doubts about its effectiveness and legality, the experiment was a great success and was placed on a permanent basis in August 1954. By 1961, 25 ANG fighter squadrons were participating in ADC's runway alert program on an around-the-clock basis. During the 1990s, the ANG assumed the entire responsibility for providing units to perform the Air Force's continental air defense and air sovereignty missions including its command and control functions at 1st Air Force. More significantly, the runway alert experiment was the first broad effort to integrate reserve units into a major Air Force combat mission in peacetime on a continuing basis. It provided one of the central organizing principles for the Department of Defense's total force approach to reserve components training and utilization which was adopted in the 1970s.

Copyright Notice

Images of these paintings may also be used for educational purposes with an appropriate permission statement, such as: "[name of painting], a National Guard Heritage Painting by [name of artist], courtesy the National Guard Bureau." The U.S. Government retains all copyrights to these paintings. No commercial use is authorized without prior approval.