551st Electronic Systems WingThe 551st Electronic Systems Wing (551 ELSW) is a wing of the United States Air Force whose focus is on 'behind the scenes' electronic work. Located at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, they work on AWACS, Joint STARS, MP-RTIP, Mission Planning, and weather systems.
Now responsible for the development and sustainment of command and control systems, the 551st ELSW takes its designation from a wing that laid the foundation for modern-day airborne surveillance.
Cold War periodThe 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing, established and activated in 1954, was charged with tracking air and sea activity along the United States eastern seaboard.
The wing received its first airborne asset on March 2, 1955, when an RC-121D landed at Otis Air Force Base. The plane was the first of many assigned to the 551st to patrol the skies over much of the Atlantic Ocean. The RC-121D was eventually upgraded to the EC-121H Warning Star in 1963. The newer model supplanted the slower voice and manual Teletype data relay system previously employed by the RC-121D and instead provided instantaneous automated relay of air defense surveillance and early-warning information by data-link directly to ground-based communication facilities.
The 551 AEWC Wing provided critical surveillance data to Air Defense Command and Control computers and the North American Air Defense Combat Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for air defense evaluation and action. The data also enabled more versatile airborne control of interceptor missile and aircraft weapons systems.
During the Cold War period, the 551st provided surveillance support for major world events, including tracking over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tracking Russian aircraft and naval vessels off Iceland and the East Coast of the United States.
The wing also provided surveillance over Johnston and Christmas islands during nuclear testing by the Atomic Energy Commission and performed a variety of surveillance services in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
In its first 10 years, the wing flew continuous missions over the Atlantic Ocean 24 hours a day, seven days a week, compiling more than 350,000 flying hours. Among other honors awarded to the wing was the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for its significant performance.
Between 1965 and 1967, three aircraft of the wing crashed into the Atlantic killing fifty members of the wing. The tail numbers of the aircraft were 55-0136, 55-5262, and 53-0549.
The wing was inactivated December 31, 1969.
Re-designationThe wing was re-designated April 18, 2006, when the Battle Management Systems Wing changed to the 551st Electronic Systems Wing. The 551st ELSW is now responsible for rapid development and fielding of airborne battle management command, control and communications systems in support of combatant commanders, special operations forces and worldwide allies.
The 551st Electronic Systems Group, formerly the Airborne Warning and Control Systems Group, is responsible for all aspects of modernization and sustainment of the United States and international E-3 Sentry aircraft and airborne early warning and control fleets.