On June 26, 1952 the 31st Fighter Escort Wing stationed at Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Georgia was given orders to initiate Operation Fox Peter One. This operation called for the squadron to make a mass air relocation to Japan. With only eight days to prepare for the mission, Turner Air Force Base, under the leadership of Col. David C. Schilling, launched Operation Fox Peter One on July 4, 1952, which included movement of fifty-seven F-84G Thunderjets and four transport planes of key administrative and maintenance personnel.
The first leg of the trip was from Turner Field to Travis Air Force Base in California. The air movement made one stop midway into the six hour and forty-five minute trip to refuel on the KB-29 tanker. The second part of the journey would involve crossing the North Pacific, and it was determined that this part of the mission would be broken down into three squadrons: 307th, 308th, and 309th.
On July 6, 1952 units 307 and 308 left Travis AFB enroute to Hickam Air Base in Hawaii. Both units refueled in midair, however, the 307th squadron under Col. Schilling's command was forced to return to Travis after they sustained substantial damage to a piece of refueling equipment. After five hours and twenty-seven minutes the 308th squadron, under the direction of Major Robert J. Keen, successfully landed at Hickam Air Base in Hawaii.
Major Keen was recognized as the first pilot to make the Travis to Hickam flight in a single engine jet employing air to air refueling and the first to lead an entire squadron across the Pacific. This flight was considered the longest mass nonstop flight over water by jet fighters.
On July 7, 1952 Col. Schilling made his second attempt to cross the North Pacific, and this time his team was successful in their midair refueling and landed at Hickam in just under six hours. Col. William D. Dunham led the third (309th) squadron of Thunderjets to Hickam on July 8th.
After a few days of maintenance on the aircraft, the 31st Fighter Escort Wing resumed their trip from Hawaii to Midway on July 10th. This flight was completed in two hours and fifty-five minutes.
The following day, the troops took off from Midway enroute to Wake Island. During take off, the unit encountered a large flock of birds (terns, gooneys, and frigate) that were sucked into the powerful jet engines. Even though some 150 birds were lost, none of the fighter jets incurred any damage. It took one hour and fifty-five minutes to arrive at Wake Island.
Later that same day on July 11th, the squadron flew on to Eniwetok. This leg of the trip only took one hour and ten minutes to complete.
Spending two days at Eniwetok, the enroute maintenance support prepared the jets with two jato bottles in order to take off on July 13th. Jato bottles were required because of the short runway at Eniwetok. The flight from Eniwetok to Guam took three hours and eight minutes.
From Guam the crew would then fly to Iwo Jima on July 15, 1952. It was on this date that the unit suffered a terrible loss. As Lt. Col. Elmer G. Da Rosa made his approach to land, a section of his aircraft exploded sending the mighty fighter jet earthward. Da Rosa, one of the most popular pilots in the Wing, was killed in this incident.
Leaving Iwo Jima on July 16th, the Thunderjets flew to Yokota Air Base in one hour and fifty-six minutes.
Due to heavy fog and torrential rains, the final leg of the trip was delayed for two days. Finally on July 20th, the 31st Fighter Escort Wing arrived a Misawa after an hour and ten minute flight.
Operation Fox Peter One was successfully completed, and the flight would become historical as it was the:
- First mass movement of jet fighters across the Pacific.
- First mass midair refueling movement of jet fighters.
- Longest mass movement of a complete jet fighter wing by air.
- Longest mass nonstop over-water flight by jet fighters. (California - Hawaii)
The flight would not have been so successful had it not been for the dedication and expertise of the enroute maintenance teams.
The 31st Fighter Escort Wing would not return to Turner Air Force Base until the latter part of September. The first crew flew back to Turner on September 22, 1952. The remaining crews flew back the first part of October. A reception was given as well as a three day reprieve, but by late October, the Wing had resumed business as usual at Turner Field.