In 1992, the Peace Fenghuang Program was approved by Congress under the signature of then-President George H.W. Bush. Peace Fenghuang is Chinese for Phoenix, the mystical Egyptian bird that arose from ashes, and the name is based on the fact that a similar program had been proposed but subsequently canceled by then-President Jimmy Carter. The current program is in excess of $5.9 billion and is the second-largest foreign military sales program in the history of the U.S. Air Force.
Training foreign pilots is not new to Luke Air Force Base. The first foreign students to train in the Valley of the Sun were Chinese pilots during World War II. In February 1942, the first Chinese pilots were trained in the P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt and eventually the P-51 Mustang. These pilots had a major impact in the defense of China. Many of these pilots became members of a Taiwan squadron designated 21st Fighter Squadron Blackjacks. The Blackjacks were one of the most successful squadrons during the war and were unmatched in their aerial victories against Japanese forces. Concurrently, the U.S. 21st Fighter Squadron was in the China theater attacking Japanese forces with the P-40 Warhawk and P-51 Mustang. It was in recognition of the exploits of both of these squadrons that the 21st Fighter Squadron Gamblers were activated at Luke.
The 21st Fighter Squadron began training Taiwan pilots in February 1997, 55 years to the month that the first Chinese pilots began training at Luke.
In the spirit of the legendary phoenix, the squadron rose from the dust at Luke to win the illustrious Frank Luke Jr. Award, recognizing the best squadron in the world’s largest fighter wing, in its first year of existence. That stellar feat was followed by a repeat performance in 1998, which was the first time in 60 years a squadron won the award two consecutive years.