The 63rd Fighter Squadron (FS) was activated Jan. 15, 1941, at Savannah Air Base, Georgia, as the 63rd Pursuit Squadron. It was originally assigned to the 56th Pursuit Group, which, like many pursuit squadrons organized in the early 1940s, initially flew Curtis P-35 and P-36 Hawks. A year later the 63rd FS came under control of the 1st Interceptor Command and switched to the Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. A few months later it was re-designated a fighter unit and began flying the new Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. In 1943, the 63rd FS moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, then to England where it became one of the most successful squadrons in the USAAF during WWII. Flying escort for fighter sweeps ahead of U.S. bomber fleets, the pilots destroyed 167.5 enemy aircraft in the air and 110 on the ground. After Germany’s surrender, the 63rd FS returned to Camp Kilmer until inactivation Oct. 18, 1945. A year later, it reopened with the 56th FG at Selfridge Field, Michigan, and briefly transitioned to the North American P-51 Mustang. In 1947, the 63rd FS became one of the first fighter squadrons equipped with the new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star.
Three years later, North American F-86A Sabres arrived, and then in 1954, Northrop F-89 Scorpions became the 63rd’s newest fighters. The squadron was again inactivated Nov. 1, 1957, and reactivated June 30, 1975, as the 63rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida. Its mission was to train pilots and weapons systems officers for the F-4 Phantom II. The name changed slightly, but the mission stayed the same when the F-16A Fighting Falcon arrived and the 63rd FS became a tactical fighter training squadron in 1981. On March 12, 1993, the 63rd FS transferred to Luke AFB, where it now flies the Block 42, F-16CG. Campaigns the “Panthers” have supported include the Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Bulge, Remagen Bridgehead and Invasion of Holland. Honors earned by the 63rd include two Distinguished Unit Citations, seven campaign streamers and the American Theater Service streamer.
The 63rd FS stood down May 22, 2009, and realigned with the 310th Fighter Squadron “Top Hats” to remain on base as a piece of Luke’s history.
The 63rd FS reactivated with the F-35A in August 2016 and trains F-35 Lightning II fighter pilots as a joint international effort between Turkey and the United States. Turkish and American pilots fly both Turkish and American F-35s under the guidance of American instructor pilots.