The 39th Pursuit Squadron came into being (on paper) in late 1939. In early 1940 personnel were drawn from Eddie Rickenbacher's old "Hat in the Ring" 94th Pursuit Squadron of WW I fame and flight training started with Seversky P-35 "pursuit" planes. In early 1941 the 39th Squadron was chosen to receive the first Bell P-39 Airacobras rolling off of the assembly lines. By midsummer a Bell Company artist had designed and painted an attractive "Cobra in the Clouds" logo, which, with considerable difficulty, was passed through the Office Of Heraldry. With that bit of legislation the 39th Squadron had officially become "The Cobra Squadron".
Severski P-35s of the 39th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Mich. 1940
Bell P-39 Airacobras of the 39th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Mich. 1941
With the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, the squadron was on its way to the West Coast and quickly across the Pacific to Brisbane, Australia. Reassembling their P-39s, the squadron was soon in the air over Port Moresby, New Guinea in defense of Northern Australia. After two and a half months of combat the 39th had lost several planes to the Japanese Zeros, but never a pilot. At the end of July 1942 the squadron was sent back to Australia to be equipped with Lockheed's P-38 Lightning, becoming the first "Lightning" squadron in the Southwest Pacific. By October '42 the 39th was back in action over New Guinea soil and the Zeros began to fall. Early in 1943 the 39th again distinguished itself in becoming the first American squadron to rack up 100 kills. Unit pride and esprit de corps was running very high when the squadron adopted the "sharks teeth" motif for their P-38s. As a fresh faced young 2nd Lieutenant, Richard Ira Bong started his combat career while on TDY with the squadron. Learning quickly from the experienced 39th Squadron pilots, Dick Bong became an ace before moving back to his assigned squadron.
Through the balance of WW II the 39th put the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the North American P-51 Mustang to good use. The Occupation of Japan was carried out with the Mustangs. With the start of the Korea War, the 39th was there early on with their F-51 Mustangs. There came a relatively short period of time when Lockheed F-80 Shooting Stars where used to face North Korea and China, but their short range necessitated a return to the trusty old Mustangs. In mid summer 1952 the squadron made the transition to the North American F-86 Sabre. Through the Korea War the 39th produced numerous Aces. One of them, Joe McConnell with 16 Migs to his credit, was the top ace of that war.
My history of the 39th Squadron after Korea is sketchy, but it is known that the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was active in Viet Nam with F-105 Thunderchiefs. Again in 1990 the 39th was activated at George Air Force Base, Mojave, California as a Flight Training Squadron and readied a squadron for the Desert Shield/Desert Storm operation over Iraq. The resulting fully trained squadron with its F-4G "Wild Weasel" electronic counter measures planes was given the title 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron and sent to Saudi, Arabia. On 17 January 1991 they engaged in the initial attack and flew 1,146 sorties in 42 days.
Again the 39th was deactivated and then once more activated in 1993 at Eglin AFB, Florida with the title 39th Flight Test Squadron. Since that time they have been testing, among other things, the high speed and extreme maneuver release of rockets and other arms. Happily, the "Cobra in the Clouds" logo has been retained through the years with but slight change. After 60 years it seems that the same unit pride and esprit de corps still pervades the squadron.
The 39th was part of the 5th Air Force during World War II