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The “Triangle Y” behind Mobility’s Hometown

Historic Y on aircraft.

The historic “Triangle Y” tail marking is displayed on a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing, March 11, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. During World War II, each bombardment group was identified by a special tail marking on the aircraft, each one different and unique for each group. The 97th Bombardment Group, which became the 97th AMW, was identified by a white triangle with a black “Y” in the middle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Breanna Klemm)

Historic Y on aircraft.

B-17 Flying Fortresses assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group fly into formation during World War II. On January 28, 1942, the U.S. Army Air Force established the 97th BG, assigned to the 8th Air Force, with an original mission of antisubmarine patrols based in the largest bomber aircraft of the time, the B-17. (Courtesy photo by Airman Air Museum)

Historic Y on aircraft.

A U.S. Air Force KC-46 Pegasus assigned to the 56th Air Refueling Squadron takes off during a Large Formation Exercise, May 31, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The 97th Air Mobility Wing honors its heritage by displaying the symbolic triangle “Y” upon one tail of each aircraft assigned to Altus AFB. (U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

Historic Y on aircraft.

B-17 Flying Fortresses assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group fly into formation over Russia during World War II. The 97th BG was identified by a white triangle with a black “Y” in the middle. For the entirety of World War II, the black and white symbol was proudly displayed on the tail and wings of more than 240 aircraft assigned to the group. (Courtesy photo by Airman Air Museum)

Historic Y on aircraft.

A B-17 Flying Fortress assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group flew the first aircraft to land in Russia during a shuttle mission, June 2, 1944. The exploits of the 97th BG led their team to be the first American B-17 group to operate out of England, along with completing many other firsts for the Army Air Force and heavy bombing at its time. (Courtesy photo by Airman Air Museum)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

On January 28, 1942, the U.S. Army Air Force established the 97th Bombardment Group. Its original mission: conduct antisubmarine patrols using the largest bomber aircraft of the time, the B-17 Flying Fortress. As time passed, the unit became one of the few heavy bombing groups to bomb Nazi territory during World War II.

Today, the 97th BG is known as the 97th Air Mobility Wing and honors its heritage by displaying the symbolic “Triangle Y” upon three aircraft assigned to Altus Air Force Base, Okla.

“During WWII aircraft from each unit had specific tail markers or colors to identify themselves in order for them to be recognized in the air by fellow allied aircrews without using their radios and giving their positions to the enemy,” said Richard Guinan, the 97th AMW Historian. “In the case of the Mighty 97th, they were identified by the ‘Triangle Y.’ After WWII, the color schemes were replaced with tail codes and colored tail caps.”

The black and white symbol was proudly displayed on the tail and wings of more than 240 aircraft, which became a symbol of hope for some when they saw groups of B-17’s flying overhead during WWII. Today, the 97th AMW continues to honor its heritage by displaying the symbol upon the back of mobility aircraft.

The unit served a vital role during WWII and throughout history and its mission has changed over time. The 97th AMW is responsible for the training of all C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46 Pegasus aircrews.

“Adding the ‘Triangle Y’ back to the aircraft’s tails was not only to honor all of the men and women who have gone on before us, but it gives us the opportunity to educate our current Airmen on their heritage,” said Guinan. “The 97th AMW was the premier bombing unit during the war and is now the premier heavy airlift and refueling unit in the Air Force.”

Although the current mission is different from the past, the Mighty 97th continues to remember its warriors and heritage through the presentation of the “Triangle Y” on the back of its aircraft.

“The ‘Triangle Y’ reminds us of our operational heritage as the first bombers to fly raids into mainland Europe during WWII,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Leard, the 97th AMW commander. “The pioneering spirit that drove Airmen before us remains alive in the Mighty 97th as we prepare for tomorrow’s challenges, today. We are proud to display the historic ‘Y’ on our aircraft, paying homage to the great legacy we have inherited.”