Although the Air National Guard was not formally organized until 1947, the Guard’s aviation heritage extends almost half a century before then. National Guardsmen actually served as aviators in both World Wars, yet they were considered assets of the Army National Guard.
The birth of aviation in the National Guard occurred in April of 1908. It was then that the 1st Aero Company of the New York National Guard was founded. After the unit’s founding, a small band of airmen were formed and trained to pilot hot air balloons for reconnaissance uses. With war looming on the horizon, the unit was federally designated as a unit of the armed forces. World War I made evident the effectiveness of airplanes in warfare, so the National Guardsmen were retrained as a biplane unit before being deployed to the European theater.
After the First World War came to an end, the Company was redesignated the 102nd Observational Squadron. The 102nd continued to serve through World War II and was eventually renamed the 102nd Rescue Squadron.
The unit is still active to this day as part of the Air National Guard and has deployed to both Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.