On December 31, 1941, just 24 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Office of the Chief of the Army Air Force authorized the construction of an air base at Syracuse. A 3,500-acre parcel located north of the city was selected, displacing several inhabited farms. In 1942, three 5,500-foot runways and base infrastructure were built, at a cost to the Army of more than $15 million. The Syracuse Air Base (also known as the Mattydale Bomber Base) received its first 1,200 Airmen in August 1942. They used the base to assemble and test the B-24 aircraft, stage B-17 and B-24 bombers bound for England, and train on C-46/C-47 transports.
After World War II, the base was deactivated but shortly thereafter, on March 3, 1946, it was announced that an Air National Guard (ANG) fighter squadron was to be located at the soon to be re-named Hancock Field (named after Clarence E. Hancock, a prominent local citizen and member of the U.S. House of Representatives). On October 28, 947, the 138th Fighter Squadron was federally recognized and became the first post-WWII ANG flying unit in New York State. On March 8, 1948, the first fighter aircraft arrived at Hancock Field in the form of the venerable P-47 Thunderbolt.
In January 1950, the unit became the first jet-equipped flying unit in New York with the assignment of the F-84B Thunderjet. The runway had to be lengthened to accommodate the new aircraft. In June of 1950, the F-84s were returned to the U.S. Air Force for duty in Korea and the base transitioned to the F-51 Mustang. In March 1953, the 138th accepted a secret mission to determine whether the Air National Guard could perform air defense missions for the U.S. Air Force. This required putting two aircraft and crews on 5-minute runway alert status from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset for several months.
The results were so successful that air defense became a permanent mission for the Air National Guard and continues today. The active duty Air Force exercised a right to return to Hancock Field and activated the 4624th Air Base Squadron under the Air Defense Command (ADC). The active duty portion of the base was renamed the Syracuse Air Force Station on December 1, 1953.
The Eastern Air Defense Force moved the 32nd Air Division to the new station on February 15, 1952, from Stewart AFB. Initially it assumed responsibility for an area including Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and part of New York, using a manual control center.
In also supervised construction of the SAGE blockhouses and the installation and testing of the SAGE electronic and data processing equipment which, when made operational, made the air defense system of the 32nd AD obsolete. The division was then moved to Dobbins AFB, Marietta Georgia on November 15, 1958. In 1954, the 138th Fighter Squadron acquired the F-94 Starfire. The F-94 was a two seat interceptor aircraft based on the proven P-80/T-33 designs, with an afterburning engine and a radar operator in the back seat to direct the pilot in darkness or virtually any weather conditions. Two specially equipped T-B25K aircraft were assigned to the unit to train the newly assigned personnel as radar observers. In December 1957, the 138th was reassigned the familiar ground attack mission, along with a new aircraft, the F-86 Saber. The F-86 would carry 138th pilots twice over the Atlantic Ocean, as well as to New Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The aircraft would be used by the unit for two of their call-ups to active duty.
"The Boys from Syracuse" was a nickname given to the unit by Col. Curtis Irwin in 1958. The name came from the Rogers and Hart musical, "The Boys from Syracuse", which in turn was based upon William Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors". The nickname gained popularity in the community, Air Guard and Air Force worldwide. The unique connection to a unit's hometown appeared to generate a feeling of pride and good neighborliness wherever the unit personnel went.
On January 1, 1960, the active duty's 4624th Air Base Squadron was upgraded to the 4624th Air Base Group. In April 1961, the 138th Fighter Squadron received the Governor's Air Trophy and the Commander's Trophy as the outstanding Air National Guard unit in New York. The Air Force Association also designated the 138th Fighter Squadron as the best F-86 unit in the country. The 138th was mobilized on October 1, 1961 by command of President John F. Kennedy. The unit was called to active duty to serve alongside the U.S. Air Force during the Berlin Crisis and sent to Phalsbourg, France. The Berlin Crisis was the largest single deployment of fighter aircraft from the United States to Europe since WWII. Upon its return to the United States, the unit became part of the newly formed 174th Tactical Fighter Group.
On April 11, 1968, the 138th was federally activated and deployed to Cannon AFB, New Mexico for the Peublo Crisis. The remainder of the 174th Tactical Fighter Group stayed at Hancock Field. This was the first time an entire ANG unit was not mobilized together.
In March 1970, the 174th Tactical Fighter Group received new aircraft in the form of the A-37B. the A-37 was the unit's first aircraft capable of aerial refueling. With it's extended capabilities the A-37 permitted more extensive training activities, such as the May 1971 Operation Bright Shield, Operation Guard Thunder, Operation Guard Flex, and the April 1978 Red Flag exercise.
In 1979, the unit converted to the A-10A Thunderbolt II, nicknamed the Warthog. On July 1, 1979, the unit was once again reorganized, this time becoming the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). The 174th TFW became the first ANG A-10 unit to deploy to Germany. The operation was christened Coronet Sail and marked the opportunity to train with their Luftwaffe counterparts; twenty years earlier, the 138th pilots trained alongside Luftwaffe pilots while stationed in Phalsbourg during the Berlin Crisis.
On May 2, 1983, the 152nd Air Operations Group (formerly the 152nd Tactical Control Group) moved from Roslyn, NY to Hancock Field. The unit's primary day-to-day operation was to augment and support the 603rd Air Operations Group, located in Ramstein Air Base, Germany. the 603rd is part of the 3rd Air Force and U.S. Air Forces Europe (USAFE). The 603rd and 152nd work together to setup and run the AN/USQ-163 "Falconer" weapons system for the European Theater of Operations.
On December 31, 1983, the active duty portion of Hancock Field was deactivated and the buildings were turned over to civilian authorities.
In March of 1988, the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing received notification that it would be converting to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The conversion was completed in 1989. The 174th Tactical Fighter Wing was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award in 1981, 1983, 1986 and 1989.
In 1991, the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed to the Persian Gulf with 516 members in support of Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The 174th was one of only two Air National Guard units to fly combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. The unit received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with the "V" device for valor, the Air Force Association Outstanding Unit Award, and the National Guard Association's Best Family Support Center Award. In 1992, the unit changed its name from the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing to the 174th Fighter Wing (FW). In the mid-1990's, the Adirondack Range (Operations Group Detachment 1) and the Forward Operating Location (Maintenance Group Detachment 1) at Fort Drum were activated and upgraded F-16C Fighting Falcons were introduced to the unit. The 174th FW deployed twice to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, in support of Operations Provide Comfort II and Northern Watch. In 1997 the 174th Fighter Wing commemorated its 50th Anniversary in conjunction with the United States Air Force by hosting the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at the Syracuse Air Show.
On September 11, 2001, F-16s from Hancock Field were some of the first military aircraft to respond to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The unit subsequently flew 24/7 combat air patrols over New York City and sent hundreds of personnel to the city. Between 2002 and 2008, the unit deployed over 300 people on three separate occasions in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. All told, the wing deployed a total of eight times with its F-16s. The last deployment was in June 2008. The 274th Air Support Operations Squadron moved to Hancock Field in 2000, followed by the 222nd Command and Control Squadron which was stood up at Griffis Business and Technology Park in 2008. On October 1, 2008, the 174th Fighter Wing officially entered a transition phase to convert to the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). the MQ-9 maintenance Field Training Detachment began operations in October 2009. The unit also stood up its first MQ-9 combat air patrol in December 2009, six months ahead of schedule.
On March 6, 2010, the last of the unit's F-16s departed Hancock Field. In the summer of 2011, an MQ-9 Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) was established at Fort Drum to handle all takeoffs and landings of MQ-9 training flights. In addition, a Formal Training Unit (FTU) was established in the fall of 2011 to train activew duty, Air Force Reserve, and National Guard, and foreign military MQ-9 aircrews. The 174th FW was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit award for 200-2011.
In 2012 the unit changed its name from the 174th Fighter Wing to the 174th Attack Wing (ATKW). The flying squadron was also renamed from the 138th Fighter Squadron to the 138th Attack Squadron (ATKS). In 2013 the 152nd Air Operations Group was reorganized to include the 222nd Command and Control Squadron and the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron.
In 2014, the units Formal Training Unit was designated as the 108th Attack Squadron.
In 2020 members of the 174th Attack Wing were mobilized for Title 32 active duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the state's pandemic response 1,080 New York Air National Guard personnel assisted state authorities and healthcare workers by assisting in nursing homes, staffing drive-thru test sites and providing logistic support.
In 2020, the 174th once again was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
In 2023 the 174th ATKW hosted Reaper Smoke 2023. the annual exercise brings together MQ-9 crews from across the active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard components and pits them against each other in a skills competition to see who is the "best of the best".