Thomas S. Swalm, MGen USAF, Ret., “Headed West” on January 15, 2015.

SSS  member and Thunderbird Lead in The F-4, retired MGen Tom Swalm Headed West on January 15, 2015, while residing in Plano, TX with his family and in the care of his spouse Charlene Lavern Swalm (Canfield).

Tom was born in 1931 in San Diego. He graduated from La Jolla (Calif.) High School in 1949 and received a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Oregon. He has a master of science degree in public administration from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. He completed the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., in 1964 and the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C., in 1974.

He was commissioned through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program in 1954. After attending preflight school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, he entered primary flight training, at Marana, Ariz. General Swalm was awarded pilot wings in April 1956 upon completion of basic flying training at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas.

His first operational assignment was as a T-33 instructor with the Fighter-Interceptor Weapons School at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., from April 1956 to December 1956. After completing F-86F gunnery training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., General Swalm was assigned to the 434th Fighter-Day Squadron at George Air Force Base, Calif., from February 1957 to June 1958 as an F-100C pilot. In July 1958 he was assigned to the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing, 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flying F-100D’s at Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France, and Hahn Air Base, Germany, until May 1961.

After returning to the United States, General Swalm was assigned to Headquarters 12th Air Force, Waco, Texas, from May 1961 to August 1964. He served in various fighter operations positions with that organization until he entered the Air Command and Staff College. Following graduation he was assigned, from June 1965 to October 1966, as an F-4C instructor pilot and flight examiner with the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing, 4454th Combat Crew Training Squadron, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

From November 1966 to July 1967, General Swalm was assigned to Southeast Asia where he served as an F-4 flight commander with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. While there he completed 220 combat missions, 105 over North Vietnam. His next assignment was to the F-4 Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., from July 1967 to May 1970. There he commanded the air-to-air flight and taught radar, missiles and aerial tactics. He later assumed command of the operational test and evaluation section, flying initial evaluations of many new weapons and aircraft modifications.

In May 1970 General Swalm was selected to be commander/leader of the “Thunderbirds,” the U.S. Air Force’s aerial demonstration squadron. During his 33 months with the team, he flew in approximately 290 official air shows and performed in 50 states and 19 foreign countries. After graduating from the National War College in May 1974, he was assigned to the Air Force Test and Evaluation Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., as chief of the Fighter Attack Division. From June 1974 to July 1975, he supervised test activities in the A-10, F-15, F-16 and fighter weapon system developments. In August 1975 he was named deputy director for test and evaluation at Kirtland. He served in that position until July 1976 when he transferred to South Korea.

Tom was vice commander and later commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, from August 1976 to April 1978. He was then assigned to the Philippines, where he served as commander of the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base. In March 1979 he returned to Nellis Air Force Base where he became commander of the 57th Tactical Training Wing and the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School. In January 1980 General Swalm became commander of Tactical Training Holloman at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and in December 1980 the organization was redesignated the 833rd Air Division. He assumed his present command in August 1981.

Tom has about 7,000 flying hours in  F-4s, F-5s, F-15s, F-16s, A-7s, A-10s, AT-38s, F-86s, F-100s, F-104s, F-106s, F-111s, T-33s and T-38s. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 14 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Combat Readiness Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. He earned his parachutist badge at the U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Ga.

In 1984  Tom received the R.V. Jones Trophy from the electronic Security Command, “For excellence in the field of command, control, and communications countermeasures.” He received the Jerome Waterman Award for 1985, presented annually by the Air Force Association “To the active-duty Air Force person in Florida who had made outstanding and significant contributions to a standing aerospace defense during the past year.”

Scroll to Top