Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 was activated initially as Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (HMR) 263 on 16 June 1952 and was outfitted with HO-5S helicopters. For it’s first two years of operations the squadron was home based at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. During these early months the squadron was occupied in proficiency training, which contributed to the growing body of knowledge of rotary wing aircraft and their employment and ultimately became the basis for the doctrine of vertical envelopment then being developed by the Marine Corps.
On 7 July 1954, HMR-263 relocated to Marine Corps Air Facility New River, North Carolina, where it remained home based for the next eleven years. During this time the squadron participated in over fifteen major exercises and deployments including disaster relief in Tampico, Mexico (Oct 1955) and operations from the submarine USS SEA LION (Mar 1956). During December 1956 the squadron was redesignated HMR(L) 263 and reequipped with new HOK-1 helicopters. Six Caribbean deployments and numerous local training exercises ensued. During February 1962, the squadron was reequipped with the HUS-1 (UH-34) helicopter. In October 1962, HMM-263 was deployed to the Caribbean when the United States initiated a large-scale response to the Soviet Union’s deployment of ICBMs to Cuba. In June 1964, the squadron was a participant in Exercise STEEL PIKE off the coast of Spain, then the largest amphibious exercise since World War II.
During April and May 1965, HMM-263 was deployed to the Dominican Republic in support of the United States’ assistance operations there. On 23 August 1965, HMM-263 was transferred to the Far East and placed under control of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. On 11 October 1965, the squadron moved from Futenma, Okinawa to Marble Mountain Air Facility, Vietnam. For the next two years HMM-263 served in Vietnam participating in over twenty-four named combat operations.
During November 1967, HMM-263 was transferred to Santa Ana, California where it was reequipped with CH-46D helicopters before redeploying to Vietnam in January 1969. The squadron remained in Vietnam until April 1971 and then transferred to Marine Corps Air Station, Quantico, Virginia and began flying the CH-46F helicopter. The four years in Vietnam earned the squadron numerous unit awards and a reputation as a hard working, can-do unit. HMM-263 remained home based at Quantico for four years and participated in several cold weather exercises, two Mediterranean cruises, and one Caribbean deployment in addition to numerous smaller training exercises.
During August 1975, HMM-263 relocated to Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. While home based at New River, the squadron completed the transition to the CH-46E helicopter over the summer of 1980. For the next seventeen years the squadron deployed in four major NATO exercises, made six Mediterranean cruises, and deployed on Goodwill cruises to Africa, South America and the Caribbean. During the squadron's NATO/Landing Force Sixth Fleet 2-84 deployment, it participated in Exercise TEAMWORK ‘84 in Norway and then served with the Commander Joint Task Force Lebanon in support of Marine Security Forces ashore in Beirut. The squadron first served in Lebanon from October 1982 until March 1983, then again from April 1984 until August 1984.
During the LF6F 1-86 deployment the squadron served as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of the 26TH Marine Amphibious Unit, the first Special Operation Capable MAU, which operated in support of Combined Task Force - 60 during operations in Libya. HMM-263 deployed in May 1987 as the ACE for the 24TH MAU during LF6F 3-87. Contingency operations in the Persian Gulf necessitated splitting the squadron into three sections, operating from CONUS, the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. While deployed, squadron aircraft participated in the seizure of the Iranian mine laying ship "Iran Ajar".
In August 1990 the squadron again found itself headed for the Persian Gulf region. As a part of the 4TH Marine Expeditionary Brigade, HMM-263 was quick to respond to the aggression of Iraq against its Kuwaiti neighbors. Squadron aircraft flew countless hours in support of the amphibious task force, participated in numerous amphibious assault exercises, and conducted a flawless Non-combatant Evacuation Operation of the U. S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. The squadron also assisted in the interdiction of two Iraqi vessels in support of the United Nations mandated embargo of Iraq.
In March 1993 the squadron was called upon to support a USCENTCOM deployment to Somalia participating in operations RESTORE HOPE and CONTINUE HOPE.
During its Landing Force Sixth Fleet 2-95 deployment the squadron deployed aboard the USS KEARSARGE (LHD-3) as the Aviation Combat Element for the 24TH MEU(SOC). During this deployment the squadron participated in six large scale, multinational exercises while providing Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) support for NATO operations DENY FLIGHT and PROVIDE PROMISE in the Adriatic Sea. The squadron distinguished itself by conducting the successful TRAP rescue mission of Air Force pilot Captain Scott O'Grady on 8 June 1995. In July 1996 the squadron was selected as the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s "MARINE MEDIUM HELICOPTER SQUADRON OF THE YEAR" for it's efforts during LF6F 2-95.
Continuing to support the Marine Corps’ Air-Ground team and Joint/Combined forces in a variety of operations and exercises, in 1997 HMM-263 went on an LF6F deployment providing a U.S. presence in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, as well as participating in operation JOINT GUARD in the Adriatic Sea, and operation SOUTHERN WATCH in the Arabian Gulf.
During its deployment in 2000, HMM-263 flew 3780.1 flight hours in support of the 24TH MEU(SOC) from Spain to the Ukraine and Israel. "IN EVERY CLIME AND PLACE" is a phrase that the "Thunder Chicken" team considers the norm.
In its deployment as the ACE for the 24TH MEU(SOC), LF6F 3-02, the squadron broke new ground for the Marine Corps in operational support and force integration. Becoming the first squadron to deploy with a Reserve CH-53E detachment, HMM-263 has led the way in the “Total Force” concept of the Marine Corps. During the nine month deployment the Thunder Chickens flew an unprecedented 9568 hours and participated in Operational Rehearsal DYNAMIC RESPONSE in Kosovo, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in the Horn of Africa, Exercise IMAGE NAUTILUS in Djibouti, Exercise EDGED MALLET in Kenya, Exercise IRON MAGIC in U.A.E, and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in and around Baghdad, Tikrit, and Al Kut, Iraq. From KFOR to JTF-HOA and combat in Iraq, the Marines of HMM-263 continue recording “firsts” in Marine Corps history.
Once again receiving the call to service, HMM-263(Rein) was deployed to Al Taqqadum, Iraq in June and July, 2004. As a helicopter-only composite ACE, they once again engaged in support of combat operations. While participating in Operations like AL FAJR, CITADEL II, RIVERWALK, and PLYMOUTH ROCK, HMM-263 (Rein) totaled 7,472.5 combat flight hours, of which an amazing 4,664.9 were on NVG’s. During this tour, the squadron executed the first all-Iraqi heliborne assault in support of the newly-created Iraqi Security Forces, adding once again to the lengthy list of firsts the squadron has accomplished. The squadron re-deployed in February of 2005 with only seven CH-46E’s in anticipation of the transition to the MV-22.
Upon return to CONUS, the squadron redistributed three more CH-46E’s and still participated in exercises and public relations events. In May of 2005, HMM-263 along with the 24th MEU, participated in Fleet Week in New York city. The squadron and its Marines were highlighted by numerous public events and television broadcasts. On 3 June 2005, HMM-263 stood down and entered a training phase in order to prepare for the transition to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263), the first operational MV-22 squadron in the fleet. On 3 March 2006, the squadron was redesignated as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263.