Air Base Hahn: On the Paths of the 50th TAC Fighter Wing
The 50th was assigned to the USAFE/ 12th Air Force. The wing became the first tactically operational Air Force wing in 12th Air Force's jurisdiction. The 50th Fighter Bomber Wing consisted of the 10th, 81st and 417th Fighter-Bomber squadrons. The first of the wing's new F-86H Sabres arrived at Hahn AB 21 October 1955. Conversion continued throughout the winter of 1955 and spring of 1956, ending in May. The 50th FBG received seventy-four F-86Hs, and also had two C-47 transports which were assigned to the Wing for courier and supply operations.
The primary mission of the 50th FBW at Hahn was the delivery of tactical nuclear weapons against the Warsaw Pact forces in the event of an invasion of Western Europe. Its secondary missions were tactical air defense and support for NATO ground forces.
While 50th FBW prepared for and converted to the newer F-86H, the wing expanded its mission responsibility to include supporting 12th Air Force's 7382d Guided Missile Group. The wing had previously supported the 69th Tact Missile Sqn. at Hahn, which operated the MGM-1 Matador tactical missile.
New aircraft would not be the only change for the personnel of the 50th, however. With the conversion to the F-86H nearly complete on 15 April 1956, the wing began a move to Toul-Rosières Air Base, France. The reason for the move was that USAFE war planners believed that due to the vulnerability of West Germany to Soviet attack, having nuclear-equipped fighter wings in West Germany made them vulnerable to being quickly overrun by Warsaw Pact forces. By moving them west into France, it would give NATO more time to respond. This movement took most of the summer of that year. The wing reported it was mission-ready at Toul-Rosières on 1st August.
F-100 Super Sabre
The 50th Fighter-Bomber Group was inactivated 8 December 1957 as a result of the 50th adopting the Tri-Deputate organization plan. As result of the group's inactivation, its operational Squadrons — the 10th, 81st and 417th Fighter Squadrons were assigned directly to the wing.
In 1957 USAFE also announced that the 50th FBW would receive the new F-100D Super Sabre. This advanced, supersonic aircraft significantly improved the wing's combat capability and enhanced European air defenses. The 50th FBW was the third and last USAFE fighter wing to convert into Super Sabres and converted to the new aircraft in 1957 and 1958. On 8 July 1958, it became the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing as a result of a worldwide USAF renaming convention, a designation it would carry for almost 35 years.
At about this time, the wing updated its emblem to reflect its new mission and aircraft. The modified design depicted a griffin facing forward and breathing fire with its wings spread. An atomic "mushroom" cloud was centered behind the griffin. Behind the beast's right talon, an olive branch denoted peace. A lightning bolt behind the left talon symbolized the strength and power of the unit's aircraft. The wing would carry this emblem until its inactivation as the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1991.
Along with operating from Toul, the 50th TFW was tasked to support NATO Dispersed Operating Bases in France. In September 1959, with the completion of Luneville-Chenevieres Air Base, became the home of Detachment #2, 50th Air Base Group.
Within a year of rearming with the new F-100s, issues with the runway at Toul AB began with severe surface cracking. This was caused by the weight of the F-100, which was almost double that of the F-86s formerly flown by the Wing. However, a much more severe problem was with the French Government. Political issues with France with regards to non-French military forces stationing nuclear weapons, or nuclear-capable units on French soil led to the United States moving the 50th TFW and other tactical wings out of France.
Pferdsfeld AB, West Germany was initially considered as the new home of the 50th, however it was decided to return the wing to Hahn AB since it was only partially occupied at the time and the runway at Hahn had just been recently re-paved. The wing, its support units, 10th TFS and 81st TFS returned to Hahn AB, West Germany as part of Operation Red Richard. The 417th TFS was detached to the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ramstein AB, West Germany. The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing reported its movement complete to Hahn on 10 December 1959.
For the next several years, 50th TFW Airmen concentrated on becoming the best fighter unit in USAFE. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October and November 1962, the wing hosted the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Moron AB, Spain as part of a massive military buildup. After the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, the 50th TFW resumed normal operations and participated in various exercises and competitions, often with other NATO allies
By the mid-1960s, the Super Sabres were becoming vulnerable to a new generation of Warsaw Pact fighters, such as the Mig-21 and Sukhoi Su-15. In response, the wing's three tactical squadrons, the 10th, 81st, and 417th, began converting to McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs on 8 October 1966.
When the last F-100 left Hahn, 50th TFW aircrews had logged 143,147 flight hours. Throughout the conversion to the F-4D, the 417th TFS remained detached to the 86th Air Division at Ramstein AB. The 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, attached to the 50th TFW but assigned to the 86th Air Division, did not convert to the new F-4D aircraft, instead flying the F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor aircraft.
The wing underwent another organizational change on 15 July 1968. The costs of the ongoing Vietnam War were stretching defense budgets, and the costs of maintaining large United States forces (both Army and Air Force) in Europe, as well as the decision by France to withdrawal from the NATO integrated military alliance led to the development of "dual-based" forces, stationed in the United States, but deployable to NATO in case of a crisis with the Soviet Union. The 417th TFS was reassigned to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and was subsequently reassigned to Tactical Air Command's 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The 417th was "committed" to USAFE, and was planned to deploy to USAFE annually. To replace the 417th, USAFE reassigned the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron back from 86th Air Division to the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. The 417th, however, remained equipped with F-102 interceptors with an air defense mission.
USAFE then selected the 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron as the command's first "Wild Weasel" surface-to-air missile suppression unit. The squadron's primary mission focus changed from ground and air attack roles to location and elimination of threats posed by enemy radar tracking and surface-to-air missile systems. The "Wild Weasel" version of the F-4E (and later the F-4G) could be used as a radar jamming platform or as a search and destroy vehicle.
The 81st TFS moved to Zweibrucken Air Base, West Germany, on 12 June 1971. Though it remained assigned to 50th TFW, 81st TFS was detached from the wing's operational control and attached to the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing. Following these changes, the wing settled into a more routine operations tempo and returned its attentions to maintaining combat readiness. Within two years, USAFE redesignated 496th FIS as a tactical fighter squadron. The squadron converted to the F-4E Phantom, retiring its F-102s.
The wing continued routine training operations throughout the 1970s. In 1976, the 313th Tactical Fighter Squadron was reactivated as a result of the 36th TFW at Bitburg AB receiving F-15 Eagles, and sending a squadron of its F-4E Phantom IIs to Hahn.
F-16 Fighting Falcon
In late 1978 USAFE announced that the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing would test and then field of the new F-16A Fighting Falcon. Arrangements for the tests began with arrival of the first of four teams in November 1978 and continued into 1979. Tests began 20 April 1979, with four F-16A Block 1 aircraft at Hahn Air Base, Germany.
Meanwhile, prompted by the news of the its selection to receive the Air Force's newest fighter, the 50th TFW began construction of new hardened aircraft shelters, additional hangars, maintenance shops and support buildings. In addition contracts were issued for the construction of 300 additional housing units in communities near Hahn AB.
Aircrews focused on training under a new graduated combat capability program that provided specific training events and competency levels for each category of crewmember. Maintenance personnel concentrated on learning F-16 specific requirements and adapted the Production Oriented Maintenance Organization to meet the needs of the new jets and mission. The 313th TFS accepted the first of the wing's new F-16s on 30 December 1981, after a vigorous acceptance inspection—a practice that continues today. Within six months, the last of the 50th TFW's F-4E Phantom IIs departed Hahn AB, after 16 years and more than 176,000 flight hours. A gala marked the addition of the Fighting Falcon to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's arsenal on 9 July 1982. The ceremony included displays of aircraft from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and other countries in the NATO alliance, all of which were programmed to receive the F-16.
For the next several months, 50th TFW crews frequently deployed to Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground training. The training included events designed to improve bombing accuracy and increase air and ground crew performance. Before the 1983 Thanksgiving holiday, the wing would add yet another line to its list of accomplishments. That opportunity arrived in October, when 50th TFW crews took their F-16s to the Air Force's annual worldwide bombing and gunnery competition—Gunsmoke—where they won the overall competition. Additionally, one of the wing's pilots earned the individual Top Gun award. Personnel continued to demonstrate their excellence when one of the wing's weapons load crews earned first place distinction in USAFE and third place overall in an Air Force-wide competition at the end of 1983.
Operational activity by March 1984 reached a fever pitch as the wing participated in several exercises and competitions and prepared for a brief deployment. The wing joined Green Flag exercises held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in March. Green Flag sought to provide realistic combat training with a heavy emphasis on electronic warfare such as anti-aircraft defenses' threat radars.
At Hahn AB, other wing personnel participated in a NATO exercise. During this exercise, two 496th TFS F-16s conducted the first emergency procedures landings on an autobahn. The aircrews landed, refueled from dispatched trucks and launched from a highway near the German air base at Ahlhorn. The wing also prepared for a large-scale deployment to several air bases due to programmed runway repairs at Hahn AB. Aircraft and crews, maintenance specialists and support personnel deployed to Ramstein and Spangdahlem AB and to West Germany's Pferdsfel AB from April to June 1984.
The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing's growing list of accomplishments and recognition continued into 1985 when the wing received notice of its selection for an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period 1 July 1982 through 30 June 1984. This was the fifth such award for the 50th. The 50th TFW's operational tempo did not slow, nor did the wing's receipt of accolades and recognition from its headquarters. The wing replaced its F-16A and F-16B Fighting Falcons for the advanced second-generation F-16C and F-16D in 1986.
HQ USAFE announced on 15 April 1986, that the 313th Tactical Fighter Squadron had earned the USAFE Commander in Chief's Trophy for 1985. Operations and maintenance teams within 50th TFW also received numerous awards at major command level and higher throughout 1986 and 1987, including the Secretary of Defense's Phoenix Award recognizing the best maintenance organization in the Department of Defense.
Post Cold War
By the end of the 1980s, the social, economic, and political turmoil in the Soviet Union had reached a boiling point. The Berlin Wall fell, and a new era in Europe began. Former Soviet republics proclaimed their independence and right to self-determination. Talk in Germany quickly turned to the possibility of reuniting East and West. Debate followed on the future role of American forces in Europe, and worldwide change loomed imminent.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1990, the 50th TFW continued its aggressive training schedule. Meanwhile, American military and government officials debated the new role and structure of the armed forces in light of perceptions of a diminished threat to Western Europe. The changes brought about by events in the Soviet Union and in light of increasing public and governmental concern over the United States' increasing budget deficit. For many, the possibility of any combat activity seemed unlikely, but that perception changed almost in the blink of an eye during the autumn of 1990.
While the wing's aircrews continued their normal operations in West Germany and Turkey, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein resumed a war of rhetoric against Kuwait. As the summer heat in Southwest Asia intensified, so did Hussein's war of words. Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait on 2 August 1990, forcing the Kuwaiti royal family and existing government to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations condemned the invasion, calling for immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Returning to Hahn AB following an October 1990 training deployment to Zaragoza AB, Spain, 10th TFS commander Lt. Col. Ed Houle received notice to prepare his unit for possible deployment. Originally scheduled for a Thanksgiving Day movement, plans changed and called for the deployment of the 10th within 72 hours of the outbreak of hostilities, should that happen.
As the final days of autumn passed and winter began, plans again changed. Word came that the 10th TFS would deploy on 15 January 1991, to fill out the combat strength of the fighter wing at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. United States Central Command readjusted this date twice, finally establishing a deployment date of 1 January 1991. Meanwhile, crews continued to train and make other preparations. The 313th TFS selected six F-16Cs and eight pilots as potential replacements for lost jets and crews.
Thirty F-16Cs left Hahn AB, for Zaragoza AB 29 December 1990. Six served as airborne spares to replace any of the original 24 that might not complete the trip to Al Dhafra. While hundreds of personnel at Zaragoza AB celebrated and welcomed the new year, thirty pilots of the 50th TFW fired their afterburners, drowning the sounds of celebration, and lifted into the darkness bound for the Middle East and the near certainty of combat. When they arrived, aircrews learned they would not employ the low-level procedures they had practiced for use in Central Europe. Instead of low-level ingress and 10- to 30-degree dive angles, they would deliver their payloads from nearly 20,000 feet with ingress angles near 60 degrees. As training progressed, crews from the 10th TFS began sitting alert with crews of the 17th and 33d TFSs, hoping that they might be the first to strike if war erupted.
15 January 1991, passed with Al Dhafra's crews and much of the coalition forces watching events unfold on cable television news. International news broadcasts, beamed via satellite, told of Iraq's refusal to withdraw and the resulting discussions on how the U.N. coalition would proceed. 16 January 1991 was much the same.
Then, with a click of the second hand, Desert Shield became Desert Storm. At 4 a.m. local time 17 January, the first 40-plane strike package left Al Dhafra for targets in Iraq. The 10th TFS flew its first combat sorties of the war later that afternoon, led by squadron commander Lt. Col. Edward Houle. The assigned target for the eight-ship element of the 10th TFS was Al Taqaddum Airfield, near Baghdad—a round-trip of more than 1,400 miles and an eight-hour mission for crews accustomed to training flights of only one to three hours. For nearly six weeks, 10th TFS crews attacked Iraqi airfields, communication centers and military command centers. What few Iraqi fighters did fly were either shot down or chased across the Iraq-Iran border.
After initial attacks against static targets, the 10th TFS crews received new orders. Iraq had begun using Soviet SS-1 Scud missiles in retaliation against the coalition's offensive air strikes, targeting both coalition forces and Israeli civilian population centers. In response, U.S. Central Command ordered search-and-destroy missions against Iraqi mobile and fixed SCUD launchers. Attacking those targets put 10th TFS pilots at greater risk. A good kill required locating and identifying the SCUD's associated radar once it was activated for launch, and the launchers were heavily defended. The squadron's first SCUD patrol mission began 19 January, only three days into Desert Storm.
The mission changed again 23 January. With most of the strategic targets eliminated, the 10th TFS received orders to concentrate on Iraq's Republican Guard units occupying Kuwait and Iraq's southern region. For the Al Dhafra-based crews, this meant bombing any military targets on the road and destroying any pontoon bridges being constructed across the Tigris River. In addition, the wing's crews dropped leaflet bombs over Iraqi positions and civilian centers. For the next month, emphasis centered on counter-SCUD operations and preparing the battlefield for the eventual ground war.
When the ground war began 25 February, crews began flying combat air patrols, protecting and supporting coalition ground forces. This mission, however, lasted only three days. On the morning of 28 February, the offensive ceased to allow Iraqi units to withdraw. After a brief interlude, crews returned to combat air patrols to enforce ceasefire accords that prohibited Iraqi aircraft from operating within defined areas. This provision of the ceasefire sought to protect coalition ground forces, U.N. personnel who would monitor Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions and civilian populations.
With the return of deployed elements from Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1991, the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing was gradually inactivated during the balance of the year. With the reuniting of East and West Germany in October 1990, the Cold War threat of an invasion by the Soviet Union no longer was an issue. The United States was left with a huge excess capacity of expensive airfields in Europe. The 50th had performed its mission successfully in Western Europe and it was now time to end its mission.
As a result, the 50th TFW was inactivated in 1991 after 35 years at Hahn Air Base. The 496th TFS was inactivated on 15 May; The 313th TFS on 1 July, and the 10th TFS on 30 September. The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing was inactivated on 30 September 1991.
On 30 September 1993, Hahn Air Base was turned over to the reunited German government with the exception of a small portion used by USAFE as a communications site. (credits