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News > From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space': 50th gets Sabres, begins tour at Hahn AB
From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space'
The 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing flew F-86F Sabres out of Hahn Air Base, West Germany, during the early years of the Cold War. The 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., traces its history back to the 50th FBW. (U.S. Air Force archive photo courtesy of Randy Saunders)
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From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space': 50th gets Sabres, begins tour at Hahn AB

Posted 11/29/2006   Updated 11/29/2006 Email story   Print story


by Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian

11/29/2006 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Editor's note: As the Air Force prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007, a look back at the 50th Space Wing's journey is appropriate. Throughout the year, the Satellite Flyer will publish articles describing the wing's distinguished past. This is the third article in the series.

While construction continued at Hahn Air Base, Germany, in 1952, the Air Staff redesignated the 50th Fighter-Interceptor Wing as the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing and placed it in active status Nov. 15. The Air Staff assigned the wing to the Tactical Air Command for activation, which occurred Jan. 1, 1953.

Concurrently, the 50th Fighter-Interceptor Group activated as the 50th Fighter-Bomber Group (later renamed 50th Operations Group) and became the wing's primary combat element. The group consisted of two of its original World War II squadrons: the 10th and 81st Fighter Squadrons.

Originally assigned to Clovis (later Cannon) Air Force Base, N.M., for training, the wing resumed flight operations in the F-51 Mustang. Before long, the wing replaced its propeller-driven Mustangs with jet-powered, F-86F Sabres. As the conversion to the F-86F continued in the spring and early summer of 1953, crews and maintenance personnel continued their training in the Sabre. Once training levels for pilots and aircrews had reached operational levels, the 50th FBW began preparations for its move to Germany.

Sailing from Galveston, Texas, to Bremerhaven, Germany aboard the USNS General M. B. Stewart, the 50th FBW began its first Atlantic crossing; it was the third such trip for the 50th FBG. From Bremerhaven, 50th FBW moved by rail to its new home at Hahn AB, completing the journey in August 1953, and reported to its new headquarters, 12th Air Force.

At Hahn AB, the wing completed its fighter squadron complement with the assignment of the 417th Fighter Squadron. Although the 417th FS was not one of the 50th Fighter Group's original units, the squadron had been stationed with the group at Giebelstadt, Germany, during the final days of the war. Soon thereafter, 50th FBW became the first tactically operational Air Force wing in 12th Air Force's jurisdiction.

The movement of 50th FBW and its F-86F aircraft to the European mainland was one of several events that revealed and responded to a worsening of American-Soviet relations. The former allies deeply felt a mutual distrust and uneasiness that came to characterize a Cold War that would last nearly 40 years.

The buildup of American forces in Europe sought to quell any Soviet expansionist interests in the region by strengthening NATO, thereby demonstrating Western resolve to disallow any expansionist political or military activities.

Arriving at Hahn AB under the command of Col. Wallace Ford, the wing delayed unpacking all but its mission-critical cargo and put off other routine activities to participate immediately in Exercise Monte Carlo. The purpose of this staged combat employment drill was to illustrate the power and capability of the European allies' air defense forces. During the brief operation, 50th FBW's air crews flew 124 simulated aggressor combat sorties, including 52 in only four hours.

In line with a stepped-up training program, which United States Air Forces in Europe initiated in 1954, 50th FBW aircrews spent six weeks at the Wheelus Field range in Tripoli, Libya, to improve their air-to-air combat and ground attack skills.

Demonstrating their prowess in both facets of their mission, the F-86F crews of 50th FBW flew 3,062 effective sorties in those six weeks and scored higher in both air-to-air and air-to-ground events than any other unit assigned to 12th Air Force.

By 1955, USAFE had initiated an annual, command-wide aerial gunnery competition at the Wheelus Field ranges. During the first such event, held July 30, 1955, the "straight shooting" pilots of 50th FBW more than duplicated their achievements of the previous year, taking top honors in the command.

While the victory at the gunnery competition was still fresh, the wing began modernizing its aircraft fleet. The first of the wing's new F-86H Sabres arrived at Hahn AB Oct. 21, 1955. Conversion continued throughout the winter of 1955 and spring of 1956, ending in May.

While 50th FBW prepared for and converted to the 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 Tactical Missile Squadron at Hahn, which operated the TM-61 "Matador" missile.

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