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From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space'
The 1956 U.S. Air Forces in Europe (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing) representatives to the Air Force Fighter Weapons Meet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., included (left to right) Capt. Coleman Baker, Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Yeager, Col. Fred Ascani, Maj. James Gasser and Capt. Robert Pasqualicchio. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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From 'Master of the Sky' to 'Master of Space': 50th FW moves 'there and back again'

Posted 12/13/2006   Updated 12/14/2006 Email story   Print story


by Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian

12/13/2006 - 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 following months, the Satellite Flyer will publish articles describing the wing's distinguished past. This is the fourth article in the series.

New aircraft would not be the only change for the personnel of the 50th, however. With the conversion to the newer F-86H nearly complete on April 15, 1956, the wing began a move to Toul-Rosiere Air Base, France. The 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, under the command of Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Yeager, was the first of the wing's squadrons to relocate. This movement took most of the summer of that year.

The wing reported it was mission-ready at Toul-Rosiere August 1. Almost immediately, U.S. Air Forces in Europe chose the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing to represent the command at the Air Force Fighter Weapons Meet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

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.

Wing personnel returned to more routine duties, training and participating in various air defense exercises. The sense of normality, however, was brief: The 50th Fighter-Bomber Group inactivated Dec. 8, 1957. USAFE reassigned the group's subordinate squadrons--the 10th, 81st and 417th Fighter Squadrons--directly to the wing. Similarly, the 50th Maintenance and Supply Group inactivated, and its squadrons were reassigned to the wing. Only the 50th Combat Support Group remained intact, later expanding its responsibilities to include transportation, comptroller and procurement functions.

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 converted to the new aircraft in 1957 and 1958. On July 8, 1958, it became the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing--a name it would carry for almost 35 years.

Within a year of rearming with the new F-100s, the wing was once again on the move. The wing, its support units, 10th TFS and 81st TFS returned to Hahn AB, West Germany. The 417th also moved from France. Rather than accompanying the wing at Hahn AB, however, the 417th relocated to Ramstein AB, West Germany. The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing reported its movement complete on Dec. 10, 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, oftentimes with other NATO allies.
The wing's three tactical squadrons, the 10th, 81st, and 417th, began converting to McDonnel-Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs Oct. 8, 1966. When the last F-100 left Hahn, 50th TFW aircrews had logged 143,147 flight hours.

Throughout the conversion to the F-4D, 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.
The wing underwent another organizational change July 15, 1968. The 417th TFS moved Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and was subsequently reassigned to Tactical Air Command's 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. To replace the 417th, United States Air Forces Europe reassigned the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron from 86th Air Division to the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Within two years, USAFE redesignated 496th FIS as a tactical fighter squadron. The squadron converted to the F-4E Phantom, retiring its F-102 Delta Daggers.

USAFE then selected the 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron as the command's first "Wild Weasel" 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, June 12, 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.

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