Schriever Air Force Base   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

News > Commentary - What is an Opinicus?
What is an Opinicus
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- (U.S. Air Force graphic)
Download HiRes
What is an Opinicus?

Posted 7/13/2011   Updated 7/13/2011 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian

7/13/2011 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Did you ever wonder about the wing's emblem? Have you ever asked where it came, what it means or just what exactly is that beast?

Military units have identified themselves with heraldic emblems since medieval times. The practice began as a way for peasant armies to identify their units in battle. Through the use of unit flags, each with a unique design, soldiers could locate their units on the battlefield and regroup for attack or defense. These flags, in most cases, depicted the coat of arms of the king or knight of whom the peasants had been hired or forced to defend. Each design was unique because it was identified with a particular family. As long as that family existed, the coat of arms passed on from generation to generation, unchanged. This tradition also passed through the European armies to the United States and to other countries.

In heraldry, not much has changed since the medieval period. In fact, emblems for military units are still described in medieval english. The emblem of the 50th Space Wing, for example, is described as: "Azure, an Opinicus passant argent, all within a diminished bordure or." Roughly, this translates to: "On a blue background, a silver Opinicus, passing with wing's raised, all within a yellow or gold border.'

However, this leaves one important question. What is an Opinicus? According to heraldic dictionaries, the Opinicus is of medieval origin. Its origin is associated with the Crusades, and other religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land. When combined with the Age of Romance, beginning around the 12th Century, and with the expansion of the Arthurian Legends, a popular taste grew for "fabulous beasts." Thus the demand for these notional creatures grew. In heraldic terms, these beasts were called "monsters," a word used to identify most mythological and other imaginary creatures. The first heraldic use of the Opinicus seems to be tied to a British unit.

The Opinicus itself derives from the Griffin or Gryphon, which has the head, breast, foreclaws, and wings of an eagle, and the hindquarters and tail of a lion. It also has ears. Such a creature symbolizes great strength and agility, a combination of the king of the skies and the king of the beasts. The Opinicus has a griffin's head, neck, and wings, a lion's body and a bear's tale.

The wing's emblem originally identified the 50th Fighter Group and was developed and approved for use during World War II. In 1954, the wing adopted the group's emblem as its own. In 1956, the wing changed the emblem. The Opinicus became a Griffin breathing fire and facing frontwise as if attacking. Behind the Griffin is an atomic cloud. Clutched in the right talons is an olive branch and in the left talons a lightning bolt.

In March 1992 Gen. Merrill  McPeak, Air Force chief of staff, directed Air Force organizations to return to their original emblems to preserve the link to their combat histories. For the 50 SW, that meant a return to the original emblem developed and used by the 50th Fighter Group in World War II and adopted by the wing in 1949. This change preserved the unit's heraldry and was formally approved in the summer of 1992.

But what does this emblem mean? The ultramarine blue background symbolizes the vastness of space, the primary theater of the wing. Yellow refers to the sun and the excellence required of all Air Force personnel. The Opinicus, with the strength of a lion and the bold flight of an eagle illustrates the functions of the wing.

Each Air Force squadron is entitled to a unique and distinctive unit emblem, and all squadrons assigned to the 50th Space Wing have registered emblems. For information on your squadron's emblem, contact the wing History Office at 560-6877.

11/12/2013 9:13:43 PM ET
Nice article. Thanks
allen, nh
Add a comment

 Inside Schriever AFB

ima cornerSearch

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act