SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Ever wonder what that beast is on the wing's and groups' flags? Ever think, "What's the big deal, anyway? It's just a flag."
More than an emblem on our wing flag and our uniforms, that beast is a big deal. It represents the men and women of the unit, it symbolizes the organization's characteristics, and it continues a military tradition that dates to the 12th century.
Military units have identified themselves with heraldic emblems since medieval times. Emblems for military units are still described in medieval English.
The emblem of the 50th Space Wing is described as azure, an opinicus passant argent." Roughly, this translates to a silver opinicus, wing's raised as if passing, on a field of blue.
Ultramarine blue and yellow are the Air Force colors. Blue 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 illustrate the characteristics of the wing and its personnel.
The opinicus is of medieval origin. It 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. The opinicus has a griffin's head, neck and wings, a lion's body and a bear's tail.
Emblems are the "family crests" or coats of arms of military organizations, and they are treated similarly. Changes only allowed in extreme instances. They identify a unit's lineage so that its ancestry can be traced through the emblem.
Our wing's emblem originally identified the 50th Fighter Group and was developed and approved for use during World War II. The pilots of the 50th FG scored 51 aerial victories. Capt. Robert Johnston of the 81st Fighter Squadron scored six aerial victories, making him the wing's only ace. The wing adopted the group's emblem when it activated in 1949.
In 1953, the wing adopted a new emblem featuring an opinicus standing, facing left, grasping lightning bolts and an olive branch. This emblem sought to modernize the opinicus to a fearsome beast. The olive branch and lightning rod, common in emblems of the era, reflected the Air Force's mission of achieving peace through strength. Famous Air Force test pilot Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, then a lieutenant colonel, commanded the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron under this emblem.
In 1956, the wing began flying nuclear-capable aircraft, and the emblem changed again. The opinicus became a griffin breathing fire and facing forward as if attacking, with an atomic cloud behind it. Behind the right talons was an olive branch, and behind the left talons, a lightning bolt.
In March 1992, changes in heraldry rules required the removal of nuclear symbols from Air Force emblems. The 50th SW returned to the emblem developed and used by the 50th FG in World War II. This change served to preserve the unit's heraldry and to demonstrate the link between the 50th SW and the 50th FG.
Copies of all squadron and group emblems can be found at on the Schriever intranet and on Schriever's Air Force Public Web site under www.schriever.af.mil/art