SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As Schriever Air Force Base prepares to celebrate Schriever Week, the 50th Space Wing gears up to celebrate its 68th birthday. In its nearly seven decades of service to the United States, the 50th has distinguished itself on many occasions, and continues to demonstrate it is the Master of Space.
The 50th Space Wing originally activated in the Air Force Reserve June 1, 1949, as the 50th Fighter Wing. At the time of its activation, the wing received a temporary bestowal of the honors earned by the 50th Fighter Group (now the 50th Operations Group) during World War II. Attached to the 33rd Fighter Wing as an associate unit and stationed at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, the 50th Fighter Wing conducted crew training and participated in various exercises in the North Atlantic region, operating the F-51, F-86 and T-6 aircraft. The Air Force ordered the wing to active service June 1, 1951. However, the wing did not deploy to augment combat forces in Korea. Instead, on June 2, 1951, the Air Force inactivated the 50th Fighter Wing.
In response to increasing concerns about Soviet military buildups in Eastern Europe, Tactical Air Command activated the organization as the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing Jan. 1, 1953. Stationed at Clovis Air Force Base, New Mexico, the crews of the 50th Fighter-Bomber Group trained principally in the F-84 and F-51 aircraft while awaiting delivery of their F-86s. By July 1953, the wing had completed its training, and Air Force ordered the movement of the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing to Hahn Air Base, Germany. The wing arrived at Hahn Aug. 10, 1953, and immediately set about completing construction of the installation. With the exception of a three-year tour at Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France, the wing served as the host unit at Hahn AB for the next 38 years.
Led by Air Force officers such as Charles “Chuck” Yeager and Robinson “Robbie” Risner, the wing made a name for itself in the European Theater. Soon after declaring operational capability at Hahn, the wing’s fighter crews and weapons loaders began accumulating awards at various competitions in European and North African ranges. Maintenance and support personnel played an important role in achieving these distinctions—traditions that continued throughout the wing’s history.
While at Hahn (and in France), the wing underwent many changes. As technology advanced, the 50th converted its older aircraft for newer designs. From the F-86, the wing’s crews converted to the F-100, F-104 and F-4. The wing’s air crews also flew the F-102 and F-106 for brief periods of time. The 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing’s inventory even included the Matador missile for a brief time in the mid-1950s. In 1981, the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing began United States Air Forces in Europe’s conversion to the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Chosen to field test the aircraft a few years earlier, USAFE named the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing to be the first unit in its command to receive the advanced fighter.
While at Hahn, the wing earned a large number of unit and individual awards and special honors, including seven Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards from 1970 through 1991. Maintenance and supply organizations each won the Air Force Daedalian Award, at least once, and the maintenance community also earned the Department of Defense Phoenix Award. Throughout the years, the wing’s air crews and maintenance teams were routinely named the best at command and Air Force combat competitions. Air crews won the overall competition at GUNSMOKE ‘83, the first year the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing had competed in much the same way they had won competitions at gunnery ranges in Libya years earlier.
Changes in the threats to the United States and its Western European allies in the late 1980s, which were characterized by the declining influence of the Soviet Bloc, led ultimately to dramatic changes in the composition of United States forces in Europe and the inactivation of the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. Still, the 50th survived draw downs long enough to give a final demonstration of its capabilities.
On Jan. 1, 1991, crews of the wing’s 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron arrived in the United Arab Emirates to fill out the combat strength of the Air Force wing deployed there in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. When Desert Storm began in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, the wing’s air crews were prepared and began taking the offensive to Baghdad, Iraq. Although the offensive phase of Desert Storm was very short in historical perspective, the wing’s air crews flew thousands of missions and delivered thousands of tons of ordnance against communications and command centers, SCUD missile sites and Iraqi Republican Guard positions in only six weeks. Maintenance and weapons teams were crucial to the crews’ ability to comply with fragged mission requirements, keeping the jets and their weapons systems in mission ready status.
Following the war, the wing’s personnel returned to Hahn to find the base preparing for inactivation. On Sept. 30, 1991, the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing inactivated for the second time.
Though the 50th’s flying heritage has come to an end, in about four months, the wing began its unique mission in a new domain – space.
Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series highlighting the 50th Space Wing’s history.