|Country United States|
|Branch United States Air Force|
Part of United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa
The 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW) is part of the United States Air Force's Third Air Force, assigned to Headquarters Air Command Europe and United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). It is based at RAF Lakenheath, England. The 48 FW is the only F-15 wing based in Europe and consists of both F-15C/D Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft as well as a rescue squadron of HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. The 48 FW was given the name "Statue of Liberty Wing" on 4 July 1954 and remains the only U.S. Air Force unit with both a name and a numerical designation.
- Chaumont Semoutiers Air Base
- RAF Lakenheath
- Modern era
- Bases assigned
The 48 FW operates in support of United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa, United States European Command and NATO.
The Liberty Wing has nearly 5,700 active-duty military members, 2,000 British and U.S. civilians, and includes a geographically separated unit at nearby RAF Feltwell. In addition to supporting two squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagle and one squadron of F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft, the Liberty Wing is responsible for the 56th Rescue Squadron's HH-60G Pave Hawk Combat Search and Rescue helicopters.
HistoryFor additional history and lineage, see 48th Operations Group
Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base
On 10 July 1952, the Oklahoma Air National Guard 137th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base, France was redesignated the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The fighter squadrons being redesignated the 492d, 493d, and 494th respectively, the 58 F-84Gs and support aircraft of the ANG were assigned to the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group under the Hobson Plan. The 48th FBW commanded the functions of both the support groups as well as the flying combat 48th FBG. The few National Guardsmen still with the wing departed and the last were released from active duty on 9 July, although a few reserve officers remained on active duty for an additional six to twelve months.
With the F-84, the 48 FBW supported NATO and the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), activities, participating in exercises with the US Seventh Army. In addition, the 48th conducted operational readiness exercises and tactical evaluations. Honing bombing and gunnery skills. The 48th frequently deployed to Wheelus AFB, Libya for training.
The 48th developed into the premier fighter wing in France, serving the longest, from 10 July 1952 through 15 January 1960. The men and women of the 48th worked hard to develop Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base into one of the best air bases in Europe. Its squadrons remained unchanged while flying three different type of fighters, the F-84G, F-86F and the F-100D, and maintaining the capability to fight either a conventional or nuclear war if need be.
An open house was held once a year, with great numbers of French civilians in attendance. In 1954, over 15,000 attended the Armed Forces Day event to see static aircraft displays, watch flight demonstrations, listen to a French army band and other activities. In just over three years since construction began, Chaumont Air Base became an important part of the Haute-Marne region.
To bolster Franco-American relations, the 48th Wing Staff came up with the idea of changing the wing insignia. Chaumont AB is located not far from the workshops of Frédéric Bartholdi – the French architect which designed the Statue of Liberty. The new design incorporated the Statue of Liberty, and throughout Europe the 48th became known as the "Statue of Liberty" Wing. On 4 July 1954 the mayor of the town of Chaumont bestowed the honorary title of the Statue de la Liberté (Statue of Liberty) Wing upon the 48th. It is the only USAF unit with both an official name and a numerical designation.
Not long after the wing proudly took on the title of The Statue of Liberty Wing, the wing's comptroller discovered the factory that had produced the actual Statue of Liberty was only 25 miles from Chaumont. In fact, one of the actual molds still existed. The factory agreed to cast a three-meter replica of the statue for $1,700. The wing raised the funds by raffling off a 1956 French Ford Versailles sedan. The statue still stands in Chaumont as a memorial to the service of the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing in France, with a replica located at RAF Lakenheath.
In November 1953, the wing exchanged its F-84Cs for newer F-86F "Sabre", receiving 75 aircraft, 25 per squadron. Then in late 1956 that the Air Force would exchange the 48th's Sabers for a newer aircraft: the F-100D "Super Sabre".
The larger-bodied F-100 was capable of carrying more ordnance than the F-86 and was one of the first fighters designed to operate at supersonic speeds. 90 single-seat F-100D aircraft were received, along with 13 F-100F dual-seaters.
The wing began realigning its units 15 March 1957, as part of an Air Force worldwide reorganization. The 48th Fighter-Bomber Group was inactivated on 8 December 1957 when its component squadrons were assigned directly to the 48th FBW as the Air Force reorganized its wings into the tri-deputate system.
As part of yet another organization change, the 48th dropped the "Fighter Bomber" designation 8 July 1958, becoming the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. The three flying units also changed designation, becoming tactical fighter squadrons.
Despite the close relationship between the wing and the people of Chaumont, international relationships between France and the US deteriorated in the late 1950s, resulting in French President Charles de Gaulle demanding the removal of NATO forces from the country. Under a project known as “Red Richard,” USAFE relocated its units from France to other locations around Europe. Simultaneously, the advent of the inter-continental ballistic missile had reduced the United States’ dependence on European-based airborne medium-and long ranged bombers
On 15 January 1960, the 48 TFW redeployed to an empty Strategic Air Command heavy bomber base, RAF Lakenheath, England. In the early the wing's three fighter squadrons lifted off Chaumont's runway and, after making farewell passes over the outlying village, headed toward the English Channel.
On 15 January 1960, jet fighters of the 48TFW landed at RAF Lakenheath for the first time. The Royal Air Force used the base during World War II and Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, both flying bomber aircraft. The tactical components of the 48th TFW upon arrival at Lakenheath were:
The squadron markings consisted of alternating stripes across the tailfin in squadron colors, with a shadowed "V" shaped chevron on the nose. Starting in March 1970 squadron tail codes (shown above) were added when the aircraft went from a natural finish to a Southeast Asian camouflage motif.
The wing and its fighters brought a new mission and the first permanent American presence to RAF Lakenheath. The base required a myriad of construction projects to support the mission. Maintenance and flying operations areas required conversions to support fighter operations, and the base needed the creation of a support structure for a permanent host unit.
East Germany's 1961 decision to build the Berlin Wall and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis increased Cold War tensions to an all-time high. In response, RAF Lakenheath served as a rotational base for SAC B-47 and B-52 aircraft throughout the Berlin Crisis. Also in 1962, the 48th TFW came under the operational command of Third Air Force.
Between 1963 and 1972 the wing's F-100 fleet maintained its readiness by participating in a number of USAFE and NATO exercises training to react to possible aggression from the Soviet Union. They underwent a series of NATO tactical evaluations, for which they earned the wing their first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, for the period from 1 July 1961 to 29 February 1964. The wing conducted several deployments to Turkey, Italy, Spain, and across the United Kingdom
On 1 October 1971, the 492d Tactical Fighter Squadron stood down from its NATO commitments, followed by the 493d on 1 December and the 494th on 1 February 1972. The period between 1972 and 1977 can be described as a five-year aircraft conversion. Beginning in late 1971 the 48th TFW started its conversion to the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, with the aircraft being transferred from the 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters. The conversion to the F-4D took several years, with the last F-100 departing in August 1974. With the arrival of the Phantoms, the F-4s adopted a common tail code of "LK". This tail code lasted only a few months as in July and August 1972 the 48th TFW further recoded to "LN". The F-4D carried squadron identifying fin cap colors of blue, yellow and red (492d, 493d, 494th respectively). The squadron conversion dates were:
The F-4's service with the 48th TFW was short as operation "Ready Switch" transferred the F-4D assets to the 474th TFW at Nellis AFB Nevada. The 474th sent their General Dynamics F-111As to the 366th TFW at Mountain Home AFB Idaho, and the 366th sent their F-111Fs to Lakenheath in early 1977. Unlike the previous F-4 transition, the F-111 change took place quickly and without any significant problems. In fact, the wing received its third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for such a smooth transition. Almost immediately after changing aircraft, the wing began a series of monthly exercises and deployments that took the Liberty Wing to Italy, Iran, Greece, and Pakistan.
A fourth fighter squadron, the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated with the 48th TFW on 1 April 1977 with a squadron tail color of green. This was 33 years to the day since the squadron's inactivation. The 495th's mission of functioning as a replacement training unit for the other three fighter squadrons made the 48th TFW unique in two ways. First, it made the 48th the only combat wing in USAFE with four squadrons. Furthermore, it made the 48th the only wing operating with its own replacement training unit. In the same year construction of the airfield's Hardened Aircraft Shelters (acronym: HAS, but commonly referred to as a TAB-VEE) began as part of a wider NATO effort.
By September 1979, the wing had flown the highest number of hours ever recorded in a fiscal year by an F-111 unit. This dedication culminated in the 48th's performance during a joint USAFE Operational Readiness Inspection and NATO Tactical Evaluation in March 1980. As a result, the Secretary of the Air Force selected the 48th TFW for its fourth Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
In the early 1980s the wing struggled with aircraft shortages. Primarily, this resulted from the upgrade to the Pave Tack, a laser guided weapons delivery system. Each aircraft had to process through the upgrade facility at the Air Logistics Center in California. At the same time, the wing had to deal with supply shortages resulting from years of reduced military budgets in the late 1970s.
Operation El Dorado Canyon
By the mid-1980s the "Red Scare" was not the only American fear for national security; terrorists struck targets from bombing of US Marines in Beirut to Berlin, from Rome to Rotterdam. Some of these attacks were attributed to the Libyan government headed by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. In retaliation, U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered a strike against targets in Tripoli, which were carried out by the United States Navy Sixth Fleet and F-111s of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. The F-111Fs from Lakenheath were chosen for their capability to fly long distances and deliver laser-guided munitions with great accuracy.
At approximately 19:00 the evening of 14 April 1986, 24 F-111Fs departed Lakenheath's runway, six of which were airborne spares in the event malfunctions forced any of the primary aircraft to abort. In flights of four, aircrews flew south through the Straits of Gibraltar and began their orchestrated attack shortly after midnight on 15 April. They were targeted on Azziziyah Barracks, the Sidi Balal terrorist training camp, and Tripoli Airport. With the sky lit up from Tripoli's city lights, anti-aircraft tracers, and brilliant surface-to-air missile detonations, determined 48th TFW crews unleashed 60 tons of munitions, damaging their targets. In spite of the mission's success, the Wing experienced a major loss. As the strike force recovered at Lakenheath, both air and ground crews were given the somber news that Major Fernando Ribas (Utuado, Puerto Rico) pilot, and Weapons System Operator Captain Paul Lorence, were missing.
The grueling 14-hour flight took its toll. “Those guys were so fatigued, the crew chiefs literally had to pull some of the crews out of the cockpits,” recalled CMSgt Richard O’Shaughnessy, then a Master Sergeant and weapons flight supervisor. “Most of them actually lost several pounds from sweating so much. When the guys pulled their helmets off, sweat literally poured down their foreheads and necks".
On 8 September 1986, US Navy Secretary John Lehman personally presented the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation to the 48th TFW for its participation in the operation. The 48th TFW is the only Air Force unit to have received this prestigious award. Likewise, General Charles L. Donnelly, Jr., Commander-in-Chief, USAFE, visited RAF Lakenheath on 17 February 1987 and presented decorations to those who participated in the operation. The ceremony ended with a presentation to Captain Lorence's widow Diane, followed by a missing man flyover.
Operation Desert Storm
In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, during the first week of August, Col Thomas J. Lennon, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander, received a call from Headquarters, US States Air Force, asking if the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing was ready to deploy. Colonel Lennon built a team of 13 members from wing leadership, known as the “Lucky 13,” and preparations began for the eventual movement of personnel and F-111s to Saudi Arabia.
On 25 August 1990, 18 F-111s took off from Lakenheath as the first USAFE unit to deploy. In this first group, nearly 500 men and women of the Liberty Wing departed with the assuredness of years of training behind them and a clearly defined mission before them. The 48th TFW deployed more than 60 aircraft and 1,500 personnel to Taif Air Base, Saudi Arabia. The 492d, 493d and 494th TFSs deployed, supplying 66 F-111Fs, which were in place by December 1990. Some aircrew & other members of the 495th TFS were deployed & dispersed throughout its 3 sister squadrons.
During the air war 17 January through 24 February 1991, and subsequent four-day ground war of 24 – 28 February 48th TFW F-111Fs flew thousands of sorties, unleashing their lethality of precision-guided munitions on Iraqi armor, artillery, bridges, military airfields and command and control centers. 48th aircrews even stopped the flow of oil contaminating the Persian Gulf by bombing a pumping installation purposefully damaged by retreating Iraqi forces.
Overall, the 48th TFW flew a total of 1919 combat sorties, totaling 2203 target hits. The Wing returned to RAF Lakenheath 13 May 1991.
Incorporating the lessons learned during the desert operations, the Air Force directed changes that led to the Objective Wing Organization. Beginning in mid-1991, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing began restructuring under this program, realigning its maintenance-fighter squadron work force and establishing several command positions to include the 48th Logistics Group, 48th Medical Group, 48th Support Group, and 48th Operations Group (originally designated the 48th Fighter Group).
The program also redesignated many of the Air Force's units by dropping the "Tactical" from their names. Thus on 1 October 1991, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing was redesignated the 48th Fighter Wing, and the 492d, 493d, 494th and 495th became simply Fighter Squadrons. The 495th FS inactivated on 13 December 1991.
In the midst of the organizational changes, the wing switched aircraft again, exchanging the F-111Fs for the F-15E Strike Eagle. On 21 February 1992, the first F-15E landed at Lakenheath, with the last F-111F departing for units within the US on 16 December 1992. The final F-15E arrived in June 1993 (actually early 2000s), and the wing achieved initial operational capability on 1 October 1993. With this mission change, the 493d Fighter Squadron inactivated on 1 January 1993, only to reactivate again on 1 January 1994. The squadron received its first maintenance trainer F-15C Eagle on 10 January 1994, then its full complement of F-15C & D aircraft by 22 July 1994. This marked the first time that the 48th had flown a specifically air-to-air weapon system, after flying for more than 50 years with an air-to-ground mission.
Since September 2001, in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, various units of the 48th FW have deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom and to Iraq to support Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, and also to various other US allies such as the South Korea.
The wing participated in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya in March 2011. One of the wing's F-15E aircraft crashed in Libya after an unapproved flight maneuver on 21 March 2011, but both crew members survived with minor injuries.