Bitburg AB

Bitburg Air Base

For the civil airport use of this facility after 1994, see Bitburg Airport
Bitburg Air Base (1952-1994) was a front-line NATO base during the Cold War. It is located 2 miles (3 km) southeast of Bitburg, 20 miles (32 km) north of Trier, and 135 miles (217 km) west of Wiesbaden.

It was the home of the United States Air Force 36th Fighter Wing for over 40 years as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe. It was turned over to the German government on 1 October 1994.

History

Under contract with the United States Air Force, the French Army began construction of what would become Bitburg Air Base in Western Germany's Eifel Mountains in the Rheinland-Pfalz in early 1951. Located in the French zone of occupation, the air base was situated on farm land that had been a Wehrmacht tank staging and supply area for the Battle of the Bulge in early 1944.

The air base and its housing area occupied nearly , with a long runway (with overruns at each end, total length would be 10,200 ft).

36th Fighter Wing

In July 1952 the 53rd Fighter-Bomber Squadron (FBS) from the 36th Fighter-Bomber Wing (FBW), from Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base a few miles west of Munich arrived at the newly-built base. Throughout the summer, elements of the 36th FBW moved into Bitburg, with the wing officially arriving in November 1952. Under various designations, the 36th would remain at Bitburg for the next 40 years.

With its arrival the 36th FBW was equipped with the Republic F-84E "Thunderjet". Operational squadrons were:

In August 1953, the North American F-86F "Sabre" was introduced to the wing, replacing the F-84s. In August 1954, the wing was redesignated as the 36th Fighter-Day Wing. After transitioning to the Sabre the 36th TFW added two new squadrons, the 32nd Fighter Day Squadron from Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, and the 461st Fighter Day Squadron from Hahn Air Base. At first the 36th's F-86 markings consisted of Korean Theater-styled yellow and black-bordered bands, but squadron-specific colored bands were eventually applied to all the 36th FDW Sabres.

F-100 Era

In 1956, the wing received the North American F-100 "Super Sabre," marking the first time a wing in USAFE flew supersonic jets. Squadron-specific colored bands were applied to the tail fins of the F-100s, with five tail stripes for the wing commander's aircraft. On 15 May 1958, the 36th FDW was redesignated as the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), with its squadrons redesignated as Tactical Fighter Squadrons, because its missions had now grown to include delivery of tactical nuclear weapons under NCA and SACEUR direction.

525th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

In January 1959 the 86th Air Division at Ramstein Air Base assigned the 525th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron to Bitburg flying the F-102A/TF-102B Delta Dagger. The 525th FIS became the first European-based F-102 squadron when it received its first aircraft (TF-102Bs) on 3 January 1959. The mission of the 525th was to confront Soviet fighter aircraft over the skies of Western Europe and operated under the USAFE 86th Air Division (Defense) at Ramstein Air Base West Germany on 1 July 1960. This transfer was made in order that all USAF fighter assets in Europe could be concentrated in one command. The F-102As were identified by blue stripes on their tails.

The 525th FIS operated F-102s until December 1969 when it transitioned to a Tactical Fighter Squadron flying F-4Es.

F-105 Era

In November 1959, the 36th was assigned to Seventeenth Air Force. In May1961, the wing received the Republic F-105 "Thunderchief". Formal USAFE acceptance of the Mach 2 fighter-bombers was held at the Paris Air Show on 3 June 1961. Deliveries of the F-105D model were completed in 1963, and the 36th carried on its Cold War mission of tactical nuclear weapons delivery.

The first of the wing's 2-place F-105Fs arrived in March 1964, and all were on base by the end of the year. The F-105Fs performed the same roles and missions as the single-seat D models, except they provided for training new pilots in the thud's characteristics. The F-105s in Europe were specifically designed for the nuclear strike role, with the primary armament being a "special store" (a euphemism for a nuclear weapon) housed in the Thud's bomb bay. This weapon was usually a Mk 28 or a Mk 43 nuclear weapon. However, a Mk 61 store could be carried underneath the left or right inboard underwing pylon and a Mk 57 or a Mk 61 store could be carried underneath the centerline pylon. However, as nuclear conflict became less and less likely in the European theater, the nuclear weapon carried in the bomb bay was usually replaced by a 390-gallon internal fuel tank, the offensive load being carried on four underwing pylons and/or on a pylon mounted underneath the fuselage on the centerline (attached to the bomb bay doors).

F-4 Phantom

By 1966 the Thud was being phased out of NATO, being replaced by the McDonnell F-4D "Phantom II". By December 1966, all the 36th TFW Thuds had been ferried Stateside for combat crew training duties at McConnell AFB, Kansas, or on to warfighting glory in SEA after stateside refurbishment.

During November 1968 the F-102s of the 86th AD were sent to Air National Guard units at CONUS and the 525th FIS was re-equipped with F-4Es and assigned to the 36th TFW. In 1969, the 23rd TFS left the 36th TFW and moved to the new 52nd TFW at neighboring Spangdahlem Air Base. In 1970 the Tail Code concept was established, with the following squadron insignia: 22d TFS "BR", 53d TFS "BT" and the 525th "BU". The 36th would continue to fly the F-4 until 1977, and all Bitburg tail codes were eventually streamlined to read "BT", and the aircraft's squadron was then identified by a color band tail flash.

On 4 January 1969 the 39th Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron from Shaw AFB South Carolina was activated at Spangdahlem Air Base and assigned to the 36th TFW. The 39th TEWS flew the Douglas EB-66C/E "Destroyer" aircraft which engaged in various forms of electronic warfare. The B-66s were identified with tail Code "BV", with a black stripe on tail.

In August 1972 the 52d TFW was activated at Spandahlem. With this activation, the 39th TEWS and the 23d TFS were transferred to the 52d TFW. In September, the F-4Ds of the mid-1960s were replaced with the F-4E model with upgraded avionics and more importantly, the addition of an M61A1 cannon which give the Phantom an increased air-to-air combat capability. The tail coding of the 36th TFW aircraft were also standardized with "BT.

The operational squadrons of the 36th TFW in 1973 were:

F-15 Eagle

By 1976 a major modernization of USAFE was necessary. The Soviet Union's new MiG and Sukhoi fighters made NATO military planners anxious. Indeed, intelligence reports about the MiG-25 left little room for comfort; the performance of this latest Russian combat aircraft was far superior to any NATO aircraft. The twin-engined MiG-25 reached speeds of over 3,000 km/h even at high altitude (over 70,000 ft) and it could be armed with radar-guided AA-6 Acrid air-to-air missiles. When the Soviets stationed large numbers in the Soviet Union and later in the GDR, NATO had to address this problem

Although the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was equipped with modern infrared-guided AIM-9 Sidewinder and radar-controlled AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles, it often proved no match for the maneuverable MiG-19 Farmer and MiG-21 Fishbed fighters over the skies of North Vietnam. While the F-4 was an ideal platform for a great variety of weapons and suit-able for an equal number of different tasks, it had not been developed as a dedicated air superiority fighter.

The solution was provided by the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. Just like the MiG-25 it has two powerful engines and a double tail fin. Its two powerful Pratt & Whitney F-100 turbofan engines provided a thrust of around 12,5110 kg. And with full tanks and armed with four AIM-7F Sparrow air-to-air missiles the F-15A gave a thrust/weight ratio better than 1.1. This is the basis of the Eagle's phenomenal performance. In 1976 that kept the aviation world standing open-mouthed in amazement.

In 1977 Project Ready Eagle brought the McDonnell-Douglas F-15A to the 36th TFW. The first F-15A's arrived at Bitburg on 7 January 1977. These were two TF-15A (F-15B) trainers (serial numbers 75-049 and 75-050), that had flown non-stop from Langley AFB Virginia in seven and a half hours.

These Eagles were to be used primarily for ground crew familiarization in anticipation of the arrival of the 525th TFS's first F-15As. The 23 aircraft for this first operational squadron left Langley on 27 April 1977 for a mass Atlantic crossing. Over the following months the aircraft for two other squadrons (22nd TFS and 53rd TFS) arrived. The 36th TFW's full strength of 79 fully-operational F-15As was reached in December 1977. Project Ready Eagle was completed in precisely one year. In 1980 more advanced F-15Cs and F-15Ds would replace the original F-15As.

On 5 May 1985 President Ronald Reagan visited Bitburg Air Base as part of a visit to Kolmeshohe Cemetery near the town of Bitburg. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl reqested his visit to pay respects to the soldiers interred there.

Desert Shield/Desert Storm

Throuout the 1970s and 1980s, the 36th TFW conducted routine training missions from Bitburg Air Base, however the outbreak of the 1990-19 Gulf War put the F-15s of Bitburg into the heart of the conflict.

The 53d TFS deployed to Al-Kjarj Air Base Saudi Arabia and the 525th TFS flew its F-15s to Incirlik Air Base Turkey as part of USAFE's Joint Task Force Proven Force. During combat over ths skies of Iraq, the 53d TFS F-15s were credited with 11 confirmed kills. The 525th entered combat on 19 January when two F-15s used AIM-7 Sparrow radar missiles to destroy two Iraqi Mirage F-1’s.

During the next six weeks, until the cease-fire, 36th TFW aircraft flew around the clock, protecting two strikes per day and one strike each night. PROVEN FORCE strikes targeted military airfields, nuclear and chemical facilities, communications centers, power plants, and oil refineries and storage facilities in northern Iraq. By the middle of February, PROVEN FORCE was attacking Baghdad. In addition to protecting strikers, the 525th FS was frequently tasked to man barrier caps in eastern Iraq to destroy Iraqi fighters attempting to flee to Iran. These missions, often lasting in excess of five hours, required aircraft to operate over behind enemy lines without any support assets.

The 36th TFW's pilots and aircraft performed magnificently in Operation Desert Storm. Not a single F-15C aircraft was lost in combat during the war. On 13 March 1991, the deployed squadrons of the 36th TFW returned to Bitburg in victory.

The celebration was brief, however, as the 525th TFS deployed back to Incirlik Air Base on 5 April 1991 to support Operation PROVIDE COMFORT.

Following the war against Iraq, numerous Kurdish refugees fled northward from the remaining forces of Saddam Hussein. The United States initiated a vast airlift operation, named Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, to drop food and supplies to these refugees concentrated in Iraq along the Turkish border. Because tensions between the Iraqi and Allied forces in the area remained quite high, the 525 was called back to Turkey in April 1991 to protect the vulnerable Allied cargo aircraft. In addition, the 525th TFW was tasked, as part of the operation, to fly at low altitude over Iraq and provide intelligence updates of Iraqi troop and equipment locations.

Between the 5 April and the 25 May 1991, the 525th flew 285 sorties over Iraq in support of Operation PROVIDE COMFORT. Just as before, not a single aircraft was lost in Iraq due to hostile fire.

Post Cold War Era

Bitburg Air Base was part of the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure (or BRAC) process that saw the drawdown of many military facilities. On 31 March 1992 the 525th "Bulldogs" retired their colors, while the 22nd "Stingers" and 53rd "Tigers" remained at Bitburg Air Base. On 1 November 1992, the 606th Air Control Squadron moved to Bitburg from Basdahl, Germany. In July 1993, HQ USAFE announced another in a series of post-Cold War force drawdowns in Europe which announced the closure of Bitburg Air Base and the pending inactivation of the 36th Fighter Wing.

With the announced closure of Bitburg, on 25 February 1994 the 53d Fighter Squadron was transferred to the 52d Operations Group at Spangdahlem Air Base, along with its F-15 fighters. The 22d Fighter Squadron was also moved to Spangdahlem on 1 April, however neither its personnel, nor its F-15s were transferred to the 52d TFW. The 22d became an F-16C/D Fighting Falcon squadron, replacing the 480th Fighter Squadron. The 606th Air Control Squadron was also assigned to the 52d Operations Group but remained at Bitburg until September 1995 before moving to Spangdahlem.

Along with its operational aircraft and squadrons, the 52d FW also gained Bitburg's 1,200 housing units, its base high school and hospital, and several exchange service and Defense Commissary Agency facilities.

On 1 October 1994 the 36th Fighter Wing was officially deactivated and the final 36th Wing Commander, Brigadier General Roger E. Carleton, presented Bitburg Air Base to the German government. The 36th Fighter Wing was deactivated in place, then reactivated without personnel or equipment at Andersen AFB, Guam the same day, taking over as the host unit there as the 36 Air Base Wing, a non-flying organization.

Bitburg Air Base Base Housing is currently serving as housing for part of the Spangdahlem Air Base and the Bitburg Annex contingents. The base housing is also provided for a nearby Army base in Butzweiler. Bitburg High School is the American high school located on the base, with the mascot being the Barons. There is also a middle school, their mascot is the bobcat.

As of August 2006, the remaining American facilities at Bitburg are in the process of being closed and returned back to the Germans. Americans living in Bitburg base housing are being relocated to Spangdahlem AB.

Temporary Reopening

Between June and September 1997 it was necessary to repair the Spangdahlem Air Base runway, called for a temporary location to accommodate the 52nd Fighter Wing's three squadrons of F-15s and F-16s. The closed Bitburg Air Base was the most logical place - only down the road.

The job entailed resurrecting the former U.S. Air Force flightline and associated fuel tanks that haven't seen multimillion dollar fighter aircraft in over three years. Since its closure, the Bitburg runway had been operated as a small commercial airport. However, it had seen enough flightline maintenance to sufficiently host flying activities, but the fuel tanks had long been separated from the NATO Central European Pipeline system.

A site survey conducted in November 1996 verified the air base would indeed be an ideal site to temporarily support the three fighter squadrons from Spangdahlem. But there was work to be done. The fuel tanks required more work than the flightline. An inspection done by the German Technical Inspection Company approved the use of two 660,000-gallon capacity fuel tanks, however improvements needed to be made which included splash guard dyke and oil water separators. These improvements were made and though the summer of 1997, operational military flying returned to Bitburg.

The USAF departed for the second time in September 1997, and the flightline at Bitburg was returned to the civil aircraft which now call it home.

See also

References

  • Donald, David (2004) Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. AIRtime ISBN 1880588684
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799536
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0887405134.
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Menard, David W. (1998). Before Centuries: USAFE Fighters, 1948-1959. Schiffer Military Books ISBN 1574270796
  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

External links


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