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Our History!

History and Information of the Actual

48th Fighter Wing
>Official FW-48 Liberty Wing Website<

Current Units Within the 48th Fighter Wing:
  • FS-492 Madhatters
  • FS-493 Grim Reapers
  • FS-494 Panthers

Facts About the 48th Fighter Wing

Mission StatementTo provide responsive air combat power, support and services to meet our Allies' and our nation's international objectives.

LocationRoyal Air Force Station Lakenheath, United Kingdom, is located 70 miles northeast of London and 25 miles from Cambridge. Nearly 5,000 U.S. military personnel and 2,000 American and British civilian employees are assigned to the base. RAF Lakenheath is the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England and the only U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) F-15 fighter wing.

TechnologyAs the U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s only F-15 fighter wing, we bring unique air combat capabilities to the fight, such as the most advanced precision guided munitions (GBU-15 and AGM-130), the Rapid Targeting System for near real time, airborne re-targeting and the APG-70 radar, the world’s most advanced in range, tracking, ECCM and ID capability. We provide all-weather, day or night air superiority and air-to-ground precision combat capability and multi-staged improvement program avionics. The F-15E Strike Eagle is the world’s most capable air-to-ground, precision strike fighter, employing PGMs using Low Altitude Night Targeting and Infrared Navigation (LANTIRN) system technology. The F-15C Eagle is the world's premier air-to-air superiority fighter, capable of eliminating enemy air threats anywhere, anytime. When teamed together, the F-15E and F-15C provide an air combat capability never before seen in the history of airpower.

Mission – Historically, the 48th Fighter Wing has been the foundation of USAFE’s combat capability and remains so today. The Liberty Wing led the El Dorado Canyon raids into Libya in 1986 and was the first F-111 fighter unit to deploy to the Gulf during Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. We flew in the nation’s two most recent combat contingencies: Operation NORTHERN WATCH and Operation DELIBERATE FORCE. NATO and U.S. leaders have asserted that if America is needed in this region, the 48th Fighter Wing will be called out first.

Teamwork – The 48th Fighter Wing’s team is the synergy that makes the wing so effective as the Air Force’s largest, mission ready, F-15E/C team. From aircrew to combat support personnel with advanced communication systems, medical support and force protection, each member of the Liberty Wing understands that at its essence, their contributions represent combat capability.

History of the 48th Fighter Wing

World War II, 1941 - 1945

In a presidential message to Congress January 12, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated war within Europe was inevitable. The Third Reich and Japan had developed larger and faster aircraft, some of which might be capable of reaching America’s shores, according to the war department. This development prompted Roosevelt to revamp America’s military planning, stating that "increased range, increased speed, increased capacity of airplanes abroad have changed our requirement for defensive aviation."
In May 1940, the U.S. Army Air Crops formulated plans to meet the president’s call for increased aircraft production. This plan, aimed at bolstering America’s airpower at her off-shore installations and territories, included the addition of nearly 80,000 men and 41 combat groups.
As part of the war department’s plan, the Army Air Corps activated the 48th Bombardment Group (Light) January 15,1941. Assigned to the group was a complement of four combat units--the 55th, 56th, 57th and 88th Bombardment Squadrons. For the first two years of its life, as was the case with many of its sister units, the group and its squadrons underwent a series of re-designations and transfers to meet Air Corps operational needs. Designations changed from Bombardment Group (Light) to Bombardment Group (Dive) in September 1942 and again to Fighter-Bomber Group in August 1943. The squadrons were also redesignated as the 492nd, 493rd, 494th and 495th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons.
Primarily a replacement training unit, the 48th participated in experimental joint Army-Air Corps maneuvers to evaluate close air support and air-to-ground tactics. The group even flew coastal patrol sorties in Mississippi and South Carolina between 1942 and 1943.
As units moved from their stateside training locations to overseas combat areas, training units like the 48th often found themselves flying numerous types of aircraft. Between 1941 and 1943, the 48th flew the A-20 "Havoc," the A/B-18 "Shrike," the A-24 "Banshee," the A-31/35 "Vengeance," the A-36 "Mustang,"--an attack version of the P-51 that included special wing speed flaps for fast dives--the P-39 "Airacrobra," and P-40 "Warhawk."
Restless to enter the war in Europe, the 48th received its wishes in February 1944 when the war department ordered the 48th to England as part of the buildup for the eventual invasion of fortress Europe. General Headquarters, Army Air Corps, directed three fighter squadrons and support elements of the 48th to be in place by March 30, 1944, to begin combat training. The 495th remained in the United States as a training unit and was subsequently disbanded in May 1944.
By March 15, the bulk of the 48th was aboard ship, headed for a small southwestern airfield in the English countryside named lbsley.
lbsley proved to be just like any other wartime airfield. It contained a few quickly contracted Quonset Huts and dirt runways fortified with steel matting all set under a canopy of constant drizzle. Many of the men were billeted in tents and nearby farmhouses since construction efforts couldn’t keep up with the massive buildup. The tool to complete their mission was the P-47 "Thunderbolt." Called the "Jug" because of its ungainly appearance, the P-47 had the tendency to rotate to the left because of the engine’s tremendous torque. Training sorties with the new fighter began during the last week of March, and by the second week of April, the bulk of the group’s pilots had flown at least three sorties.
Just days later, April 20,1944, nervous pilots listened to the morning’s mission brief, learning they would be one of several fighter-bomber groups tasked to confuse German defenses along France’s coastline.
As part of the 9th Tactical Air Command, the 48th was tasked to attack anti-aircraft and coastal artillery batteries under construction. By June 5, the group accounted for more than 1,600 combat sorties, dropping 200 tons of bombs on enemy fortifications. Pilots flew another 1,900 sorties between June 6 - 30 to support the D-Day landings. Those sorties meant life or death for a quarter of a million men clinging to nothing but loose sand and a few yards of bloody earth in an attempt to liberate France. A number of 48th Fighter Group pilots didn’t return from those D-Day missions. Some collided with trees while pinning down enemy forces while others died trying to fly their crippled P-47s back home.
Payday occurred June 12 when members of the 493rd Fighter Squadron scored three aerial victories - the group’s first, but certainly not last. As the Allied foothold slowly pushed the Germans across Europe, the 493rd scored more victories in August, while the 492nd sent three more German aircraft spiraling to earth Sept. 21.
The group’s greatest World War II legacy lies not with its fighter kills, but its close air support. Operating from former Luftwaffe airfields in France, the group supported the Allied break through at St. Lo in July, the drive across France in August and provided air cover during the airborne attack on Holland in September.
Heroic flying in 1944 earned the 48th numerous Distinguished Unit Citations. Also, from December 18 through January 17, the group supported operations during the Battle of the Bulge and received its third citation in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for relentless assaults against formidable Panzer units. Along with the citation, the group was awarded the Belgian Fourragere.
Throughout the remainder of the war, the 48th continued its tactical operations from bases in Germany and Belgium by supporting ground forces and flying patrol, escort, weather reconnaissance and leaflet missions. On one occasion, some of the group’s pilots even dropped blood plasma in belly tanks to needful ground forces. Finally, May 8, 1945, the group flew its final mission from Illesheim, Germany, and then moved to Seymour Johnson Field, N.C., where it was inactivated November 7.
Here ended the story of the original 48th.

Chaumont Era, 1952 - 1960
Because of the mounting concern of communist aggression in Korea and Europe in the early 1950s, the United States rapidly expanded its air forces, increasing the number of combat wings from 48 in 1950 to 95 in June 1952. Thus the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing was born July 10, 1952, as part of that new concept.
Construction at Chaumont began in late 1951 and by the time the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing arrived in May 1952, all that existed was two prefabricated aircraft maintenance hangars, tarpaper shacks for office space, and a concrete runway.
Assigned to 12th and later 17th Air Force, the 48th FBW contained four groups: 48th Fighter-Bomber Group, 48th Maintenance and Supply Group, 48th Air Base Group and 48th Medical Group. The 492nd, 493rd and 494th Fighter Squadrons were again activated and assigned to its original combat group. Wing flying assets included 58 F-84Gs, six T-33s, two C-47s, one T-6 and one L-5B. The F-84Gs and T-33s belonged to the combat group while the other aircraft met maintenance and supply needs.
New name, new aircraft
In 1954, the wing exchanged its F-84Cs for newer F-86F "Sabers." The 48th also received its name, the Liberty Wing, July 4, 1954. It was bestowed upon the wing by the French people because of the area’s long association with Americans. The mayor and citizens of Chaumont were so fond of the wing that they gave the wing the unofficial name of the Statue de la Liberte wing because Bartholdi, original designer of the statue in New York Harbor, had his workshops only a few miles from the air base. In the spring of 1956 a bronze three-meter statue was created from the original Statue of Liberty molds.
On the operations side, crews diligently trained for their NATO strike missions, often deploying to Morocco for bombing and gunnery training. But transition was not far off for the 48th.
The wing received word in late 1955 that the Air Force would exchange the 48th’s Sabers for a newer aircraft: the F-100D "Super Saber." 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.
Reorganization, then re-designation
The wing began realigning its units March 15, 1957, as part of an Air Force worldwide reorganization. Combat groups were inactivated, assigning the unit’s fighter mission to the wing. The same process was applied to the 48th Maintenance and Supply group. Its supply and transportation elements were attached to the 48th Air Base Group while the newly activated 48th Field Maintenance Squadron assumed maintenance responsibilities.
As part of yet another organization change, the 48th dropped the "Fighter Bomber" designation July 8,1958, becoming the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing - a designation that would last more than 30 years. The three flying units also changed designation, becoming tactical fighter squadrons.
A change in residence, however, loomed on the horizon for the 48th. Disagreements arose concerning atomic storage and custody issues within NATO, resulting in a decision to remove Air Force atomic-capable units from French soil.
Simultaneously, the advent of the inter-continental ballistic missile had reduced the United States’ dependence on European-based airborne medium-and long ranged bombers.
One of the bases vacated by rotating Strategic Air Command units was a former World War II airfield, nestled away in the East Anglian countryside called Royal Air Force Lakenheath. In the early morning hours of Jan. 15,1960, 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.

The Lakenheath Era, 1960 - present
When the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing’s first F-100D touched down on RAF Lakenheath’s runway January 15, 1960, the landing symbolized a return for the Liberty Wing. Almost 16 years had passed since the 48th Fighter Group’s arrival at Ibsley, England, for the D-Day invasion. One of the 48th Fighter Group’s original members, present when the group first occupied lbs1ey, was assigned to the Liberty Wing in 1960. MSgt. James Watcher, a bomb-loading private in 1944, returned to RAF Lakenheath as a munitions supervisor.
"I really enjoyed England the first time, but I think I’m going to enjoy this tour even more because I don’t have to look for Messerschmitts,"’ he said. "Even better, I don’t have to watch our pilots take off and wonder if they’ll be coming back."
As Strategic Air Command elements began their departure, the 3910th Air Base Group began its transition of handing RAF Lakenheath’s facilities and real estate over to the 48th’s support elements. While SAC had upgraded numerous World War II-era facilities and lengthened the runway, the wing initiated an ambitious, multimillion dollar construction project to facilitate its three fighter squadrons and support elements. Further, housing plans were begun to ease the strain on local communities dealing with 2,000 additional military people and their families.

New crises and new name
Upon their arrival, Liberty Wing pilots began an intense training schedule to meet the wing’s NATO strike commitment. Support personnel also became inundated with the tasks of getting the 48th’s fleet of 60 F-100Ds fully operational. With the Cold War heating up, the wing’s regeneration efforts paid off in many ways.
East Germany’s decision to build the Berlin Wall and the Missile Crisis in Cuba increased Cold War tensions to an all-time high, as wing F-100s augmented National Guard aircraft in Germany for rotational alert duties under Operation Stair Step. RAF Lakenheath also served as a rotational base for Strategic Air Command B-47 and B-52 aircraft throughout the Berlin Crisis. This requirement ended in mid-1963 during an Air Force-wide reorganization.
In 1962, the Air Force approved the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing’s emblem, thereby officially making the wing one of the only units with a numerical and lettered designation. At about the same time, the Liberty Wing came under the operational command of 3rd Air Force.
Between 1963 - 1972, the wing’s F-100 fleet maintained its readiness by participating in a number of USAFE and NATO exercises. Operation Round Robin found Liberty Wing pilots deployed to other NATO bases to evaluate aircraft cross-servicing procedures and combined air tactics. Crews also flew ROULETTE missions to evaluate 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force intercept capabilities. Periodic MAX EFFORT exercises, similar to today’s sorties surges, were conducted in conjunction with other tactical fighter units to test air-to-air intercept and coordinated close air support training, Wing pilots also found themselves in Turkey, Libya, Norway and locations in between during combined NATO deployments such as POLAR EXPRESS, BARKING PUP, QUICK TRAIN, and DERBY TIME.

Phantoms and Aardvarks
The period between 1972 and 1977 can be described as a five-year aircraft conversion. In late 1971, the Air Force announced plans to exchange each fighter squadron’s F-100Ds for F-4Ds. The Liberty Wing’s first F-4D arrived January 7, 1972, assigned to the 492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron. The last F-100D left Lakenheath’s runway April 15, 1972, completing the first of two aircraft conversions.
By December 1973, the wing only possessed 26 F-4 aircraft. External demands for the Phantom, which included foreign military sales, precluded fighter arrivals. It took until March 1975 for the last of the three fighter squadrons, the 494th, to achieve initial operational capability with the new weapon system.
No sooner had Liberty Wing crews become familiar with their new Phantoms when the Air Force again announced that Lakenheath would be the new beddown location for the F-111F, Aardvark. The F-111F, with its sophisticated avionics, state-of-the-art weapons delivery mediums, and extended range, would provide USAFE and NATO with an unparalleled strike capability anywhere within NATO’s scope of operations.
The transition was part of a three-way aircraft transfer. The wing received its complement of F-111Fs from the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, transferred its F-111As to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, while Nellis received the wing’s complement of F-4Ds. The first three F-111Fs set down at Lakenheath March 1, 1977.
In preparation for the new weapon system and its unique training requirements, USAFE activated the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron April 1, 1977. 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 wing unique in two ways. First, it made the 48th the only combat unit in USAFE with four squadrons. Furthermore, it made the 48th the only wing operating with its own replacement training unit. The 495th ended its mission December 13, 1991 when the wing reorganized under the objective wing program and began its transition to the newer F-15E "Strike Eagle."
The switch that brought the F-111s to RAF Lakenheath went so smoothly that the wing received its third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. With little time to bask in it achievements, the wing increased its training tempo to meet aircrew training and NATO readiness requirements. Air and ground crews deployed to Italy, Turkey, Iran, Greece and Pakistan, which offered flying opportunities and air-to-ground ranges. At home, monthly exercises honed combat skills to a fine edge. 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.

Eldorado canyon and the gulf conflict
During the night of April 14,1986, President Reagan exercised a military option that would send a message to any country sponsoring terrorism. In a combined action with U.S. Navy carrier-based aircraft, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-111Fs launched from RAF Lakenheath and struck military targets within Libya. Previous intelligence indicated that Libya and its leader, Col. Mohmar Qadafi, had sponsored many terrorist attacks.
Launching from RAF Lakenheath at 7 p.m., Liberty Wing crews flew around Spain, through the Strait of Gibraltar and bombed their targets around Tripoli. Seen as a success, the wing also experienced a loss when one of its crews failed to return.
But the Liberty Wing’s involvement in the Middle East was far from over. After several threats, Iraq invaded Kuwait August 2,1990. That day, the 48th TFW began organizing for possible shipment to Saudi Arabia and other locations identified by the U.S. Central Command under the direction of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. By Sept. 18, planning included at least a package of 24 F-111s. By August 1991, mere days before the coalition launched the air war against Saddam Hussein’s military forces in Kuwait, the Liberty Wing had more than 60 aircraft and 1,500 personnel deployed to Taif, Saudi Arabia. In response to lraq’s sudden aggression, President Bush replied, "Iraq has thrown down the gauntlet and we have picked it up. There is no compromise."
During the air war Jan. 17 through February 24, 1991, and subsequent four-day ground war of February 24 - 28, Liberty Wing 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.
All the wing’s personnel returned to RAF Lakenheath by May 13, ending for many what proved to be a 10-month ordeal. But, as was commonplace in the 48th’s history, many returned to find the wing in yet another transition. In mid-1991, the wing begun restructuring under the objective wing program, realigning its maintenance-fighter squadron work force and establishing several command positions to include the logistics group, operations group, medical group and support group commanders. The program also redesignated the majority of the Air Force’s tactical units. The 48th Tactical Fighter Wing became the 48th Fighter Wing October 1, 1991, drawing upon the heritage of the wing’s predecessor, the 48th Fighter Group. Aircraft transfers also began as the first F15E "Strike Eagle" arrived February 15,1992. By December 1992, all the wing’s F111Fs departed for units within the United States, signifying yet another historic precedent for the Liberty Wing.
No sooner had the F-15Es arrived at Lakenheath than the 48th received word that it would be receiving additional aircraft. But, unlike the wing’s previous 50 years of air-to-ground operational history, this time the mission would be air superiority. Beginning in November 1993, F-15Cs began touching down at RAF Lakenheath with the familiar gold and black tails of the 493rd Fighter Squadron which subsequently activated on January 1, 1994 to facilitate the new mission. Not only did this set a historical precedent in the 48th’s 50-plus year history, the 493rd’s new mission set further records when the 48th became the largest F-15E/F-15C composite unit in the U.S. Air Force. No sooner had the 493rd Fighter Squadron’s state of the art F-15Cs touched down on Lakenheath when they were called to support the no-fly zones above Iraq and later Bosnia as part of Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and DELIBERATE GUARD, operations which the squadron continues to support.
Even though the Liberty Wing’s excellent record and string of historical precedents set it in the forefront of Air Force history, the wing made world history between October 1998-June 1999 when it was called to simultaneously support two separate air operations from three separate geographic locations. The wing deployed 12 F-15Cs to Cervia Air Base, Italy, in October 1998, while F-15Es deployed to Turkey in December and began dropping precision-guided munitions on Iraqi surface-to-air threats. Meanwhile, additional F-15Es deployed to Italy over Serbian intransigence regarding atrocities against Kosovar Albanians by Serbian military units. In the meantime, F-15Cs deployed to Turkey to fulfill the air superiority mission above Iraq followed by an additional 12 F-15Cs deployed to Italy for Operation ALLIED FORCE. In a truly astounding feat of military logistics, airmanship and maintenance by ground crews, the wing engaged hostile forces in both Iraq and Serbia from two locations in Italy and Turkey and later the United Kingdom. What made the feat even more astounding was that the wing flew over 1,000 combat missions without losing one aircraft or aircrew—another precedent in the wing’s long history.

Text from the Official 48th FW website