March 23, 2009 (by Randy Saunders) - U.S. Air Forces in Europe announced in late 1978 that the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing would test and then field the new F-16A Fighting Falcon.
The 50th TFW at Hahn AB received their first F-16s in 1979. Seen in this photo is USAF F-16A block 15 #80-0556 from the 10th TFS. [USAF photo by Randy Saunders]
Arrangements for the tests began with arrival of the first of four teams in November 1978 and continued into 1979. Tests began April 20, 1979, with four F-16s at Hahn Air Base, Germany.
Meanwhile, prompted by the news of the its selection to receive the Air Force's most advanced fighter, the 50th TFW began construction of aircraft shelters, hangars, maintenance shops and contracted for the construction of 300 additional housing units in communities near Hahn AB.
Aircrews focused on training under a new graduated combat capability program that provided specific training events and competency levels for each category of crewmember. Maintenance personnel concentrated on learning F-16 specific requirements and adapted the Production Oriented Maintenance Organization to meet the needs of the new jets and mission.
The 313th Tactical Fighter Squadron accepted the first of the wing's new F-16s Dec. 30, 1981, after a vigorous acceptance inspection--a practice that continues today. Within six months, the last of the 50th TFW's F-4E Phantom IIs departed Hahn AB, after 16 years and more than 176,000 flight hours.
A gala marked the addition of the Fighting Falcon to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's arsenal July 9. The ceremony included displays of aircraft from Norway
, the Netherlands
and other countries in the NATO
For the next several months, 50th TFW crews frequently deployed to Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, to conduct air-to-air and air-to-ground training. The training included events designed to improve bombing accuracy and increase air and ground crew performance.
In April 1983, Col. John Davey, 50th TFW commander, reduced the frequency and duration of the training deployments and declared the squadrons operationally ready in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. Three months after Colonel Davey's pronouncement, the wing had the opportunity to demonstrate its combat readiness in its first USAFE
Operational Readiness Inspection and NATO Tactical Evaluation with the F-16. By this time, success in tactical evaluations and competitions had become familiar entries in the wing's history. The July 1983 tests were no exception.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, the wing would add yet another line to its list of accomplishments. That opportunity arrived in October 1983, barely three months after the ORI, when 50th TFW crews took their F-16s to the Air Force's annual worldwide bombing and gunnery competition--Gunsmoke--where they won the overall competition. Additionally, one of the wing's pilots earned the individual Top Gun award.
Personnel continued to demonstrate their excellence when one of the wing's weapons load crews earned first place distinction in USAFE and third place overall in an Air Force-wide competition at the end of 1983.
Operational activity by March 1984 reached a fever pitch as the wing participated in several exercises and competitions and prepared for a brief deployment. The wing joined Green Flag exercises held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in March. Green Flag sought to provide realistic combat training with a heavy emphasis on electronic warfare such as anti-aircraft defenses' threat radars.
At Hahn AB, other wing personnel participated in a NATO exercise. During this exercise, two 496th TFS F-16s conducted the first emergency procedures landings on an autobahn. The aircrews landed, refueled from dispatched trucks and launched from a highway near the German air base at Ahlhorn.
The wing also prepared for a large-scale deployment to several air bases due to programmed runway repairs at Hahn AB. Aircraft and crews, maintenance specialists and support personnel deployed to Ramstein and Spangdahlem ABs and to West Germany's Pferdsfel AB from April to June 1984.