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480th activated as Spangdahlem's newest F-16 squadron

August 13, 2010 (by 1st Lt. Kathleen Polesnak) - The 480th Fighter Squadron is the 52nd Fighter Wing's newest F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron as of 13.48h today at an activation ceremony held in a hangar.

Col. Jackson Fox, 52nd OG commander presents the 480th FS guidon to Lt. Col. Andrew Wolcott, 480th FS commander, as he assumes command on August 13th, 2010. The 480th is Spangdahlem’s newest F-16 squadron and took on the motto 'From Escardrille to Warhawks' to signify its geographical ties to the Lafayette Escadrille in France. [USAF photo by SSgt. Logan Tuttle]

The new squadron comes after the Combat Air Forces Restructuring plan transitioned 21 F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 22nd and 23rd fighter squadrons here to the 148th Fighter Wing located at Duluth Air National Guard Base in Minnesota. As a result, the wing inactivated the two squadrons and activated the 480th FS, which holds significant historical precedence to the base and region, said Col. Jackson Fox, 52nd Operations Group commander.

Colonel Fox oversees all aircraft operations here and was the presiding officer for the squadron activation ceremony, whereby the 22nd Fighter Squadron was officially inactivated and the 480th FS was reactivated for the first time in 16 years.

"Activating the 480th here at Spangdahlem Air Base continues our wing's proud tradition of heritage while moving forward into the future," Colonel Fox said.

Reigniting heritage

The 480th was first activated as the 480th Fighter Bomber Group, flying F-100 Super Sabres in 1957 at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, then re-equipped with F-4C Phantom IIs and moved to Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, in 1966.

In November 1967 a member of the 480th, Capt. Lance Sijan, was shot down and badly injured in North Vietnam. Despite his injuries he evaded enemy forces for more than 40 days and then, when captured, managed to escape briefly. Captain Sijan later died in a prison camp and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1969 the squadron moved to Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam, scoring nine MiG kills, including the first MiG-21 kill of the war.

The 480th began its service at Spangdahlem when it moved to the base in 1976, flying F-4D Skyrays, then F-4G Advanced Wild Weasels as part of the Wild Weasel mission. In 1987, the 480th started flying F-16Cs and became the Air Force's first squadron to be equipped with the block 50 F-16s in 1993. The 480th was inactivated again in 1994.

To further signify its historical roots, the 480th FS has now taken on the motto, "From Escadrille to Warhawks." This recognizes the Lafayette Escadrille, the 38 American pilots who volunteered to fly for the French Aéronautique militaire in April 1916, prior to America's entry into World War I.

"The Lafayette Escadrille dispersed and helped the Americans who came over understand the war," said Lt. Col. Andrew Wolcott, 480th FS commander. "I think the neatest piece is what it says about the American fighting spirit and the birth of American fighter aviation.

"One of the first battles was in St Mihiel, (France), which is really close to here. While lineage isn't directly tied to the 480th, it is tied to everything we do today and through military aviation. The birthplace of military aviation is certainly unique and it's an honor to be able to celebrate that heraldry that goes with it."

The Escadrille fought all across the western front, suffered more than 30 percent casualties and provided a hub of experienced fighter pilots for new American fighter squadrons when they arrived in France after America's declaration of war.

Pilots from the Escadrille transferred to the Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, and went on to command both squadrons and groups. Known at the time as "The Valiant 38," Lafayette Escadrille members were the founding fathers of American fighter aviation in Europe, a tradition the 480th plans to continue, Colonel Wolcott said.

Patching a squadron

Regardless of the name changes, the squadron's mission here remains the same, Colonel Wolcott said. But more importantly, he added, the squadron is now the only F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron in the European Command to provide suppression of enemy air defense support.

"The biggest change is the fact that there's only one squadron," Colonel Wolcott explained. "That requires us to focus more on SEAD than we have in the past because it's a very demanding skill-set to know enemy threat systems and capabilities. We're looking forward to getting back to our Wild Weasel roots and really mastering that skill-set so we can be ready to provide support of enemy air defense whenever called upon."

Transitioning to a single F-16 squadron didn't happen overnight. Once aircraft transitioned to the states as part of the CAF Restructure, the 22nd and 23rd fighter squadrons conducted combined training and operations as a single squadron.

"On the professional level, I think the pilots were mostly concerned with mission accomplishment, so their drive and motivation to be the best fighter pilots they can be, to excel in their mission and upgrade to the next stage in their career, outweighed any discord of rapidly combining two squadrons," Colonel Wolcott said. "They took off the patch one day and put on another patch. The 480th is good because it gives one single vector and everyone's on the same level."

On the other hand, having two squadrons with the same assets and mission allowed them to rely on one another for not only day-to-day requirements within the wing, but also for deployments. For example, each squadron supplemented the other with pilots during back-to-back deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom last year.

"The pilots have typically had a good working relationship between the squadrons, which has helped. With two squadrons, you sort of had a shock-absorber effect," Colonel Wolcott said. "Both squadrons deployed to OIF, both squadrons had to call on the other squadron in the spin-up process, deploying and the redeployment phase, where we were building back up. Now with one squadron to absorb all that, it's much more difficult."

Evidence of a successful transition was the "excellent" the wing received for its U.S. Air Forces in Europe Operational Readiness Inspection in June. This was one of the first major tasks the squadron had to complete as a single unit, Colonel Wolcott explained, and 12 of 17 excellent ratings came from the 52nd Operations Group. The transfer of aircraft to Duluth, Minn. was taking place during the spin-up for the inspection.

"That's a testament to how well everyone did in that merger," Colonel Wolcott said. During a significant change, the squadron was able to "produce great success."

Courtesy of 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

SrA William Parker, 52nd EMS aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, applies a stencil on the 480th FS's F-16 flag ship on August 5th, 2010. The aircraft’s tail flash was painted in preparation for the reactivation of the 480th FS on August 13th. [USAF photo by SSgt. Benjamin Wilson]