Bitburg Air Base, Bitburg Germany
Origin of current name: Named after a city in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Date current name was assigned to base: September 1, 1952
Previous Names: None
Date Established: September 1, 1952
Date Occupied: December 1, 1952
Construction Began: February 1, 1952
Base Units: Det 1, 31st Weapons Squadron, 20 May 1952; 53d Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 22 Jul 1952; 36th AB Group, 13 Dec 1952 (redesignated 36th Combat Support Group, 8 Mar 1962)
Changes in Capability: Runway, hangars, and control tower to support the 53d Ftr-Bmbr Sq completed spring 1952; 985 dependent housing units completed mid-1953; runway upgraded for F-84s and F-86s that replaced F-80s, May 1961; base converted flight facilities to accommodate century series F-100 and F-102 operations late 1961; F-105 flight simulator, first in Europe, commissioned Feb 1962; camouflage/concealment project completed mid-1965; operational facilities upgraded to accommodate F-104D operations Mar 1966; hardened aircraft shelters completed 1969; operations merged with Spangdahlem AB as 36th Tac Ftr Wg assumed control, thus making it (with the tenant 40th Aerosp Rscu & Recovery Wg) USAFE's sole two-wing base, 15 Sep 1969; three underground fuel storage tanks completed Dec 1974; airmen dormitory rehabilitation project (two phases) completed 1971, 1974; additional construction and modification of facilities undertaken to support USAFE's first F-15 squadron, which arrived in Apr 1977; protective and maintenance shelters, with all support equipment and facilities, completed 15 Aug 1977; avionics shop completed mid-1978.
Changes in Status: Closed 1994
Base was Decommissioned on October 1, 1994
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 1,100 acres (445 ha), with a 8,200-foot (2,500 m) long runway (with 1,000-foot (300 m) overruns at each end, total length would be 10,200 ft).
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.
The 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron, equipped with the B-61A Matador, was assigned to the 36th Fighter Bomber Wing, Bitburg Air Base, Germany, on 31 March 1954, making it the first operational U.S. missile unit.
In 1956, the wing received the North American F-100 "Super Sabre," marking the first time a wing in USAFE flew supersonic jets. One of the F-100 pilots was future Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who served as a flight commander at Bitburg Air Base, Germany in the 22nd Fighter Squadron. 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.
In January 1959 the 86th Air Division at Ramstein Air Base assigned the 525th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron to Bitburg flying the F-102A/TF-102A 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.
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.
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.
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 12,510 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 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.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the 36th TFW conducted routine training missions from Bitburg Air Base, however the outbreak of the 1990-91 Gulf War put the F-15s of Bitburg into the heart of the conflict.
The 53rd and 22nd TFS (Combined Squadrons) and 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. The 53rd and 22nd TFS F-15s entered the Gulf War on 17 January in support of Operation Desert Storm and were credited with 11 confirmed kills. Two F-15C's from the 53rd TFS (84-025 and 84-027) shot down 4 Iraqi Migs (2 each) on the first night of the war. 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 150 miles (240 km) behind enemy lines without any support assets.
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.