48th Fighter Wing: Wikis


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48th Fighter Wing
48th Fighter Wing.png
48th Fighter Wing Insignia
Active 20 November 1940
Country United States
Branch United States Air Force
Role Fighter
Size Wing
Part of United States Air Forces Europe
Garrison/HQ RAF Lakenheath
Nickname "Statue of Liberty Wing"
Motto STATUE DE LA LIBERTÉ – Statue of Liberty
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg DUC
Meritorious Unit Commendation .jpg Navy MUC
Outstanding Unit ribbon.svg AFOUA w/V Device
Belgium Fourragère

The 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW) is part of the United States Air Force Third Air Force, assigned to HQ Air Command Europe, and is based at RAF Lakenheath, England. The 48 FW is the only F-15 wing based in Europe. It was given the name "Statue of Liberty Wing" on 4 July 1954 and remains the only USAF unit with both a name and a numerical designation.

The 48 FW operates in support of U.S. Air Forces Europe, U.S. European Command and NATO.



The Liberty Wing has nearly 5,700 active-duty military members, 2,000 British and U.S. civilians, and includes a geographically separated unit at nearby RAF Feltwell. In addition to supporting three combat-ready squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagle and F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft, the Liberty Wing houses the 56th Rescue Squadron’s HH-60G Combat Search and Rescue helicopters.

Formerly the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group. Provides three flying squadrons of F-15C/D/E aircraft capable of accomplishing fighter operations worldwide and one operations support squadron. Prepares aircrew and support personnel to accomplish USAFE, U.S. European Command and NATO war plans and contingency operations. Provides equipment, training, scheduling, analysis, weather, intelligence, standardization and evaluation, and command and control for an efficient flying operation.
  • 48th Maintenance Group
Responsible for all organizational and intermediate level maintenance for F-15 C/D/E aircraft, engines, munitions and support equipment used by all three fighter squadrons to accomplish USAFE, U.S. European Command and NATO commitments and taskings. Ensures readiness for all personnel and aircraft fleet health through planning, analysis and programming for manpower, funds, equipment, training and facility requirements.
  • 48th Mission Support Group
The 48 MSG executes expeditionary and in-garrison personnel, logistics, communications, contracting, engineering and services support for USAFE's only lead Air Expeditionary wing. It also provides force protection for infrastructure, facilities, and personnel at home and deployed locations and enhances the quality of life and quality of service for our military, civilian and dependent personnel assigned to RAF Lakenheath and surrounding community.
  • 48th Medical Group
The 48 MDG supports the combat capability of the 48th Fighter Wing, 100th Air Refueling Wing and 352d Special Operations Group by delivering quality health care to its beneficiaries. Serves as USAFE's premier specialty referral center. The hospital treats 180,000 outpatients and 2,000 inpatients annually at 7 operating locations and maintains Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS).


For additional history and lineage, see 48th Operations Group


  • Established as 48 Fighter-Bomber Wing on 25 Jun 1952
Activated on 10 Jul 1952
Redesignated: 48 Tactical Fighter Wing on 8 Jul 1958
Redesignated: 48 Fighter Wing on 1 Oct 1991




  • 48 Fighter-Bomber (later, 48 Operations): 10 Jul 1952-8 Dec 1957; 31 Mar 1992–Present


  • 492 Fighter-Bomber (later, 492 Tactical Fighter, 492 Fighter): attached 15 Mar-7 Dec 1957, assigned 8 Dec 1957-31 Mar 1992 (detached 20 Nov 1990-10 May 1991; Dec 1991 – Mar 1992)
  • 493 Fighter-Bomber (later, 493 Tactical Fighter, 493 Fighter): attached 15 Mar-7 Dec 1957, assigned 8 Dec 1957-18 Dec 1992 (detached 25 Aug 1990-11 Mar 1991; Mar–Jun 1992)
  • 494 Fighter-Bomber (later, 494 Tactical Fighter, 494 Fighter): attached 15 Mar-7 Dec 1957, assigned 8 Dec 1957-31 Mar 1992 (detached 2 Sep 1990-15 Mar 1991; Sep–Dec 1991)
  • 495 Tactical Fighter: 1 Apr 1977-13 Dec 1991
  • 509 Fighter-Bomber: attached 5 Oct 1957-15 Jan 1958.

Bases assigned


Operational history

Cold War

Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base
Republic F-84G-1-RE Thunderjets 51-890 of the 494th Fighter Bomber Squadron and 51-830 of the 493d FBS. Note the Pierced Steel Planking being used for the parking apron as concrete pads have not yet been poured. Both aircraft were eventually sold to the Belgian Air Force as Serials FZ-175 and FZ-199. 890 was destroyed on 25 May 1955 at Sylt, West Germany.
F-86F-35-NA Serial 53-1222 of the 494th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 1955
North American F-100D Super Sabres of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing – 1957. The aircraft in foreground, Serial 54-2222 is Wing Commander's Aircraft. Note the blue, white and red stripes on the vertical stabilizer in the pattern of the French tricolor. 2222 was sold to Denmark in 1959 as Serial G-222. The aircraft was then sold to Turkey in 1982 as Serial WFU-1987. It was finally scrapped in 1992

On 10 July 1952, the Air National Guard 137th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base, France was redesignated the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing, with the fighter squadrons being redesignated the 492d, 493d, and 494th respectively. The 137 FBW was reassigned without personnel and equipment, back to the control of Oklahoma Air National Guard. The 58 F-84Gs and support aircraft were assigned to the 48th. The few National Guardsmen still with the wing departed and the last were released from active duty on 9 July, although a few reserve officers remained on active duty for an additional six to twelve months.

With the F-84, the 48 FBW supported NATO and the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), activities, participating in exercises with the US Seventh Army. In addition, the 48th conducted operational readiness exercises and tactical evaluations. Honing bombing and gunnery skills. The 48th frequently deployed to Wheelus AFB, Libya for training.

The 48th developed into the premier fighter wing in France, serving the longest, from 10 July 1952 through 15 January 1960. The men and women of the 48th worked hard to develop Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base into one of the best air bases in Europe. Its squadrons remained unchanged while flying three different type of fighters, the F-84G, F-86F and the F-100D, and maintaining the capability to fight either a conventional or nuclear war if need be.

An open house was held once a year, with great numbers of French civilians in attendance. In 1954, over 15,000 attended the Armed Forces Day event to see static aircraft displays, watch flight demonstrations, listen to a French army band and other activities. In just over three years since construction began, Chaumont Air Base became an important part of the Haute-Marne region.


To bolster Franco-American relations, the 48th Wing Staff came up with the idea of changing the wing insignia. Chaumont AB is located not far from the workshops of Frédéric Bartholdi – the French architect which designed the Statue of Liberty. The new design incorporated the Statue Of Liberty, and throughout Europe the 48th became known as the "Statue of Liberty" Wing. On 4 July 1954 the mayor of the town of Chaumont bestowed the honorary title of the Statue de la Liberté (Statue of Liberty) Wing upon the 48th. It is the only USAF unit with both an official name and a numerical designation.

In addition, the town of Chaumont donated a 9-foot bronze statue to the wing which was cast from an original Bartholdi mold built for creating a design model of the Statue of Liberty. The monument still exists today on Chaumont Air Base.

In November 1953, the wing exchanged its F-84Cs for newer F-86F "Sabre", receiving 75 aircraft, 25 per squadron. Then in late 1956 that the Air Force would exchange the 48th’s Sabers for a newer aircraft: the F-100D "Super Sabre".

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. 90 single-seat F-100D aircraft were received, along with 13 F-100F dual-seaters.

The wing began realigning its units 15 March 1957, as part of an Air Force worldwide reorganization. Combat groups were inactivated, assigning the unit’s fighter mission to the wing. As part of yet another organization change, the 48th dropped the "Fighter Bomber" designation 8 July 1958, becoming the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing. 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

On 15 January 1960, the 48 TFW redeployed to RAF Lakenheath, UK. In the early 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.

RAF Lakenheath

The tactical components of the 48th TFW upon arrival at Lakenheath were:

North American F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre Serial 56-3990 in natural aluminum finish. It carries all three squadron colors (red, yellow, blue) signifying it being the Wing Commander's aircraft. This aircraft is now on static display in Burnet, Texas with 69-990 on its tail.
North American F-100D-90-NA Super Sabre Serial 56-3213 of the 492d TFS in Southeast Asia camouflage motif. Note the squadron colors being removed, being replaced by the "LR" tailcode.
McDonnell F-4D-30-MC Phantom Serial 66-7563 of the 493d TFS. Note the "LK" tailcode with yellow fin cap. This aircraft was retired to AMARC on 11 July 1989

The squadron markings consisted of alternating stripes across the tailfin in squadron colors, with a shadowed "V" shaped chevron on the nose. Starting in March 1970 squadron tail codes (shown above) were added when the aircraft went from a natural finish to a Southeast Asian camouflage motif.

East Germany’s 1961 decision to build the Berlin Wall and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis increased Cold War tensions to an all-time high. In response, RAF Lakenheath served as a rotational base for SAC B-47 and B-52 aircraft throughout the Berlin Crisis. Also in 1962, the 48th TFW came under the operational command of Third Air Force.

Between 1963 and 1972 the wing’s F-100 fleet maintained its readiness by participating in a number of USAFE and NATO exercises.

The period between 1972 and 1977 can be described as a five-year aircraft conversion. Beginning in late 1971 the 48th TFW started its conversion to the McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, with the aircraft being transferred from the 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters. The conversion to the F-4D took several years, with the last F-100 departing in August 1974. With the arrival of the Phantoms, the F-4s adopted a common tail code of "LK". This tail code lasted only a few months as in July and August 1972 the 48th TFW further recoded to "LN". The F-4D carried squadron identifying fin cap colors of blue, yellow and red (492d, 493d, 494th respectively). The squadron conversion dates were:

  • 492d TFS 1 October 1971 and 31 January 1972
  • 493d TFS 1 December 1971 and April 1972
  • 494th TFS 1 February 1972 and 25 July 1974

The F-4's service with the 48th TFW was short as operation "Ready Switch" transferred the F-4D assets to the 474th TFW at Nellis AFB Nevada. The 474th sent their General Dynamics F-111As to the 347th TFW at Mountain Home AFB Idaho, and the 347th sent their F-111Fs to Lakenheath in early 1977.

A fourth fighter squadron, the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron was activated with the 48th TFW on 1 April 1977 with a squadron tail color of green. 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 48th TFW 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. In the same year construction of the airfield's Hardened Aircraft Shelters (acronym: HAS, but commonly referred to as a TAB-VEE) began as part of a wider NATO effort.

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.

Operation El Dorado Canyon

A 48th Tactical Fighter Wing F-111F being prepared for takeoff on 14 April 1986 at RAF Lakenheath

Terrorist incidents such as the bombing of US Marines in Beirut (1983), TWA hijacking (1985), the ship Achille Lauro hijack (1985), had brought about an overwhelming public outcry for action. Two aircraft carriers of the United States Navy Sixth Fleet and the F-111s of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing were selected to conduct the strike. The F-111Fs from Lakenheath were chosen for their capability to fly long distances and deliver laser-guided munitions with great accuracy.

At approximately 19:00 the evening of 14 April 1986, 24 F-111Fs departed Lakenheath's runway, six of which were airborne spares in the event malfunctions forced any of the primary aircraft to abort. In flights of four, aircrews flew south through the Straits of Gibraltar and began their orchestrated attack shortly after midnight on 15 April. They were targeted on Azziziyah Barracks, the Sidi Balal terrorist training camp, and Tripoli Airport. With the sky lit up from Tripoli's city lights, anti-aircraft tracers, and brilliant surface to air missile detonations, determined 48th TFW crews unleashed 60 tons of munitions, damaging their targets. In spite of the mission's success, the Wing experienced a major loss. As the strike force recovered at Lakenheath, both air and ground crews were given the somber news that Major Fernando Ribas (Utuado,Puerto Rico) pilot, and Weapons System Operator Captain Paul Lorence, were missing.

On 8 September 1986, US Navy Secretary John Lehman personally presented the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation to the 48th TFW for its participation in the operation. The 48th TFW is the only Air Force unit to have received this prestigious award.

Operation Desert Storm

In response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 the 48th TFW deployed more than 60 aircraft and 1,500 personnel to Taif Air Base, Saudi Arabia. The 492d, 493d and 494th TFSs deployed, supplying 66 F-111Fs, which were in place by December 1990.

During the air war 17 January through 24 February 1991, and subsequent four-day ground war of 24 – 28 February 48th TFW 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.

Overall, the 48th TFW flew a total of 1919 combat sorties, totaling 2203 target hits. The Wing returned to RAF Lakenheath 13 May 1991.

Post Cold War

A 492d Fighter Squadron F-15E Eagle from Lakenheath lifts off from the airfield's runway

On 1 October 1991 the 48th TFW implemented the objective wing concept and was redesignated the 48th Fighter Wing. The 48th Operations Group (48th OG) was activated, and all of its operational fighter squadrons were assigned to the 48th OG. The program also realigned the maintenance-fighter squadron work force and establishing several command positions to include the logistics group, medical group and support group commanders.


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • 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
  • McAuliffe, Jerome J (2005) U.S. Air Force in France 1950–1967, Chapter 9, Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base.
  • 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.

External links

  1. 48th Fighter Wing & RAF Lakenheath Official Site: http://www.lakenheath.af.mil/
  2. Information on the 48th FW @ GlobalSecurity.org[1]


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