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Hahn Air Base

United States Air Forces in Europe.png

Located near Kirchberg, Germany
General Dynamics F-16A Block 15 Fighting Falcons of the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing over Hahn Air Base. Serial number 80-0542 is visible in front

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Type Air Force Base
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1952
In use 1952-1994
Controlled by United States Air Force
Garrison 50th Fighter Wing

Hahn Air Base was a frontline NATO facility in Germany for over 40 years during the Cold War (former ICAO EDAH, now EDFH as Frankfurt-Hahn Airport). It is located 10 km (6.2 mi) from the town of Kirchberg and 20 km (12 mi) from the town of Simmern, and 2 km from the tiny village of Hahn in the Rhein-Hunsrück district of Rhineland-Palatinate in west-central Germany.

It was the home of the United States Air Force 50th Fighter Wing (in various designations) for most of those years as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). It was one of several USAFE bases in Germany (Zweibrucken Air Base, Ramstein, Sembach, Bitburg, Spangdahlem, and Rhein-Main) all within 100 km (62 mi) of each other. Beyond their location in the heart of US troop concentrations, these air bases were well situated to reach all locations within Europe and the Mediterranean region.


In 1951, occupying French forces founded an air base on the site which about 40 years later would become Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. In September 1952, the United States took over the installation, and began to erect the seventh largest United States Air Force base in Europe and the second largest in Germany. The initial USAF unit at Hahn was the 7356th Air Base Group, whose mission was to get the base up and running and into an operational state.

Base facilities then consisted of pre-fabricated barrack buildings, heated by coke-burning pot belly stoves, outdoor latrines, and tents for motorpool personnel to work in. An L-5B was the first aircraft assigned to Hahn to fill administrative flight requirements.

50th Fighter-Bomber Wing

North American F-86F-30-NA Sabres of the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron flying over Germany. Serial 52-4656 is in front.

North American F-86D-45-NA Sabres of the 496th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Serial 52-3938 is in front. After the transition to the F-102 in 1959, this aircraft was transferred to the Japanese Self-Defense Air Force.

Convair F-102A-65-CO Delta Dagger Serial 56-1210 and 56-1219 of the 496th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

These two "Deuces" are from the 526th FIS out of Ramstein AB Germany(which is what the original caption states!)as witness the

knight on horseback insignia on their fins. With most of the construction completed by mid-1953, the primary mission of the Hahn Air Base was the reception of the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing. The aircraft was deployed to Hahn from Clovis AFB New Mexico during Operation Fox Able 27 on 10 August 1953. This marked the first mass flight of an entire tactical wing from the U.S. to continental Europe.

The operational squadrons of the 50th FBW were:

The 417th FBS was commanded for a time by Chuck Yeager.

The 81st flew the North American F-86F Sabre, with squadron markings of dark blue for the 10th, yellow for the 81st and red for the 417th. The wing conducted tactical operations in support of USAF, NATO, and U.S. Army forces. In the autumn of 1955, the wing was upgraded to the F-86H.

The primary mission of the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing was the delivery of tactical nuclear weapons against Warsaw Pact forces in the event of an invasion of Western Europe. Its secondary missions were tactical air defense and support for NATO ground forces.

Due to the vulnerability of West Germany to Soviet attack, USAF planners did not want their tactical nuclear weapons in locations that could be quickly overrun by Warsaw Pact forces. When construction was completed at Toul-Rosières Air Base France, the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing was moved there on 17 July 1956.

496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

In August 1954 the Air Defense Command 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron from Hamilton AFB California arrived at Hahn flying the North American F-86D Sabre to stand air defence alert. Although based at Hahn, the 496th FIS was assigned to the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Ramstein Air Base.

The squadron won the Hughes Trophy as the best fighter-interceptor squadron in the USAF in 1955. It stood alert and deployed regularly to Wheelus Air Base, Libya, for rocketry practice. Later added other European bases as weapons training deployments.

On 10 December 1959 the 496th was upgraded to the Convair F-102A/TF-102B "Delta Dagger". The 496th was the second European squadron, after the 525th FIS at Bitburg Air Base to receive the F-102. With the transition to the F-102, the 496th operated under the USAFE 86th Air Division (Defence) 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 squadron remained attached to the 86th AD until the F-102s were withdrawn from Europe and it was transferred to the 50th TFW on 25 November 1968.

7425th Air Base Group

Martin TM-61A "Matador" cruise missile of the 701st Tactical Missile Wing.

With the move of the F-86s to France, the 7425th Air Base Group became the "parent" organization at Hahn, providing support for the following units:

  • 701st/38th Tactical Missile Wing
    • 585th Tactical Missile Group (Bitburg AB)
    • 586th Tactical Missile Group (Hahn AB)
    • 587th Tactical Missile Group (Sembach AB)

Note: 701st TMW inactivated on 18 June 1958. Groups transferred to 38th TMW. Each of these tactical missile groups had several missile squadrons for operations, support and maintenance.

  • 496th Fighter Interceptor Squadron

On 3 August 1956 the 701st Tactical Missile Wing, equipped with the Martin TM-61A "Matador" cruise missile, was activated Hahn. This was the first U.S. Air Force tactical missile wing.

On 18 June 1958 The 38th Tactical Missile Wing replaced the 701st TMW at Hahn, being transferred from Laon-Couvron Air Base France. The 38th was headquartered at Sembach Air Base and was composed of launch and maintenance squadrons at Hahn and Bitburg Air Bases. Along with the Matador, the 38th TMW had the distinction of bringing the Martin MGM-13A Mace missile operational in August 1959, while maintaining the Matador combat ready until September 1962.

The mission of the 701st and 38th TMW was the dispersal and maintenance these cruise missiles. These were the first operational surface-to-surface missiles built by the United States, similar in concept to the World War II German V-1 flying bomb. Both the Mace and Matador missiles were designed to carry a conventional or nuclear warhead.

In 1959 disagreements arose concerning atomic weapons storage and custody issues within NATO, resulting in a decision to remove United States Air Force atomic-capable units from the French soil, and it was decided to move the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing from Toul AB back to Hahn. In August 1960, a few months prior to the return of the 50th from France, the 38th Tactical Missile Wing was transferred to Sembach Air Base.

50th Tactical Fighter Wing

North American F-100D-90-NA Super Sabre s/n 56-3238 of the 50th TFW on display at @ Toul AB, France. This Hun looks like it's the Wing Commanders aircraft, but was a 417th TFS aircraft painted as her 70+ sisters all were in 1960 when squadron markings made way for wing colors only. She is also a -90, and the photo was taken after January 1965 since her "buzz number" (FW-238) is painted over, and this did not happen before that date.

McDonnell Douglas F-4E-52-MC Phantom II Serial 72-0165 of the 496th TFS.


General Dynamics F-16C Block 25 Fighting Falcons of the 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron

On 10 December 1959, the 50 TFW redeployed back to Hahn, now flying the North American F-100 Super Sabre. However, rather than joining the wing at Hahn AB, the 417th TFS relocated to Ramstein AB, West Germany. Squadrons of the 50th TFW were:

  • 10th Tactical Fighter (F-100D/F) (blue tail stripe)
  • 81st Tactical Fighter (F-100D/F) (yellow tail stripe)
  • 417th Tactical Fighter (F-100D/F) (red tail stripe) (at Ramstein AB)

In 1960, under the new to USAFE maintenance concept of placing all base assigned primary mission aircraft into one unit, squadron colors on fins and noses gave way to all three unit colors on every assigned 50th TFW aircraft, including the base flight C-47s and L-20. Many aviation buffs think that such markings always meant the aircraft was assigned to a senior officer, but that tradition changed by 1960. For the next several years, 50th TFW airmen concentrated on becoming the best fighter unit in USAFE. The 50th TFW supported and controlled CONUS dual-based fighter squadrons at Hahn and at other collocated operating bases in West Germany and Denmark. Not to be overlooked was the Berlin Crisis of August 1961. All of the TFWs in Germany "bombed up" with conventional ordnance and Sidewinder missiles the evening of 12 August 1961 as a US Army convoy was to drive to Berlin the next morning. It moved safely that day. Over the Labor Day weekend, MATS transports started arriving with 18 F-100D/Fs of the 355th TFS commanded by Lt Col Devol Brett out of Myrtle Beach AFB SC to begin a 90-100 day TDY. Some of the enlisted men still had their swim suits on under their fatigues, they left so quickly. This unit was relieved by a TAC F-104C unit out of George AFB California, from the 479th TFW. Barracks space was tight for all of these new troops but they coped well, and they "hacked" the mission.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, which began on 22 October 1962, the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed from Morón Air Base Spain to Hahn. Although the crisis officially ended on 26 November 1962, the 435th TFS did not return to Morón until 11 December 1962. After the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, the 50th TFW resumed normal operations and participated in various exercises and competitions, often with other NATO allies.

The wing's three tactical squadrons, the 10th, 81st, and 417th, began converting to the McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom II on 8 October 1966. When the last F-100 left Hahn, 50th TFW aircrews had logged 143,147 flight hours. Throughout the conversion to the F-4D, 417th TFS remained detached to the 86th Air Division at Ramstein AB. With the change of equipment, the squadrons of the 50th TFW adopted "Tail Codes". The aircraft of 50th TFW were tail-coded "HR". The 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, attached to the 50th TFW but assigned to the 86th Air Division, did not convert to the new F-4D aircraft.

The wing underwent a major organizational change on 15 July 1968 when the 417th TFS was transferred to the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho as part of project CRESTED CAP. That project provided for the redeployment of specified U.S. European Air Force units to the United States on a semi-permanent basis. Not long after leaving Europe, the 417th returned for 45 days to Hahn in January 1969 to participate in Exercise CRESTED CAP I, the first in a series of exercises designed to test the mobility of NATO-committed fighter squadrons based in the U.S. under simulated wartime conditions.

Also in 1968, USAFE redesignated 496th FIS as a tactical fighter squadron. To replace the 417th, USAFE reassigned the 496th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron from the 86th AD to the 50th TFW under a reorganization that officially dissolved the 86th Air Division. In 1970, the 496th sent its F-102s back to Air National Guard squadrons in the United States and received F-4E aircraft. The 496th was redesignated as a Tactical Fighter Squadron while retaining its Air Defence mission. 496th TFS F-4Es were tail coded "HS".

In August 1970, the wing switched to a strike-attack role, with air defense as a secondary mission. The 81st TFS relocated to Zweibrucken Air Base on 12 June 1971, although it remained a part of the 50th TFW. At Zweibrucken however, the 81st TFS was detached from the wing's operational control and attached to the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing. Eventually, the 81st was transferred to the 52nd TFW at Spangdahlem AB and equipped with the F-4G Phantom II Wild Weasel aircraft once they became available in 1975/76.

In June 1972 "HR" was adopted as the standard tail code for all 50th TFW aircraft.

Following these changes, the 50th TFW settled into a more routine operations tempo and returned its attentions to maintaining combat readiness.

In 1976, Hahn began receiving brand-new F-4E TISEO-equipped aircraft, replacements for some of the older F-4Ds. At the beginning of 1977, the rest of the F-4Ds departed, replaced by F-4Es from Bitburg's 36th TFW, a move necessitated by that wing's conversion to F-15As.

Its operational squadrons in 1977 were:

  • 10th Tactical Fighter (F-4E) (blue tail stripe)
  • 313th Tactical Fighter (F-4E) (white tail stripe)
  • 496th Tactical Fighter (F-4E) (red tail stripe)

The tail stripe (and wingtip) color choices were a great controversy between maintenance and ops at this time. The 313th (whose unit crest is predominantly orange) wanted the aircraft they used marked with an orange tail stripe, but maintenance ("We just loan them to the crews, and hope they don't break OUR aircraft too much") wouldn't hear of it. The tails stayed white in the white section, serving the 313th TFS aircrews (later changed to orange stripes on F-16s in the early 80's).

Tiny Hahn Air Base (smallest of any fighter base in Germany) became the world's busiest airfield for ten days in April 1977, during an Air Staff-directed exercise named Salty Rooster. During that time, the wing produced more than 2100 combat-loaded sorties, (refueled, rearmed, and serviced), averaging one takeoff every three minutes around the clock for ten days, using only 64 aircraft.

During this period, at least one Hahn squadron was almost constantly deployed to either Zaragoza AB, Spain, or Incirlik CDI, Turkey. Additional tasking provided a short deployment to Shiraz AB, Iran in 1977; this became noteworthy in another way, when 496th TFS aircraft appeared on the front page of the Air Force Times, being refueled from an Imperial Iranian Air Force KC-747, one of only two in the world.

The enormously successful F-4 era at Hahn began to come to a close late in 1979, when it was announced that the wing's F-4s would be replaced by F-16s. By May 1980, two F-16As (apparently on loan from Hill AFB, Utah) were in use at Hahn for ground-handling familiarization of crew chiefs.

An equipment change began on 30 December 1981 when the first General Dynamics Block 15 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon arrived at Hahn. The 50th TFW was the first USAFE wing to receive the F-16. Throughout the spring of 1982 the 10th, 313th and 496th converted to the new aircraft, with the last F-4E leaving the wing on 21 June 1982, many of the E's moving to Spangdahlem AB. In 1986, the first-generation F-16A/B aircraft were upgraded to the more capable Block 25 F-16C/D.

In addition, Hahn supported preparations for ground-launched cruise missile activities at Wüschheim, between 1982 and 1985. It also supported the reactivated 38th Tactical Missile Wing beginning on 1 April 1985. The 38th TMW was deployed with The General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas BGM-109G "Gryphon" Ground-launched Cruise Missile (GLCM). By 1987 the 38th maintained ninety-six GLCMs. However, in December 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated intermediate and short-range nuclear missiles from Europe. This was the first nuclear force reduction in history. A three-year withdrawal of the GLCMs was undertaken in 1988 and the 38th TMW was inactivated in August 1990.

During Operation Desert Storm, the 50th TFW provided personnel, munitions, and equipment to support the liberation of Kuwait, also deploying the 10th TFS to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates from December 1990 to May 1991.

Hahn's relative remoteness, horrible weather, and the strenuous mission fostered a closeness among the American community there regardless of time frame. Thousands of former Hahn residents remember their experiences there and friendships formed with a reverence not matched by those American GI's stationed at other overseas locations. This is evidenced by the many Internet member groups made up of former "Hahnites." Various reunions are held annually where those with special affection for their time at Hahn AB share experiences ranging from life on the flight line, Mosel winefests, Hahn Hawks football games in the fog, Volksmarching, living on base or in tiny German villages, Salty Nation exercises, and the ever present "do you remember that time..." and "did you know..." questions. For many, many American GI's and their dependents memories of life at Hahn take on a cherished, never to be forgotten quality.

Post Cold War

At the end of the Cold War, Hahn Air Base supported more than 13,000 people and three squadrons of F-16 tactical fighters. When the Cold War threat of an invasion of West Germany subsided, the United States was left with a huge excess capacity of expensive airfields in Europe.

As a result, the 50th TFW was inactivated in 1991 after 35 years at Hahn. The 496th TFS was inactivated on 15 May; The 313th TFS on 1 July, and the 10th TFS on 30 September. The 50th Tactical Fighter Wing was inactivated on 30 September 1991. On 30 January 1992 the 50th was activated as the 50th Space Wing at Falcon (later, Schriever) AFB, Colorado.

On 30 September 1993, most of Hahn Air Base was returned to civil German authorities but USAFE retained a small portion as a radio communications site until its final return to German authorities in 2012.[1]

The German government decided to turn the former NATO airfield into a civil airport. One of the main investors in the development of the new Frankfurt-Hahn Airport was Fraport AG, which primarily runs Frankfurt International Airport, the aim being to reduce the amount of traffic using that airport.

The faculty and police training school of the Rheinland-Pfalz State Police were combined at a new joint facility located at the air base's former housing area in 1996.

See also

  • Frankfurt International Airport


  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Donald, David (2004) Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. AIRtime ISBN 1-880588-68-4
  • 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 0-912799-53-6
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0-88740-513-4.
  • Menard, David W. (1998) Before Centuries: USAFE Fighters, 1948-1959. Howell Press Inc. ISBN 1-57427-079-6
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • Tomany, John P. Former MSgt, USAF, stationed at Bitburg, Hahn, and Ramstein, 1975-85 Personal Notes and Reflections.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers—1908 to Present
  • News Release No. 811-11: DOD Announces Return of Facilities in Germany, 22 Sep 2011

External links

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