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Zaragoza Air Base

Roundel of Spain.svg United States Air Forces in Europe.svg

Part of Spanish Air Force (SPAF)
(Spanish: Ejército del Aire; Army of the Air")

United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
Located near Zaragoza, Spain
Type Air Force Base
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1954
In use 1954-1992
Airfield information
Elevation AMSL 263 m / 863 ft
Direction Length Surface
m ft
12R/30L 3,718 12,200 Concrete
12L/30R 3,024 9,921 Asphalt

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Zaragoza Air Base (IATA: ZAZ, ICAO: LEZG) was a NATO military airbase located near Zaragoza, Spain. It was located 16 kilometres (10 mi) west of Zaragoza, 270 km (168 mi) west of Barcelona, and 262 km (163 mi) northeast of Madrid.

It was closed as a NATO base in April 1992 after the US Air Force had been asked to move out, but continues be a major base for the Spanish Air Force. Today it also functions as Zaragoza Airport.


The construction work on Zaragoza Airport began in September 1954 with the enlargement and improvement of the existing Spanish Air Force Base located there. United States Navy engineers upgraded the facility for temporary or intermediate use as a war standby base. The first U.S. construction project included strengthening the existing 3,024 m (9,921 ft) runway and adding 304 m (1,000 ft) overruns at each end. Work on a new concrete runway, 61 by 3,718 metres (200 ft × 12,200 ft), with 61 m (200 ft) overruns at each end, began in 1956 and was completed in 1958.

Zaragoza Air Base is a NASA Alternate Space Shuttle Landing Site. Typically this would be used as a trans-atlantic abort landing site, although fortunately this was never needed during the Shuttle program. To be chosen as a TAL site, an air base has to meet a number of requirements. For starters, its runway needs to be a minimum of 7,500 feet long. The weather around the base should typically be good landing conditions for the shuttle (clear, low wind speeds, etc.) . The base also must have a military-grade navigation system called a TACAN, which stands for Tactical Air Navigation, and be adaptable to special guidance devices NASA uses with the shuttles.

Zaragoza was one of three major USAF Cold War airbases in Spain, the others being Torrejón Air Base near Madrid and Morón Air Base near Seville.

3794th Air Base Group

The facility, known as Zaragoza Air Base, was transferred from the control of the Joint United States Military Group, Air Administration (Spain), Sixteenth Air Force, to the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command on 1 July 1957, with the facility providing operational support for SAC B-47 alert force dispersal. Zaragoza was under SAC's 65th Air Division. Support continued for B-47 operations until 1 July 1964, when Zaragoza AB was placed on standby status with the withdrawal of the B-47 from active service.

Zaragoza AB was further reduced to modified caretaker status on 1 January 1966 when Sixteenth Air Force was reassigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe. USAFE assigned the 7472d Air Base Group as a caretaker organisation to the facility.

431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron

431st tactical fighter sq-patch.jpg

431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron - Convair F-102A-50-CO Delta Dagger 55-3431. First F-102 delivered to squadron at Zaragoza AB in 1960.

Although SAC went out of the fighter business in 1957 for all intents and purposes, in 1958 it found itself assigned fighters again. The 431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron moved from Wheelus Air Base, Libya, arriving at Zaragoza in September with North American F-86Ds and an Air Defense mission.

On 28 September 1960 the 431st transitioned to the Convair F-102A/TF-102B Delta Dagger and was transferred to 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 431st FIS operated the F-102s until 23 April 1965 when it transferred to the 8th TFW at George Air Force Base, California, transitioned to the F-4C and was reflagged as the 431st Tactical Fighter Squadron.

874th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron

Was assigned to the USAFE Seventeenth Air Force, 65th Air Division. Provided general radar surveillance over Spain. The squadron was headquartered at Zaragoza AB beginning in January 1959. The squadron operated a site near Elizondo, Spain, one of seven Radar sites in Spain operated by the 65th Air Division which provided early warning of unidentified aircraft and controlled NATO airspace over the region. the 874th AC&W and other geographically separated radar squadrons in Spain was supported logistically by the host units at Zaragoza.

406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing

406th tactical fighter wg-patch.jpg

In February 1970 Project Creek Step called for the buildup of Zaragoza AB as a USAFE weapons training site, with actual use of the Bardenas Reales Air-to-Ground Bombing and Gunnery Range (about 72 km (40 mi) northwest of the base) began in March.

With the closure of Wheelus Air Base, Zaragoza returned to active status on 19 February 1970 with the activation of the 406th Tactical Fighter Training Group. The 406th was elevated to Wing status on 21 July 1972.

Although the 406th had no permanently assigned aircraft, the Wing provided support to all USAFE tactical aircraft which used the Zaragoza range, as well as deployed SAC and TAC units, as well as allied NATO units.

Beginning in September 1972, the 406th also operated the USAFE Tactical Forces Employment School, and in May 1976, began operating the USAFE Instructor Pilot School. Weapons training detachments were principally F-4 aircraft, although F-111s used the wing's ranges for a short period in 1974, and U.S. Navy A-7s used range facilities in June 1974. During November 1976, the 406th TFTW began full maintenance support of an SAC KC-135 detachment on a permanent basis.

On 12 September 1977, another facet was added to the wing’s training operations when it conducted the first Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions with USAF and U.S. Navy aircraft.

In 1979, two significant events took place, which had an effect on the wing's operation. The first was the closing of the Instructor Pilot School in July, due to broad changes in USAFE's mission and budget restraints. The second event took place in February when the 406th began to implement the Production Oriented Maintenance Organization (POMO) concept. Headquarters USAF designed POMO to establish a maintenance management system which would enhance sortie production by improving the utilisation of maintenance personnel.

On 1 January 1980, the support mission expanded when the 406th assumed responsibility for various functional areas in support of the four USAF tropo-scatter communication sites at Humosa, Menorca, Soller, and Inoges. The wing provided this support in cooperation with the 401st TFW assigned to Torrejón AB. Foremost among the accomplishments of the 406th TFTW during 1981 was the preparation and planning for reception of the F-16 Weapons Training Detachments which began in 1982. The 313th TFS of the 50th TFW, Hahn Air Base, Germany, flew the first European F-16C training flights, deployed to Zaragoza, to the Bardenas Reales Weapons Range, starting in late January 1982. The 512nd TFS of the 86th TFW at Ramstein AB recorded its first F-16C fighter deployment to the Bardenas Reales Range on 3 April 1986. This represented the initial use of the C-model F-16 aircraft at the range since the newer F-16s were introduced to the European theatre.

On 15 October 1986, heavy rainfall resulted in flash floods across the base causing heavy damage to facilities and base homes. As much as 15 inches (380 mm) of water and mud flooded into many facilities, causing nearly US$1 million in damage. Assigned base personnel as well as temporarily assigned weapons training detachment personnel joined in the massive clean-up effort, and fortunately no injuries occurred. In a show of strength and comradeship in overcoming obstacles, Zaragoza also earned the prestigious USAFE Base Appearance Award during that same month.

For the rest of the 1980s, the 406th continued to provide support for USAFE crew training and range training exercises. August 1990 ushered in a period of intense activity, as the 406th and Zaragoza provided major air and ground support for Operation Desert Shield, conducted in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Thousands of military personnel and tons of equipment passed through Zaragoza en route to the crisis in the Middle East. The base and the wing continued to act as a major aerial port providing support during and after Operation DESERT STORM.

Subject to the same provisions requiring the removal of other units from Spain, the 406th began efforts to end its operations and return Zaragoza to the Spanish government in 1992. The use of the training range ended in December 1991, followed by the turnover of base operations to Spain in April 1992.

The 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing was inactivated on 1 April 1994 when USAFE ended its presence and returned control to the Spanish government.

Previous names

  • Zaragoza Air Station, September 1954-February 1956
In construction status, 15 February 1955-9 January 1956
In standby status, 1 July 1954-19 February 1970

Major units assigned

874th AC&W Squadron emblem

  • 7603d Air Base Squadron, 9 January 1956
Re-designated: 3974th Air Base Squadron, 1 January 1957
  • 431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 6 September 1958 – 18 May 1964
  • 3974th Air Base Group, 1 May 1958 – 30 June 1965
  • 874th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, 5 January 1959 – 1 January 1965
  • 7602d Support Wing, 1 March-1 July 1960
  • 7472d Combat Support Group, 1 June 1964 – 30 June 1970
  • 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing 1 July 1970 – 30 April 1992


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

  • Donald, David (2004). Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. Norwalk: AIRtime. ISBN 1-880588-68-4. OCLC 56456861. 
  • Endicott, Judy G; et al. (January 1998). Active Air Force Wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF Active Flying, Space, and Missile Squadrons as of 1 October 1995 [CD-ROM]. Ft. Belvoir Defense Technical Information Center. OCLC 64437959. 
  • Menard, David W (1998). Before Centuries: USAFE Fighters, 1948-1959. Charlottesville: Howell Press. ISBN 1-57427-079-6. OCLC 41412771. 
  • Menard, David W (1993). USAF Plus Fifteen: A Photo History, 1947-1962. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-88740-483-9. OCLC 29443216. 
  • Ravenstein, Charles A (1984). Air Force Combat Wings: Lineage and Honors Histories, 1947-1977. Washington, D.C: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9. OCLC 10207373. 

External links

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