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LakenHeath AFB Factsheets

1970s

The period between 1972 and 1977 can be described as a five-year aircraft conversion. In late 1971, the Air Force announced plans to exchange each fighter squadron’s F-100Ds for F-4Ds. 

On 1 October 1971, the 492d Tactical Fighter Squadron stood down from its NATO commitments, followed by the 493d on 1 December and the 494th on 1 February 1972. This down time allowed the wing to convert from the F-100 to the F-4 Phantom II. The Liberty Wing’s first F-4D arrived January 7, 1972, assigned to the 492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron. The last F-100D left Lakenheath’s runway April 15, 1972, completing the first of two aircraft conversions. 

By December 1973, the wing only possessed 26 F-4 aircraft. External demands for the Phantom, which included foreign military sales, precluded fighter arrivals. It took until March 1975 for the last of the three fighter squadrons, the 494th, to achieve initial operational capability with the new weapon system. 

No sooner had Liberty Wing crews become familiar with their new Phantoms when the Air Force again announced that Lakenheath would be the new beddown location for the F-111F, Aardvark. The F-111F, with its sophisticated avionics, state-of-the-art weapons delivery mediums, and extended range, would provide USAFE and NATO with an unparalleled strike capability anywhere within NATO’s scope of operations. 

The transition was part of a three-way aircraft transfer. The wing received its complement of F-111Fs from the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, transferred its F-111As to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, while Nellis received the wing’s complement of F-4Ds. The first three F-111Fs set down at Lakenheath March 1, 1977. 

In preparation for the new weapon system and its unique training requirements, USAFE activated the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron April 1, 1977. 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 wing 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. The 495th ended its mission December 13, 1991 when the wing reorganized under the objective wing program and began its transition to the newer F-15E "Strike Eagle." 

The switch that brought the F-111s to RAF Lakenheath went so smoothly that the wing received its third Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. With little time to bask in it achievements, the wing increased its training tempo to meet aircrew training and NATO readiness requirements. Air and ground crews deployed to Italy, Turkey, Iran, Greece and Pakistan, which offered flying opportunities and air-to-ground ranges. At home, monthly exercises honed combat skills to a fine edge. 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.