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LakenHeath AFB Factsheets

1960s

When the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing’s first F-100D touched down on RAF Lakenheath’s runway January 15, 1960, the landing symbolized a return for the Liberty Wing. Almost 16 years had passed since the 48th Fighter Group’s arrival at Ibsley, England, for the D-Day invasion. One of the 48th Fighter Group’s original members, present when the group first occupied Ibsley, was assigned to the Liberty Wing in 1960. MSgt. James Watcher, a bomb-loading private in 1944, returned to RAF Lakenheath as a munitions supervisor.

"I really enjoyed England the first time, but I think I’m going to enjoy this tour even more because I don’t have to look for Messerschmitts,"’ he said. "Even better, I don’t have to watch our pilots take off and wonder if they’ll be coming back."

As Strategic Air Command elements began their departure, the 3910th Air Base Group began its transition of handing RAF Lakenheath’s facilities and real estate over to the 48th’s support elements. While SAC had upgraded numerous World War II-era facilities and lengthened the runway, the wing initiated an ambitious, multimillion dollar construction project to facilitate its three fighter squadrons and support elements. Further, housing plans were begun to ease the strain on local communities dealing with 2,000 additional military people and their families.

New crises and new name 

Upon their arrival, Liberty Wing pilots began an intense training schedule to meet the wing’s NATO strike commitment. Support personnel also became inundated with the tasks of getting the 48th’s fleet of 60 F-100Ds fully operational. With the Cold War heating up, the wing’s regeneration efforts paid off in many ways.

East Germany’s decision to build the Berlin Wall and the Missile Crisis in Cuba increased Cold War tensions to an all-time high, as wing F-100s augmented National Guard aircraft in Germany for rotational alert duties under Operation Stair Step. RAF Lakenheath also served as a rotational base for Strategic Air Command B-47 and B-52 aircraft throughout the Berlin Crisis. This requirement ended in mid-1963 during an Air Force-wide reorganization.

In 1962, the Air Force approved the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing’s emblem, thereby officially making the wing one of the only units with a numerical and lettered designation. At about the same time, the Liberty Wing came under the operational command of 3rd Air Force.

Between 1963 - 1972, the wing’s F-100 fleet maintained its readiness by participating in a number of USAFE and NATO exercises. Operation Round Robin found Liberty Wing pilots deployed to other NATO bases to evaluate aircraft cross-servicing procedures and combined air tactics. Crews also flew ROULETTE missions to evaluate 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force intercept capabilities. Periodic MAX EFFORT exercises, similar to today’s sorties surges, were conducted in conjunction with other tactical fighter units to test air-to-air intercept and coordinated close air support training, Wing pilots also found themselves in Turkey, Libya, Norway and locations in between during combined NATO deployments such as POLAR EXPRESS, BARKING PUP, QUICK TRAIN, and DERBY TIME.