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Piece of history returns to RAF Lakenheath

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- 48th Fighter Wing Airmen unload a crate from a C-130 Hercules on the RAF Lakenheath flightline on Jan. 28. The C-130 arrived from Aviano Air Base, Italy, carrying the canopy of a Serbian MiG-29. The MiG-29 was shot down by an F-15C Eagle pilot from the 493rd Fighter Squadron during Operation Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tiffany M. Deuel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- 48th Fighter Wing Airmen unload a crate from a C-130 Hercules on the RAF Lakenheath flightline on Jan. 28. The C-130 arrived from Aviano Air Base, Italy, carrying the canopy of a Serbian MiG-29. The MiG-29 was shot down by an F-15C Eagle pilot from the 493rd Fighter Squadron during Operation Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tiffany M. Deuel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Capt. Michael Frye, 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle pilot, pulls the recovered canopy of a MiG-29 from a crate outside the 493rd FS building on Jan. 29. The canopy came from a Serbian jet that had been shot down during Operation Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tiffany M. Deuel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Capt. Michael Frye, 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle pilot, pulls the recovered canopy of a MiG-29 from a crate outside the 493rd FS building on Jan. 29. The canopy came from a Serbian jet that had been shot down during Operation Allied Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tiffany M. Deuel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- On Jan. 28, 2011, a piece of 48th Fighter Wing history came home for the first time.

Thanks to assistance from the 352nd Special Operations Group's 67th Special Operations Squadron from neighboring RAF Mildenhall, a canopy from a MiG-29 shot down by a 493rd Fighter Squadron pilot arrived safe and sound at RAF Lakenheath.

The canopy had resided at Aviano Air Base, Italy, since the fighter was shot down more than ten years ago.

In 1999, NATO undertook Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia to stop crimes against humanity and human rights abuses directed against the ethnic minority Kosovars. The 48th Fighter Wing provided F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles and other support assets for this undertaking. The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron conducted combat operations from Cervia Air Base, Italy, as part of the 501st Expeditionary Operations Group under the 16th Air Expeditionary Wing.

On the early evening of March 26, 1999, the third day of Allied Force, Capt. Jeffery "Claw" Hwang conducted a combat air patrol mission as the lead pilot in an F-15C formation. The formation encountered Serbian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and engaged them, downing both. Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, Sixteenth Air Force commander, awarded Captain Hwang with two aerial victory credits.

The air campaign lasted from March 24 to June 20, 1999, ending with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province of Kosovo. Serbia signed an agreement on June 9, whereupon NATO ceased air operations on June 10. Serbian forces withdrew by June 20. The air campaign proved for the first time that a military operation could be accomplished solely through air power.

Sixteenth Air Force acquired the damaged canopy following the air-to-air encounter. Eventually, the canopy was mounted and displayed with a plaque offering historical context. In 2005, 16th Air Force relocated to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and the canopy went into storage.

That is, until Ashley Armes, historian for the 31st Fighter Wing realized that the 48th Fighter Wing could provide a good home for the piece of history.

The 493rd Fighter Squadron, and the Liberty Wing, definitely had an interest in acquiring the canopy as a piece of heritage related to this chapter in its history. With a few phone calls and no small amount of coordination, a crew from the 67th SOS picked up the crated canopy and brought it to Lakenheath.

Now that the canopy has arrived, only one question remains. Where to display it?