In 1977 the 36th TFW received it’s first Eagles. Project Ready Eagle brought the McDonnell-Douglas F-15A to the 36th TFW. The first F-15A’s arrived at Bitburg on 7t January 1977 The first Eagles to arrive were two TF-15A (F-15B) trainers (serial numbers 75-049 and 75-050), that had flown non-stop from Langley AFB, VA in seven and a half hours.These Eagles were to be used primarily for ground crew familiarization in anticipation of the arrival of the 525th TFS’s first F-15As. The 23 aircraft for this first operational squadron left Langley on 27 april 1977 for a mass Atlantic crossing. Over the following months the aircraft for two other squadrons (22nd TFS and 53rd TFS) arrived. The 36th TFW’s full strength of 79 fully-operational F-15As was reached in December 1977. Project Ready Eagle was completed in precisely one year. In 1980 more advanced F-15Cs and F-15Ds would replace the original F-15As.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the 36th TFW conducted routine training missions from Bitburg Air Base, however the outbreak of the Desert Shield deployed the F-15s of Bitburg to Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
(on the left an Eagle driver from Bitburg Air Base takes a break from inquiring crowds attending the Farnborough Air Show 1982. USAF photo)
Two F-15A’s from the 525th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 36th Tactical Fighter Wing (s/n 75-0069, 75-0074), based at Bitburg Air Base, Rheinland-Pfalz (Germany), fly over “Burg Cochem” (Cochem Castle) and the Moselle River, 1 August 1977, U.S. Air Force Photo by SSgt. Emmett Lewis, USAF
36th TFW deployed. Desert Shield/Desert Storm
The 53rd and 22nd TFS (Combined Squadrons) and deployed to Al-Kjarj Air Base , Saudi Arabia and the 525th TFS flew its F-15s to Incirlik AB, Turkey as part of USAFE’s Joint Task Force Proven Force. The 53rd and 22nd TFS F-15s entered the Gulf War on 17 January in support of Operation Desert Storm and were credited with 11 confirmed kills. Two F-15C’s from the 53rd TFS (84-025 and 84-027) shot down 4 Iraqi Migs (2 each) on the first night of the war. The 525th entered combat on 19 Jauary when two F-15s used AIM-7 Sparrow radar missiles to destroy two Iraqi Mirage F-1’s.
U.S. Air Force Photo
During the next six weeks, until the cease-fire, 36th TFW aircraft flew around the clock, protecting two strikes per day and one strike each night. PROVEN FORCE strikes targeted military airfields, nuclear and chemical facilities, communications centers, power plants, and oil refineries and storage facilities in northern Iraq. By the middle of February, PROVEN FORCE was attacking Baghdad. In addition to protecting strikers, the 525th FS was frequently tasked to man barrier caps in eastern Iraq to destroy Iraqi fighters attempting to flee to Iran. These missions, often lasting in excess of five hours, required aircraft to operate over 150 miles (240 km) behind enemy lines without any support assets.
The 36th TFW’s pilots, support personnel and aircraft performed magnificently in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort. The 36th Fighter Wing was credited with 17 confirmed air to air kills for the entire Gulf War. Not a single F-15C aircraft was lost in combat during the war. On 13 march 1991 the deployed squadrons of the 36th TFW returned to Bitburg in victory.
The celebration was brief, however, as the 525th TFS deployed back to Incirlik Air Base on 5 April to support Operation PROVIDE COMFORT.
Following the war against Iraq, numerous Kurdish refugees fled northward from the remaining forces of Saddam Hussein. The United States initiated a vast airlift operation, named Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, to drop food and supplies to these refugees concentrated in Iraq along the Turkish border. Because tensions between the Iraqi and Allied forces in the area remained quite high, the 525 was called back to Turkey in April 1991 to protect the vulnerable Allied cargo aircraft. In addition, the 525th TFW was tasked, as part of the operation, to fly at low altitude over Iraq and provide intelligence updates of Iraqi troop and equipment locations.
Between the 5th of April and the 25th May, 1991, the 525th flew 285 sorties over Iraq in support of Operation PROVIDE COMFORT. Just as before, not a single aircraft was lost in Iraq due to hostile fire.
Cold War draw down
Bitburg Air Base was part of the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure (or BRAC) process that saw the drawdown of many military facilities. On 31 March 1992 the 525th “Bulldogs” retired their colors, while the 22nd “Stingers” and 53rd “Tigers” remained at Bitburg Air Base. On 1 November 1992, the 606th Air Control Squadron moved to Bitburg from Basdahl, Germany. In July 1993, HQ USAFE announced another in a series of post-Cold War force drawdowns in Europe which announced the closure of Bitburg Air Base and the pending inactivation of the 36th Fighter Wing.
With the announced closure of Bitburg, on 25 February 1994 the 53d Fighter Squadron was transferred to the 52d Operations Group at Spangdahlem AB, along with its F-15 fighters. The 22d Fighter Squadron was also moved to Spangdahlem on 1 April, however neither its personnel, nor its F-15s were transferred to the 52d TFW. The 22d became an F-16C/D Fighting Falcon squadron, replacing the 480th Fighter Squadron. The 606th Air Control Squadron was also assigned to the 52d Operations Group but remained at Bitburg until September 1995 before moving to Spangdahlem.
U.S. Air Force Photo