THOSE WERE THE DAYS!

THE 50TH FIGHTER BOMBER WING

by Dave Tilton

The 50th Fighter Bomber Wing was activated at Seifridge Field on 15 January 1941 as the 50th Pursuit Group. Redesignated the 50th Fighter Group in May of that same year, the unit was part of the Fighter Command School, training pilot cadres for night fighter units operating in Europe and the Pacific.

The 50th went to England in April 1944, flying P-47 Thunderbolts from RAF Lymington with the 9th AF, until Allied forces had a foothold on the Continent following the Normandy Invasion. The 50th flew many ground support missions in support of the GIs slugging their way off the beaches during those fateful days in June 1944. Operating from forward bases in France, the 50th leap-frogged across France and Germany, finally ending the war at Giebelstadt AB, Germany. The 50th returned to the US after the end of the war and was inactivated on 7 November 1945.

On 1 April 1951, the 140th FBW, with 120th FBS, Colorado ANG, 187th FBS Wyoming ANG, and 191st FBS Utah ANG, were federalized and reopened Clovis AFB, New Mexico. They were equipped with F-51Ds at the time. One of our early members was a recent returnee from Korea, an 'ace' with 8 MiGs, and a gentleman many of you know - Captain Robinson 'Robbie' Risner. Robbie was my Ops Officer in the 187th, and a real pleasure and thrill to fly with. He was a real PRO.

On 1 January 1953, as part of the emergency buildup to counter the Soviet threat to the Western nations, the federalized 140th FBW became the 50th FBW, and was slated to fly F-86F fighter bombers. The pilot cadre comprised quite a few 'jocks' with World War Two experience, plus quite a few pilots that had recently returned from the fighting in Korea Many of the pilots had F-86 training, although there were quite a few that had flown the venerable F-51D Mustang in Korea. And that was a good thing, as the group was equipped with F51Ds when we were first activated at Clovis

We transitioned from '51s into F-86Fs very soon, spending the next 7 months learning fighter bomber tactics. Our COs at this time, Colonel Gerald Dix and Colonel Al Schinz, demanded only one thing from us -perfection. By the summer, we felt we were ready for anything. And with that kind of attitude, the Air Force put us right in the front lines of the Cold War. On 22 July 1953, we departed Clovis for operations in support of NATO. On 10 August 1953, we began operations at Hahn AB, Germany.

Although the 50th was a fighter bomber group, our mission at Hahn was similar to that of the 36th Fighter Day Wing, (The 36th FDW was covered in a story in Sabrejet Classics, vol.3-3 "Zulu Alert At Fursty". Ed.) When we weren't standing "Zulu Alert", we often would fly border patrol flights. We had to stage through the forward field at Giebelstadt (our old home during WW2), which was about 5 minutes from the border. Taking off from G'stadt, we would rush headlong toward the border, turning back at the very last moment. It usually got the Soviet air defenses all fired up, and sometimes the Migs would come buzzing around.

Near the end of my tour with the 50th, another aviator with 'some experience' came to the 50th. He was my CO in the 417th FBS and his name was LtCol Chuck Yeager. By this time our squadron had transitioned into the F86H, and it was my extreme pleasure to give the original Mach-buster his 'check-out' in the new 'H. What a ride that was trying to keep up with Chuck Yeager, making sure he knew how to fly it!

About twice a year we would jet down to sunny Wheelus AB, near Tripoli, Libya. Ah yes, Wheelus, that resort on the Mediterranean. There was sun and sand - and very little else. USAFE and 12th AF held gunnery competitions at Wheelus in December 1954 and July 1955. With Chuck Yeager leading our squadron, the 417th won the USAFE Gunnery Meet in 1954. I was fortunate enough to be named the Top Shooter of our squadron. Those were the days. The 50th flew F-86Fs and F-86Hs from 1953 into 1958, before transitioning into the supersonic era with the F-100 Super Sabre. But that's another story.


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