Bitburg Airbase - A History
Category: GA Buyer Europe Magazine
Author: GA Buyer Europe
The Former Home of the US Air Force and the New Home of AviationExpo Europe
Bitburg Air Base was a NATO base during the Cold War, and the home of the US Air Force 36th Fighter Wing between 1952–1994. It is located 2 miles (3 kms) south-east of Bitburg, 20 miles (32 kms) north of Trier, and 135 miles (217 kms) west of Wiesbaden. Construction of the airbase began in western Germany’s Eifel mountains in Rheinland Pfalz in 1951. The 36th Fighter Wing was the first European wing of the US Air Force to receive the latest aircraft, the F4 Phantom and F15 Eagle being famous examples.
Under contract with the United States Air Force, the French Army began construction of what would become Bitburg Air Base in Western Germany's Eifel Mountains in Rhineland- Palatinate in early 1951. Located in the French zone of occupation, the air base was situated on farm land that had been a Wehrmacht tank staging and supply area for the Battle of the Bulge in early 1944.
The air base and its housing area occupied nearly 1,100 acres (445 ha), with a 8,200-foot (2,500 m) long runway (with 1,000-foot (300 m) overruns at each end, total length would be 10,200 ft)
Bitburg Airbase was where Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, served as a Flight commander in the 22nd TFS; US President Ronald Reagan also has some connection to the base during the 1950s
36th Fighter Wing
In July 1952 the 53rd Fighter-Bomber Squadron (FBS) from the 36th Fighter-Bomber Wing (FBW), from Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base a few miles west of Munich arrived at the newly built base. Throughout the summer, elements of the 36th FBW moved into Bitburg, with the wing officially arriving in November 1952. Under various designations, the 36th would remain at Bitburg for the next 40 years.
With its arrival the 36th FBW was equipped with the Republic F-84E "Thunderjet". Operational squadrons were:
22d Fighter-Bomber Squadron (Red motif)
23d Fighter-Bomber Squadron (Blue motif)
53d Fighter-Bomber Squadron (Green motif)
In August 1953, the North American F-86F "Sabre" was introduced to the wing, replacing the F-84s. In August 1954, the wing was redesignated as the 36th Fighter-Day Wing.
After transitioning to the Sabre the 36th TFW added two new squadrons, the 32nd Fighter Day Squadron from Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, and the 461st Fighter Day Squadron from Hahn Air Base. At first the 36th's F-86 markings consisted of Korean Theater-styled yellow and black-bordered bands, but squadron-specific colored bands were eventually applied to all the 36th FDW Sabres.
First USAF Operational Missile Squadron
The 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron, equipped with the B-61A Matador, was assigned to the 36th Fighter Bomber Wing, Bitburg Air Base, Germany, on 31 March 1954, making it the first operational U.S. missile unit.
The 36th Fighter Bomber Wing was renamed 36th Fighter Day Wing (no change of station) a year later on 14 March 1955, and the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron was renamed to the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron at that time. The B-61A Matador was renumbered to the TM-61A Matador.
The 1st Tactical Missile Squadron was detached from the 36th FDW, no change of station, and assigned to the newly formed 7382nd Pilotless Bomber Group headquartered at Hahn Air Base, on February 1, 1956. The 1st PBS remained at Bitburg Air Base.
The 7382nd Tactical Missile Group was inactivated on 15 September 1956, and the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron was reassigned to the newly formed 585th Tactical Missile Group, Bitburg Air Base, as part of the newly formed 701st Tactical Missile Wing, headquartered at Hahn AB. The 1st PBS became the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron, and was later redesignated as the 71st TMS. The unit converted from the TM- 61A to the TM-61C Matadors during that time.
The Matadors were operational at Bitburg until 1962 when replaced by the newer CGM-13B (TM-76B) Mace missile which were held in underground launch bays at sites near Rittersdorf and Idenheim.
The 71st Tactical Missile Squadron was also the last operational missile squadron in USAFE when it was deactivated April 30, 1969, ending 15 consecutive years of operational tactical missile duty at Bitburg.