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81st Fighter Squadron (81st FS)
"Panthers"

On 18 June 2013, the 81st Fighter Squadron was inactivated at Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany. The inactivation signaled the end of A-10 operations in Europe at that time.

The 81st Fighter Squadron was constituted as 81st Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 6 January 1942 and activated on 15 January 1942 at Key Field, Mississippi, flying the P-40 aircraft. The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Squadron on 15 May 1942 and as the 81 Fighter Squadron (Special) on 28 May 1942. The Squadron was assigned to the 50th Fighter Group and in October 1942 moved to Orlando Army Air Field, Florida, forming part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. There, the 81st Fighter Squadron tested procedures and equipment, seeking better ways to manage the huge efforts required to supply troops and maintain aircraft fighting overseas. Hinting at the conditions under which the Squadron would fly when it entered combat, pilots often flew from airfields with little or no infrastructure.

In 1943, the 81st moved to Cross City Army Air Field, Florida, while the 50th Fighter Group remained headquartered at Orlando Army Air Field. Each of the 50th Fighter Group's detached squadrons (including the 81st Fighter Squadron) returned to Orlando Army Air Field in January 1944, where the Squadron continued to train and teach while preparing to ship out to England. In 1943, the Squadron had also begun to receive P-47 aircraft. The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Squadron (Single Engine) on 21 January 1944 and then again as the 81st Fighter Squadron, Single Engine, on 28 February 1944.

By March 1944, the Panthers had fully converted to the P-47, and were at a new home in England with the Ninth Air Force by April 1944. Between April 1944 and the Armistice in May 1945, the unit flew hundreds of fighter escort, close air support and interdiction missions, supporting the D-Day invasion and operating from numerous forward landing bases in while covering the Allied advance. The Squadron operated from bases in England, France, and Germany. The Squadron received 2 Distinguished Unit Citations for combat, was credited with 47 aerial victories, and produced the 50th Fighter Group's only ace, Major Robert D. Johnston. Following the end of the Second World War, the unit returned to the United States and was inactivated on 7 November 1945, at La Junta Army Airfield, Colorado.

The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Squadron (All Weather) on 13 May 1947 and activated in the Air Force Reserve on 12 July 1947 at McChord Field, Washington. The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Squadron, Jet on 20 June 1949 and as the 81st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron on 1 March 1950. It was ordered into active service on 1 June 1951 and was inactivated on 2 June 1951. During this period the Squadron tested a number of different aircraft.

The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 15 November 1952 and activated on 1 January 1953 at Clovis Air Force Base, New Mexico. There the Squadron briefly flew the F-51 before transitioning to the F-86 aircraft in the spring of 1953. In August 1953, the Squadron relocated to Hahn Air Base, Germany. In July 1956, the 81st Fighter Squadron moved to Toul Rosieres Air Base, France, converting to the F-100 aircraft in July 1958. The unit was redesignated as the 81st Tactical Fighter Squadron on 8 July 1958, On 10 December 1959, the Squadron returned to Hahn AB and in December 1966, was assigned the F-4 Phantom II aircraft. Throughout this period, the Squadron was tasked with providing close air support and reconnaissance, adding the defense-suppression mission in late 1969.

The Panthers took their Phantoms to Zweibrucken Air Base, Germany, in June 1971 to fill the vacancy left by the Canadian armed forces' departure. In 1973, the 81st Fighter Squadron moved to join the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, where it took on the sole mission of defense suppression. As NATO's only defense suppression squadron, the Squadron received the first 24 F-4G aircraft equipped with the AN/APR-38 Radar Attack and Warning System. In 1984, the 81st Fighter Squadron transitioned to a mixed F-4G and F-4E hunter/killer team, using the AGM-88 HARM and AGM-45 Shrike missiles, as the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing became the only defense suppression wing in NATO.

The 81st exchanged some of its F-4E aircraft for F-16C Fighting Falcons in January 1988, becoming a member of the only wing in the US Air Force to fly 2 different aircraft in the same combat element. In June 1988, the 81st Fighter Squadron received the F-4G with the improved AN/APR-47 radar and continued to fly mixed elements in the hunter/killer role.

In December 1990, the Panthers became an all-F-4G squadron, subsequently flying more than 12,000 combat sorties and 25,000 hours over Iraq in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and racking up 113 radar kills. During their deployment to Southwest Asia, the aircraft operated from Shaik Isa, Bahrain.

The unit was redesignated as the 81st Fighter Squadron on 1 October 1991. The last F-4G left Spangdahlem Air Base on 18 February 1994, as A/OA-10 aircraft arrived and the 81st Fighter Squadron replaced the 510 Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base. The Squadron continuously deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in support of Operation Deny Flight, enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia, and in September 1997 became the first US Air Forces Europe (USAFE) squadron to participate in Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the United Nations imposed no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

Members of the 81st Fighter Squadron again deployed to Aviano Air Base in October 1998, supporting NATO air presence during the crisis in Kosovo, Yugoslavia. The Panthers returned to Aviano Air Base in January 1999 for a regular contingency rotation and remained to support Operation Allied Force. The 81st Fighter Squadron supported air operations from Aviano Air Base until 11 April 1999, when it moved to Gioia del Colle, Italy as part of the 40th Air Expeditionary Group. A-10s assigned to the 40th Air Expeditionary Group came from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and the 74th Fighter Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina. Between the 2 locations, aircraft from the 81st Fighter Squadron flew more than 1,400 combat missions in support of Operation Allied Force, led the first large force package in A-10 history, and also led the first 2 successful combat search and rescue task force missions which involved coordinating all rescue assets and resulted in the successful recovery of downed pilots from an F-117 and an F-16.

A Spangdahlem Air Base pilot received a one of the military's highest medals for an act of heroism during Operation Allied Force, NATO's air campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo. A Silver Star Medal was presented to Captain John A. Cherrey, an A/OA-10 pilot with the 81st Fighter Squadron. The medal was presented for Cherrey's action against an armed enemy of the United States near Novi Sad, Serbia, on March 27 and 28, 1999. Cherrey earned the medal for courageously and repeatedly risking his life to rescue a fellow American pilot who was shot down over hostile Serbian territory on 27 March 1999. As the overall Combat Search and Rescue Task Force Mission commander, Cherrey flew into the teeth of the Serbian Air defenses, battling constant communication jamming and intrusion, deteriorating weather, repeated targeting of his aircraft by deadly SA-3 and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles, and the threat of enemy aircraft only a few miles from the downed F-117A stealth fighter pilot's location. At extreme risk to his life, Cherrey overflew unknown Serbian territory while fully exposed to surface-to-air threats, until he positively identified the pilot and his location. Cherrey deceived enemy radar and concealed the intended pickup site by maneuvering his formation away from the downed pilot's position and into the SA-3 and SA-6 lethal ranges. Critically low on fuel, Cherrey refused to abandon his post. With impeccable courage, he stayed in an increasingly hostile environment to be close to the downed pilot until the rescue.

When the Communications Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany deploys, it relies on its Air Expeditionary Force Communications Package (formerly Wing Initial Communications Package) to establish all communications systems. This robust capability included secure and non-secure Internet access, land mobile radios, UHF/VHF ground-to-air radios, cellular phone service, secure messaging systems, telephone switches, facsimile, visual information and postal services. The complete package that rivals base level services. The 52nd Fighter Wing's Air Expeditionary Force Command Post was built from scratch in 1997 and employed 14 full-time people. It had its first taste of real world missions in late 1998 and early 1999 during Operation Allied Force, providing vital communications to the 81st Fighter Squadron's A/OA-10s deployed to Gioia Del Colle, Italy. Typically, 10 to 20 augmentees are pulled from their primary work centers to support a deployment.

Six A-10 Warthogs and 110 people from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, participated in a 10-day multi-national combat search and rescue exercise. CSAR 99-02, which ended 10 December 1999, was designed to hone the skills of search and rescue units in NATO. The A-10s and people from Spangdahlem's 81st Fighter Squadron flew missions associated with the exercise over Bosnia. The overall objective was to practice intense search and rescue techniques, particularly unplanned ones, with varying operations similar to Allied Force. Though Spangdahlem A-10s have participated in similar training, CSAR 99-02 was a complex exercise, involving a wider range of scenarios and more people than before in the southern European theater. The exercise involved people and aircraft from several allied countries, including French and Italian helicopters, Spanish and Canadian F-18s, and British and French Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

In September 2000, the 81st Fighter Squadron deployed 12 aircraft to Southwest Asia for Operation Southern Watch, accumulating more than 700 combat and training sorties. Immediately following the deployment, the 81st Fighter Squadron was additionally tasked to participate in Croatian Phiblex 2000. The Panthers generated and deployed their remaining 6 A/OA-10s and 183 personnel to Split, Croatia, to conduct a joint amphibious landing exercise with US Marine Corps, US Navy, and Croatian military forces.

Following the events of 11 September 2001, elements of the Squadron deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Elements of the Squadron deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in June 2003, September 2004, May 2006, and January 2008 to provide close air support to coalition ground forces supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. During these deployments the Panthers performed an intensive regimen of combat patrols to find, fix and destroy elusive, guerilla-type enemy combatants in support of ground forces. As a direct result of the combat action in the 2006 deployment 2 Panther pilots won the prestigious Mackay Trophy and the Daedalian Exceptional Pilot Awards.

The first A-10C arrived in May 2009, after receiving the Precision Engagement upgrade, which significantly increased the Warthog's already impressive precision and lethality with a digital stores system, integration of advanced targeting pods, hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) functionality and Situational Awareness Data-Link (SADL). Elements of the 81st Fighter Squadron returned to Afghanistan with the A-10C in May 2010, this time to Kandahar Air Base in the south. Despite the heat, wind and dust, the aircraft flew over 9,500 hours on over 2,100 sorties and employed over 70,000 rounds of 30mm, 159 precision weapons, and 141 rockets while again providing precision close air support to Operation Enduring Freedom and International Stabilization Assistance Force operations.




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