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53rd Fighter Squadron (53d FS)

In March 1999, the 53rd Fighter Squadron was inactivated as part of a reorganization of F-15C-equipped fighter squadrons. Squadrons assigned F-15Cs were expanded from 18 to 24 aircraft and as a result, the Squadron's aircraft were reassigned to other squadrons.

The 53rd Fighter Squadron was constituted as the 53rd Pursuit Squadron (Fighter) on 22 November 1940, and activated on 1 January 1941 with personnel deployed to Rio Hato, Panama and Albrook Field in the US controlled Canal Zone. The unit initially provided air defense for the Panama Canal until June 1943, moving from Albrook Field to Rio Hato entirely in August 1941 and then to France Field in the Canal Zone in December 1941. During this period the unit was redesignated as 53rd Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine) on 15 May 1942, as the 53rd Fighter Squadron on 28 September 1942, and as the 53rd Fighter Squadron, Single Engine on 20 Aug 1943.

In mid-1943, the Squadron moved to the continental United States and April 1944, the Squadron's P-47s were called to combat in the skies over Europe. Before leaving for the European theater of operations to participate in the Second World War, the 53rd Fighter Squadron received approval to mark its aircraft with a unique insignia. By command of Gen. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, the 53rd pursuit aircraft proudly displayed a "caricatured, pugnacious tiger." After serving in Europe from bases in England, France, Belgium, and Germany, the unit returned to the United States and was inactivated on 31 March 1946.

Following a brief inactivation, the unit was reactivated on activated on 15 Oct 1946 and redesignated as the 53rd Fighter Squadron, Jet Propelled on 27 October 1947, receiving P-80 (later F-80) aircraft. Once again, the Squadron operated in the Canal Zone, first at France Field and then at Howard Field (later Howard Air Force Base).

In 1948, the Squadron moved to Germany, where it would remain for the next 51 years. During this period, the unit was redesignated as the 53rd Fighter Squadron, Jet on 17 June 1948, as the 53rd Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 20 January 1950, as the 53rd Fighter-Day Squadron on 9 August 1954, as the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron on 8 July 1958, and finally as the 53rd Fighter Squadron on 1 October 1991. From 13 August 1948 to February 1994, the Squadron operated from various locations throughout Germany. Starting with Furstenfeldbruck Air Base, Germany in 1948, the Squadron moved in to Bitburg in 1952 where they received the F-86 and later the F-100. The Squadron had turned in its F-80s for F-84s in 1950. After a 5 year stay at Landsthul Air Base from 1956 to 1961, the Squadron redeployed to Bitburg where they received Fighters like the F-105 Thunderchief, the F-4 Phantom II, and the F-15 Eagle. During this period, the Squadron would be first assigned to the 36th Fighter Group (later the 36th Fighter-Bomber Group and and the 36th Fighter-Day Group, then to the 36th Fighter-Day Wing on 8 December 1957 (later the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing and then the 36th Fighter Wing), and the 36th Operations Group on 31 March 1992.

The Squadron kept watch over the skies of Germany before deploying to Southwest Asia in 1991 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Once in theater they operated from Al Kharj Air Base, Saudi Arabia attached to the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional) and then to the 4404th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional). The Squadron was credited with 11 confirmed kills during operations in Southwest Asia.

In 1994, the 53rd Fighter Squadron moved from Bitburg Air Base due budget cuts following the end of the Cold War to the nearby Spangdalem Air Base, as part of the inactivation of the 36th Fighter Wing. At Spangdalem where they joined the 52nd Fighter Wing, becoming assigned to the 52nd Operations Group on 25 February 1994.

On 3 January 1995, 2 members of the 53rd Fighter Squadron became the first 2 US Air Force pilots to fly an unrestricted, military sortie over the former East Germany in more than 45 years. Lieutenant Colonel Michael P. Fennessy, the squadron commander, and Captain Craig R. Jones, the squadron flight leader, were conducting a NATO Quick Reaction Alert training mission in F-15C Eagles. They entered the former East Germany by flying past Fulda, then proceeded to their training area over Leipzig. They exercised with German ground controllers to improve the NATO command and control structure in the region. In the summer of 1994, Allied Air Forces Central Europe, one of the 3 NATO military subordinate commands, tasked the 53rd Fighter Squadron to provide aircraft and flight crews capable of responding to unidentified aircraft in NATO airspace. As a result of German reunification on 3 October 1990, the new AIRCENT "Zulu" alert area of responsibility extended eastward to the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the German-Polish border.

The Air Force reassigned several aircraft belonging to US Air Forces in Europe in fiscal 1999. The moves complied with a 1996 Combat Air Forces decision to return fighter squadrons to a standard size of 24 primary assigned aircraft, and allowed USAFE fighter units to better-support normal operations during partial squadron deployments. Command fighter units were previously made up of 18 assigned aircraft. The reorganization affected Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. The 53rd Fighter Squadron, comprised of 18 F-15C aircraft, was to be inactivated.

The 53rd Fighter Squadron maintained a phenomenal pace despite the black cloud of the impending inactivation. In less than 2 years, the Squadron deployed to, and operated from, 9 countries on 3 continents, and accumulated more than 11,000 flying hours supporting both contingency and training operations. About 1,500 people were on the ramp of Hangar One on 10 March 1999 for the inactivation ceremony of the last US Air Force NATO Tiger unit. The 53rd Fighter Squadron's inactivation, effective 31 March 1999, came as a result of a force structure realignment of the US Air Forces in Europe to comply with a 1996 Combat Air Forces decision to return fighter squadrons to a standard size of 24 primary assigned aircraft. This was an increase from the existing level of 18 primary assigned aircraft. Six of the aircraft previously assigned to the 53rd Fighter Squadron moved to Lakenheath's 493rd Fighter Squadron, and the remaining aircraft were transferred to Air Combat Command.

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