Library Fact Sheets
81ST FIGHTER SQUADRON|
Printable Fact Sheet
The 81st Fighter Squadron -- the Panthers -- boasts a proud record of nearly 70 years of distinguished flying in defense of America's interests abroad.
The squadron flies the A -10C Thunderbolt II aircraft, the world's premiere CAS aircraft, affectionately known as the Warthog. Built around its 30mm 7-barrel Avenger Gatling gun which carries 1,150 rounds and fires at 70 rounds per second, the aircraft can also carry up to 16,000 pounds of ordnance. This includes MK-82 and MK-84 general-purpose, laser-guided and GPS-guided bombs, a variety of cluster bombs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, AIM-9 air-to-air infrared missiles, illumination flares, 2.75-inch rockets, and a full complement of self-protection countermeasures.
The 81st was activated January 15, 1942, at Key Field, Miss., flying the P-40 Warhawk. The squadron was assigned to the 50th Fighter Group and in October 1942 moved to Orlando Army Air Field (AAF) Florida, forming part of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics. There, the 81st 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 AAF, Florida, while the 50th Fighter Group remained headquartered at Orlando AAF. Each of the 50th Fighter Group's detached squadrons (including the 81st) returned to Orlando AAF in January 1944, where the squadron continued to train and teach while preparing to ship out to England.
In March 1944, the Panthers received a new aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and a new home in England with the 9th Air Force. 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 received two Distinguished Unit Citations for combat, was credited with 47 aerial victories and produced the 50th Fighter Group's only ace, Major Robert D. Johnston.
The unit was inactivated November 7, 1945, at La Junta Army Airfield, Colorado, and then reactivated in July 1947 at McChord Field, Washington, where they tested a number of different aircraft. On January 1, 1953, the 81st was established at Clovis AFB, New Mexico, briefly flying the F-51 Mustang before transitioning to the F-86 Sabre in the spring of 1953. In August 1953, the squadron relocated to Hahn Air Base, Germany.
In July 1956, the 81st moved to Toul Rosieres Air Base, France, converting to the F-100 Super Sabre in July 1958. One year later, it returned to Hahn AB and in December 1966, re-equipped with the F-4C Phantom II. 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 moved to the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, where it took on the Wild Weasel mission of defense suppression. As NATO's only defense suppression squadron, the squadron received the first 24 F-4G advanced Wild Weasels equipped with the APR-38 Radar Attack and Warning System. In 1984, the 81st transitioned to a mixed F-4G and F-4E hunter/killer team, using the AGM-88 HARM and AGM-45 SHRIKE, as the 52nd TFW 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 U.S. Air Force to fly two different aircraft in the same combat element. In June 1988 the 81st received the F-4G with the improved APR-47 radar and continued to fly mixed elements in the hunter/killer role. Then in December 1990, the Panthers became an all-F-4G squadron, flying more than 12,000 combat sorties and 25,000 hours over Iraq and racking up 113 radar kills.
The last F-4G left Spangdahlem AB on February 18, 1994, as A/OA-10 aircraft arrived and the 81st replaced the 510 FS at Spangdahlem AB. 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 U.S. Air Forces Europe squadron to participate in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, enforcing the United Nations imposed no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
Members of the 81st again deployed to Aviano AB in October 1998, supporting NATO air presence during the crisis in Kosovo, Yugoslavia. The Panthers returned to Aviano AB in January 1999 for a regular contingency rotation and remained to support Operation ALLIED FORCE. The 81 FS supported air operations from Aviano AB until April 11, 1999, when it moved to Gioia del Colle, Italy. Between the two locations, the Panthers 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 two 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.
In September 2000, the 81 FS deployed 12 aircraft to Southwest Asia for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, accumulating more than 700 combat and training sorties. Immediately following the deployment, the 81 FS 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 U.S. Marine, U.S. Navy and Croatian military forces and support another real-world contingency.
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 two 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). The Panthers returned to Afghanistan with the A-10C in May 2010, this time to Kandahar AB in the south. Despite the heat, wind and dust, the 81 FS 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 OEF and ISAF operations.