The 52nd Fighter wing began its history at Spangdahlem on 31 December 1971, when it was activated as the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing. Upon activation, the 52nd possessed two tactical units—the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (flying the F-4D Phantom II) and the 39th Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (Flying the EB-66 Destroyer). The mission grew as the 39 TEWS was activated on 1 January 1973. The 81 TFS, equipped with the F-4C, moved here from Zweibrucken AB, Germany, a few days later.
By mid-1982, the unit had upgraded its aging aircraft for more advanced F-4E and F-4G jets. Each of the wing’s three fighter squadrons flew a mixture of E and G model F-4 fighters. The airplanes were paired into “Wild Weasel” hunter/killer teams capable of locating and destroying enemy radar-guided, surface-to-air threats in any weather.
In April 1987, the wing began changing with the times and replaced its aging F-4E jets with brand new F-16C/D Fighting Falcons just off the production line. Together, the F-4G and F-16C airplanes were capable of delivering almost any munitions in the Air Force inventory with pinpoint accuracy.
The 52 TFW earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor for its accomplishments during the Persian Gulf conflict with Iraq. In 40 days of combat, aircraft from Spangdahlem logged 2,061 sorties and 7,200 flying hours over Iraq and occupied Kuwait. They destroyed 142 separate radar sites and along with other coalition aircraft, were credited with destroying the entire Iraqi air defense system within the first few days of combat.
Under Air Force-wide reorganization the 52 TFW became the 52nd Fighter Wing in October 1991. In January 1993, the wing gained its fourth tactical unit with the activation of the 510th Fighter Squadron. By October 1994, the 52 FW was the only remaining fighter wing in Germany.
In 1995, the 52nd Fighter Wing’s mission shifted from “fight in place” to “deployment/employment.” The Wing gained four new geographically-separated munitions squadrons in August 1996, assigning the 52nd, 752nd, and 852nd Munitions Support Squadrons to the 52 FW. The 470th Air Base Squadron was also assigned to the wing.
The 52nd continued making history in 1997 with it’s first-ever deployment to a former Warsaw Pact nation. In September 1997, the 52nd participated in EAGLE’S TALON-97, the first bilateral exercise involving US and Polish Air Forces. To this day, the 52nd Operations Group maintains an operational presence in Łask, Poland, where it interacts with and trains US and NATO forces alike.
In addition to operating from Spangdahlem AB, the 52nd deployed personnel and equipment to Aviano AB and Lecce, Italy, to support Operation ALLIED FORCE. OAF proved to be the largest military endeavor undertaken by the 52nd Fighter Wing since Operation DESERT STORM.
In the aftermath of September 11th 2001, the 52nd Fighter Wing began preparing for possible combat tasking. Personnel and equipment deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM activities over Afghanistan. Members of the wing continue to deploy in support of these operations.
As part of further re-structuring in 2010, the wing’s aircraft fleet was cut from five squadrons to two, leaving the 480th Fighter Squadron’s F-16s and the 81st Fighter Squadron’s A-10s, with the latter leaving Spangdahlem in June of 2013. The latest departure from Spangdahlem was the 606th Air Control Squadron, who relocated in early 2017 to Aviano AB, Italy.
The 52nd Fighter Wing exists today as a key asset in the security of US and NATO interests in the region and continues to deploy in support of both contingency operations in Southeast Asia as well as numerous Theater Security Packages throughout Europe.