RAF Lakenheath



48th Fighter Wing

Aircraft Assigned

RAF Lakenheath Aircraft
  • B-29 (1948)
  • F-84G (1952)
  • T-33 (1952)
  • C-47 (1952)
  • T-6 (1952)
  • L-5B (1952)
  • F-86F (1954)
  • F-100D (1960) - When the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing's first F-100D touched down on RAF Lakenheath's runway January 15, 1960, the landing symbolized a return for the Liberty Wing. Almost 16 years had passed since the 48th Fighter Group's arrival at Ibsley, England, for the D-Day invasion. One of the 48th Fighter Group's original members, present when the group first occupied Ibsley, was assigned to the Liberty Wing in 1960. MSgt. James Watcher, a bomb-loading private in 1944, returned to RAF Lakenheath as a munitions supervisor.

"I really enjoyed England the first time, but I think I'm going to enjoy this tour even more because I don't have to look for Messerschmitts," he said. "Even better, I don't have to watch our pilots take off and wonder if they'll be coming back."

  • F-4D (1972)
  • F-111F (1977) - El Dorado Canyon - At approximately 1900 local time, on the evening of 14 April, 24 F-111Fs departed Lakenheath's runway, including six airborne spares. In flights of four, aircrews flew south through the Straights of Gibraltar and began their orchestrated attack shortly after midnight on 15 April. Simultaneously, Navy and Air Force support aircraft began engaging Libyan defenses around Tripoli.

    The grueling 14-hour flight took its toll. "Those guys were so fatigued, the crew chiefs literally had to pull some of the crews out of the cockpits," recalled CMSgt Richard O'Shaughnessy, then a Master Sergeant and weapons flight supervisor. "Most of them actually lost several pounds from sweating so much. When the guys pulled their helmets off, sweat literally poured down their foreheads and necks."

    Colonel Sam W. Westbrook, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander, summed up the base's feelings during the 14-hour ordeal: "We held our breath during that fourteen hour period. People didn't really smile a whole lot and conversation remained somewhat subdued. But when our people saw the first F-111s on approach, the whole flightline workforce let out a sigh of relief and seemed to breathe once again.

    However, despite the success of the mission, the reality of the danger experienced by the wing's pilots hit home. As the strike force recovered at Lakenheath both air and ground crews were given the somber news that "Karma-52," and its crew, Pilot Major Fernando L. Ribas and Weapon Systems Operator Captain Paul Lorence of the 495th Fighter Squadron were missing.

    On 8 September 1986, U.S. Navy Secretary John Lehman presented the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation to the Liberty Wing for its participation in the operation. Today, the Liberty Wing remains the only Air Force unit to have received this prestigious award.

  • F-15C/D (1994)
  • F-15E (1992)
  • HH-60G (2006)
Page Updated: 2012-07-09 15:35:26
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