53 Fighter Squadron

“Tigers”

Eagle History

The 53rd TFS started flying F-15’s at Bitburg AB in 1977.  The 23 aircraft for this first operational squadron left Langley on 27 April 1977 for a mass Atlantic crossing. Over the following months the aircraft for two other squadrons (22nd TFS and 53rd TFS) arrived. The 36th TFW’s full strength of 79 fully-operational F-15As was reached in December 1977. Project Ready Eagle was completed in precisely one year. In 1980 more advanced F-15Cs and F-15Ds would replace the original F-15As.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the 36th TFW conducted routine training missions from Bitburg Air Base, however the outbreak of the 1990-91 Gulf War put the F-15s of Bitburg into the heart of the conflict.

The 53rd and 22nd TFS (Combined Squadrons) and deployed to Al-Kjarj Air Base Saudi Arabia. The 53rd and 22nd TFS F-15s entered the Gulf War on 17 January in support of Operation Desert Storm and were credited with 11 confirmed kills. Two F-15C’s from the 53rd TFS (84-025 and 84-027) shot down 4 Iraqi Migs (2 each) on the first night of the war.

During the next six weeks, until the cease-fire, 53rd TFS aircraft flew around the clock, protecting two strikes per day and one strike each night. PROVEN FORCE strikes targeted military airfields, nuclear and chemical facilities, communications centers, power plants, and oil refineries and storage facilities in northern Iraq. By the middle of February, PROVEN FORCE was attacking Baghdad. In addition to protecting strikers, the 525th FS was frequently tasked to man barrier caps in eastern Iraq to destroy Iraqi fighters attempting to flee to Iran. These missions, often lasting in excess of five hours, required aircraft to operate over 150 miles (240 km) behind enemy lines without any support assets.

The 36th TFW’s pilots, support personnel and aircraft performed magnificently in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort. Not a single F-15C aircraft was lost in combat during the war. On 13 March 1991, the deployed 53rd TFS returned to Bitburg in victory.

A 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft returns to base after a mission during Operation Deny Flight, the enforcement of the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In February 1994 following the closure of Bitburg AB the 53rd FS

arrived at Spangdahlem. On 03 January 1995, two members of the 53rd Fighter Squadron became the first two U.S. Air Force pilots to fly an unrestricted, military sortie over the former East Germany in more than 45 years. Lt. Col. Michael P. Fennessy, squadron commander, and Capt. Craig R. Jones, 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 three NATO military subordinate commands, tasked the 53rd FS to provide aircraft and flight crews capable of responding to unidentified aircraft in NATO airspace. As a result of German reunification on Oct. 3, 1990, the new AIRCENT “Zulu” alert area of responsibility extended eastward to the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the German-Polish border.

The 53rd Fighter Squadron stood down in March 1999.

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. Spangdahlem’s 23rd Fighter Squadron gained six F-16 aircraft from the Combat Air Force’s attrition reserve fleet. The air base’s 53rd Fighter Squadron, comprised of 18 F-15C aircraft, was deactivated. Six of the aircraft moved to Lakenheath’s 493rd Fighter Squadron, and the remaining aircraft were transferred to Air Combat Command.

About 1,500 people were on the ramp of Hangar One 10 March 1999 for the inactivation ceremony of the last U.S. Air Force NATO Tiger unit. The 53rd Fighter Squadron’s inactivation, effective March 31, came as a result of a force structure realignment of the U.S. 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 current level of 18 PAA.

The 53rd FS NATO Tigers maintained a phenomenal pace despite the black cloud of the impending inactivation. In less than two years, the squadron deployed to, and operated from, nine countries on three continents, and accumulated more than 11,000 flying hours supporting both contingency and training operations.

Operations Desert Shield / Desert Storm 1990-1991

Below photos of the deployment during Desert Shield/Storm to Al Kharji AB 1990-1991. All photos donated by Jiffy Jeff Brown.

Squadron photos

53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron “Tigers” group photo 1988.Standing on the jet, left to right: Magoo Wolters, Slapper Wanebo, Ghost Webre, BooBoo Broome, Willy naigle, Kong Firth, Tools McKercher, Hollywood Anderson, Gills Guilford, Maniac Kormanik, Huey King, Buns Bunce

Sitting/Kneeling on the jet: Flave Lefavor, Mace mason, JB George, Smear Pfaff

Standing on ground, left to right: unknow, unknown, unknow, TSgt Nate Goolsby, Mo Molloy, Duff Duffy, JR Rust, Slam Detrick, Spud Grimes, Deedle Reed, Hambone Hammond, Toad Almand, Lips Lipe, Happy Metcalf, Bigs Bigum (SQ/CC during Desert Storm), Larry Klein, Lisa, Unkown, unknown, Lisa Melton

Squatting/kneeling left to right: Stump Schneider, Willy ray Sitton, Boots Demarest, Scotch Lebby, Doughboy Darby, K+10 Kolodzinski, Rocket Estes, Magic Kennedy, Toes Bartos, unknown. Photo via Martin “TAGS” Aguera”  Can anybody help with identifying the unknown persons on the Photo?

53 TFS group photo 1983, donated by Ralph “Beak” Koontz

Kneeling L to R: Lt Col Tom “Rowdy” Lewis, Commander; Lt Col Jack “Fryjack” Fry, Ops Officer

Standing L to R: Capt Kevin “Vader” Sheehan; Capt John “Oly” Oleksey; Lt Al “Reb” Revelle; Unk, Life Support; Unk, Life Support; Lt Bob “Scout” Winebrenner; Unk, pilot; Maj Ralph “Beak” Koontz; Maj Floyd “Ratso” Batcheldor; Maj Diane “Doc” Huey, Flight Surgeon; Capt Doug “Disco” Dildy; Capt Al “Mouse” Muise; Lt Dennis “Bones” Sager; Lt Col Jim “Jumbo” Wray; Unk, Ops; Unk, Admin; Capt Rich “Hub” Kendall (RIP); Capt Dave “Nail” Dringman; Maj John “Cam” May; Lt John “John Boy” Varwig; Capt Mike “Beebs” Bebo; Lt Doug “DooDah” Ray; Capt Howie “Dallas” Thompson; Capt “Shark” Schraeder; Amn Jody?, Life Support Capt Keith “Monty” Monteith, Amn Melanson, Life Support; Capt Todd “toad” Almanad; Capt Jeff “Wedge” Rather (RIP); Capt Steve “Log” Randolph; Capt Cal “Cal” Kemp; Capt Dennis “Grunt” Gavin; Lt Sam “Spud” Patellos; Capt T J “Eli” Cottongim; Lt Ed “Haze” Hazlett; Capt Jim “Mils” Miller, Unk, Life Support; Unk, Life Support, Unk, Life Support, MSgt Jerry Barnes, NCIOC, Ops, MSgt John Reed, NCOIC, Life Support

53 TFS group photo 1984, donated by Ralph “Beak” Koontz

Kneeling L to R: Lt Col Jack “Fryjack” Fry, Commander; Lt Col Ralph “Beak” Koontz, Ops Officer

Front Row L to R: Capt Ted “John Boy” Varwig; Capt Gary “Taxi” Cabriales; Unk admin officer; Lt Col Bill “Clip” Clippinger; Maj “Griz” Nelson; Maj Diane “Doc” Huey, flight surgeon; Amn Melancon, life support; Capt Bill “D-man” Diemand; Unk admin; Amn Jody ?, Life Support; Amn Campbell, Life Support; Sgt Wierenga, Ops; Capt Jim “Mils” Miller.

Second Row L to R: Lt “Bear” Gibbs; Lt Dan “Cheeks” Meeks; Capt Sam “Spud” Patellos; Capt Bob “Scout” Winebrenner; Lt Doug “DooDah” Ray; Capt Bob”Karnak” Karslake; Capt Ted “Ank” Ankenbauer; Capt Todd “Todd “Toad” Almand; Lt Brian “BD” Dickerson; Capt Phil “K-9” Kellerhals; Unk, Life Support, Lt Griffiths; Capt John “Oly” Oleksey

Third Row L To R: Capt Mike “Animal” Kaufman; Lt Dennis “Bones” Sager, Maj Dave “K-10” Kolodzinski; Capt Cliff “Cliff” Chandler; Capt Alex “Axle” Forbes, Unk, Life Support; Unk, Life Support; Unk , Admin; MSgt Barnes, NCOIC Ops, MSgt Unk, NCIOC Life Support

Group photo of the 53rd TFS Tigers from 1991 at Al Kharji AB. Commander at the time was Lt.Col Randy Bigum. Photo via Col. Jeff “Jiffy” Brown. Partly identified by Tom “Snuffy” Smith Left to right in front row:  Capt Paul Ackerley, Unknown, intell NCO?, Major Gary “Gumby” West, 22 Unknown , Major Dave Edmonds, Lt Col Tom “Snuffy” Smith, Lt Col Randy “Bigs” Bigum, Unknown airman over Bigs’ right shoulder Lt Col Al Nacke, rest of row unknown. Left to right, back row of pilots standing Unknown major, Major Deedle Reed, Capt “Banger” Wallender, unknown,Capt HM Hepperlin??, Unknown, Capt Tim “Tiller” Miller, 22, (standing with arms crossed, Two guys, heads peeking through, unknown. Killer Miller?, unknown airman, Capt Eric “Trigger” Jenkins, Lt String Speer, Unknown, Unknown 53 captain, Major Jiffy Jeff Brown, Major Kip Hunter, 53 (arms crossed, right elbow above my head), unknown.  Guy in back with white nametag:  Lt Col Bobby “Cutt” Honeycutt (wing ADO).Rest in that row unknown Starting at right side, standing: 1st guy:  unknown Captain, 2nd guy:  Captain Yuppie O’Connor, Guy peeking through:  Capt Jay Denny, 53 Guy with moustache and white t-shirt:  Kentucky _____, 22 Back row next to Kentucky:  Major Ptooey Turner, 53 Standing with yellow scarf and survival vest — Tom “Vegas” Dietz

Operation Deny Flight 1993 

A 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft takes off on a mission during Operation Deny Flight,Aviano AB April 1993 (USAF photo)
Airman 1st Class Michael Von Busch, a crew chief with the 53rd Fighter Squadron gives Lt. Col. Bob Turner the signal to shut down the engines of his F-15C Eagle aircraft following a mission during Operation Deny Flight

A 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft is serviced on the flight line during Operation Deny Flight, (USAF photo).

Airman 1st Class Michael Von Busch, a crew chief with the 53rd Fighter Squadron helps Lt. Col. Bob Turner remove his gear from the cockpit of his F-15C Eagle aircraft after a mission during Operation Deny Flight

Lt. Shaffer of the 53rd Fighter Squadron climbs into the cockpit of his F-15C Eagle aircraft to fly to a sortie in support of Operation Deny Flight

Technicians make final checks on an F-15C Eagle aircraft as Lt. Shaffer of the 53rd Fighter Squadron prepares to start the engines prior to a sortie during Operation Deny Flight

An F-15C Eagle aircraft from the 53rd Fighter Squadron taxis on the flight line before flying a mission during Operation Deny Flight

An F-15C Eagle from the 53rd Fighter Squadron stops in the weapons arming area before taking off on a mission during Operation Deny Flight

A pilot from the 53rd Fighter Squadron taxis his F-15C Eagle aircraft out to the runway for a mission during Operation Deny Flight

Airman 1ST Class Dan Focht places a cover on the nose of an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile mounted on the wing pylon of a 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft. The aircraft has just completed a mission during Operation Deny Flight.

Col. John Campbell, commander of the 36th Operations Group, and his crew chief, Airman 1st Class Ken O’Connor of the 53rd Fighter Squadron, conduct preflight checks of an F-15C Eagle aircraft during Operation Deny Flight.

A 53rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft is serviced on the flight line during Operation Deny Flight

53 TFS Eagles visting RAF Bentwaters

All photo’s taken and donated by Dave Pilsworth.

Tigers deployed at Bodø, Norway. during March 1982 (USAF photo).

Tigers squadron exchange in Orange / Caritat in November of 82

LtCol “Rowdy” Lewis was the OC … third from the left.  Front row below the star Robert “Scout” Winebrenner, with Alan “Mouse” Muise to his left, other unknown (photo donated by Robert ‘Scout” Winebrenner).

Two F-15C Eagle aircraft of the 53rd Fighter Squadron taxi on the airfield after arriving from Bitburg Air Base, Germany. Eagles from the unit will be used during Operation Deny Flight, the enforcement of the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An air-to-air right side view of a 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraf down range over Spain while deployed to Zaragozza AB, June 1987.
A 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagle aircraft on the flight line at Zaragozza AB, Spain June 1987. (MSGT Patrick Nugent)
53 TFS Tigers during the 1986 Tigermeet at Cambrai, France. Photo via Howard “Pipper” Pope. From left to right; Clark “Grizz” Nelson, Shotgun Gaige, “Claw” Clasen, “Dugan” Dunigan, “Neck” Wizniewski, Phil Kellerhals, Dave “Logger” Rose. Thank you all for helping to ID the Tigers.