In 1977 the United States Air Force realised it needed more tankers in the European theatre to support the growing numbers of NATO aircraft
in Europe and to supplement the tankers already based at RAF Mildenhall. After much study RAF Fairford was chosen as the new base.
RAF Fairford was reactivated as a USAF tanker base in September 1978 when six KC-135s arrived for Exercise Autumn Forge.
First arrival was 6th Sep and on the 13th 5 were in place for a 2 week trial to establish whether Fairford was suitable for tanker ops
All aircraft were Mildenhall TDY –
KC-135A – 71441 92BW, 38026 305AREFW, 38035 2BW
KC-135Q – 80045 380BW, 80117 and 91490 both 100AREFW
15 Nov 1978 – 11th Stategic Group was established
1 Feb 1979 – USAFE activated 7020th AB Gp at Fairford to prepare for KC-135 tanker operations
1 Jun 1979 – USAFE officially designated Fairford a primary installation
13 Sep 1979 – First KC-135s arrived
7020th Air Base Group
The groups insignia, a falcon poised on Cotswold Stone, alludes to the Cotswold district of England where the group is based
and indicates its mission to support the 11th Strategic Group.
(Taken from the Fairford 1986 Open Day programme)
RAF Fairford’s host unit is the 7020th Air Base Group (est 1 Feb 1979), which is responsible for providing support for the flying mission of the 11th Strategic Group as well as several other associate units.
Part of the US Air Forces in Europe and under the 3rd Air Force, the 7020th Air Base Group is responsible for a variety of services and organisiations on the base. These responsibilities includes such operations as security, finance, administration, supply, maintenance of base facilites, morale and recreational activities.
Five squadrons come under the group. They are the 7020th Headquarters squadron, 7020th Civil Engineering Squadron (est 5 Nov 1981), the 7020th Security Police Squadron, the 7020th Supply Squadron and the 7020th Transportation Squadron. The 66th Contingency Hospital at RAF Little Rissington, located some 25 miles north of RAF Fairford also comes under the group.
The 11th SG itself had no aircraft assigned to it, instead tankers from the continental US were assigned temporary duties (TDYs) to the base. A TDY typically lasted for 40-45 days although some were a lot shorter. While the aircraft were at Fairford they could be re-assigned again to forward operating bases that were also under the control of the 11th SG. These were Zaragoza (known locally as Zab), Riyadh and Keflavik, although the 306th at RAF Mildenhall took over duties at Keflavik in the early 1980s. There were usually a couple of aircraft at each forward location.
2160th Information Systems Squadron
USAF 2160th Information Systems Squadron existed from April 1 1979 to October 1 1990
(Taken from the Fairford 1986 Open Day programme)
The 2160th Information Systems Squadron, part of the Air Force Communications Command ensures that the vital links between the various units
at RAF Fairford and throughout the world are kept in working order.
The 2160th Information Systems Squadron, the second largest associate unit on RAF Fairford maintains the bases telephone systems, special “hotline” and long distance interbase lines, radios, teletype and cryptographic equipment, satellite communications equipment, weather equipment and aircraft navigational aids. In addition all RAF Fairford air traffic control services are provided by the 2160th.
“STRENGTH THROUGH COMMUNICATIONS”
In addition to RAF Fairfords major units, there are several smaller units on base which provide vital services.
Detachment 18 of the 28th Weather Squadron, a Military Airlift Command unit, supports flying operations with the most up to date weather observations and forecasts available. They are also responsible for warning the base of any impending adverse weather conditions.
The USAF Clinic (est 1 Aug 1981) provided a wide variety of medical and dental services to Air Force members and their families.
An Amercian post office – complete with US Stamps and letter boxes – is run by the 7025th Air Postal Squadron, Operating Location OSO5. There Amercian families can mail letters to and receive letters from friends and family back home through the US postal system.
Fairford Falcons – Football Team
Skytanker Lanes – Bowling Alley
European Liaison Force One – (ELF-1)
In the fall of 1980 Iran and Iraq declared war, causing international concern. Crews and aircraft from the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing were deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to augment the Royal Saudi Air Force’s radar coverage of Saudi airspace. In September 1980 four E-3s and almost 200 wing members again deployed to Saudi Arabia in an operation called Elf One (European Liaison Force One) which continued for over 8 years. They provided round-the-clock airborne radar coverage, and enhanced Saudi air defences during the Iran/Iraq war. Initially under USAFE control, this Elf-One contingent came under USCENTAF after its formation on 1 Jan 1983. The 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron provided crew members and support personnel on 30-day temporary duty assignments to support the effort. On 15 April 1989 the last Elf-One E-3s and KC-135s left Saudi Arabia: the small element that remained later became the Elf-One Control Team (EOCT). In all, Elf-One aircraft had flown more than 6,000 sorties and 87,000 hours to protect the airspace of neutral countries during the Iran-Iraq War.
ITTF – Iceland Tanker Task Force
ZAB – Zaragoza Air Base Spain
OLIC – Operating Location Iceland
By 1981 the 11th SG were up to full strength with 15 KC-135s assigned to them. Flight crews for the KC-135s came with each aircraft although the 11th SG did have their own pilots, typically instructors. Maint crews were also permanently assigned to the 11th CAMS who formed the biggest squadron at Fairford. The KC-135s were typically from the 42BW, 7BW, 96BW, 410BW, 93BW, 92BW, 319BW, 509BW, 416BW, 379BW, 380BW, 97BW, 5BW and 2BW. The KC-135A was the most common visitor although in the late 1980s KC-135Es and KC-135Rs were sometimes seen
The 11th SG hosted KC135A and Q model aircraft on a rotation basis from CONUS.
KC-10 aircraft deployed to Fairford supporting missions such as Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986 or B-52 deployments.
Fairford was the Queen Bee for all jet engines (supporting the KC135A & Q models for RAF Fairford and RAF Mildenhall)
and had a Jet Engine Intermediate Maintenance (JEIM) shop along with a jet engine test cell facility that supplied
spare engines to RAF Mildenhall. The 11CAMS won the award for best CAM in SAC more than once and several outstanding unit awards.
As well as tanker operations the 11th SG also hosted many other types of visiting aircraft –
these included the famous trips by the Presidential E-4 and the Shuttle carrying 747 in the 1980s.
The airlift aircraft, the C-141s and C-5s, were also regular visitors to the base helping to support the European theatre.
In 1990 as part of the global stand down following the end of the Cold War the 11th SG was de-activated.
The 7020th Air Base Squadron was formed (1 October 1990) to keep RAF Fairford an active, viable facility.
The re-fuelling role the base had moved to combine with RAF Mildenhall’s and on June 27th 1990 the last tanker left RAF Fairford. By the end of Aug 1990 the tanker operation had finished, just as Saddam invaded Kuwait. Within 6 months the base had B-52s forward deployed waiting to go to war. No matter what happens something somewhere always happens to remind the Pentagon of the value RAF Fairford gives the western world.