Friday 17 May 2013 marked the end of an era at Spangdahlem Air Base as USAFE’s near-34 year association with A-10 Thunderbolt II drew to a close with the departure of the final four aircraft assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing’s 81st Fighter Squadron. Roel Reijne was in Germany for GAR.

Originally assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, then divided between the neighbouring “Twin Bases” of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, England, the first of USAFE’s A-10s arrived at the last-named location on 3 June 1979 and were assigned to the 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

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Between January 1980 and June 1988, the 81st TFW had a total of six A-10 squadron assigned to it. It was only after the departure of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing’s RF-4C Phantom IIs from RAF Alconbury that the picture started to change.

The 10th TRW duly became the 10th TFW on 20 August 1987 and took the 509th (1 June 1988) and 511th Tactical Fighter Squadrons (1 September 1988) under its wing; the two squadrons having previously been resident at RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters respectively.

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The end of the Cold War brought a significant reduction in the number of A-10s based in Europe, with the following squadrons ceasing their association with the type (NB the ‘Tactical’ element of unit designations was dropped 1 October 1991):

78th FS – 1 May 1992
91st FS – 14 August 1992
92nd FS – 31 March 1993
509th FS – 16 December 1991
511th FS – 27 March 1992

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The 510th FS, meanwhile, was relocated to Spangdahlem AB in 1993 and placed under the control of the 52nd FW. It continued to operate the A-10 under that banner until the F-4G “Wild Weasels” operated by the then 81st FS were withdrawn on 18 February 1994, at which point that identity was assumed.

It was announced in February 2012 that the squadron’s remaining 20 A-10s and 525 airmen would return to the US. This plan – expedited somewhat by the sequestration currently affecting the US military – was fully realised on 17 May 2013, more than 20 years after the A-10 had arrived at Spangdahlem and just a matter of days short of the 34th anniversary of the type’s arrival in Europe.

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Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the squadron had flown its final tactical sortie. After it Lt. Col. Clinton Eichelberger, the 81st FS commander, had the following to say:

“It’s a difficult day, not for just the people in this squadron, but for anyone who’s ever served with the 81st. Since we’ve been here, the world has changed, and the Air Force has changed with it. Today marks the day when we move forward. The people and aircraft are moving on to other units where they will continue to serve in today’s theater of operations.”

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After a slight delay, the last of the four remaining aircraft finally got airborne seconds before 1500 local time.

In take-off order, they were: 81-0992, 82-0647, 81-0945 and 81-988, using the callsigns “Huron 91-94.”

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They were supported on their journey to Lajes, Azores, by KC-10A 82-0192 (Café 41).  According to a 52nd FW spokesperson, their ultimate destination is Moody AFB, GA, in the United States.

And so another chapter closes.  Look our for a pictorial celebration of the A-10’s career in Europe in the coming weeks.

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Sincere thanks are extended to the 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office for their assistance with this article.