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The Hahn Air Base
'Salty Rooster'

 

Hahn can 'hack' it!
The Editor reports on 
the 50th TFW and 
its recent readiness exercise,
'Salty Rooster'

A mural inside Wing HQ also features the unit's badge 
and those of its current and former squadrons.

THERE IS AN old aviation adage which asserts that 'the more aircraft fly, the better they fly'. It is a proposition which could equally apply to the aircrews concerned, and it is likely to have beneficial implications also for the entire ground support organisation which keeps them flying. One USAFE unit which is particularly well qualified to assess the significance of the saying is the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hahn Air Base, Germany, which operates three squadrons of F-4E Phantoms. Earlier this year, the Wing was tasked to implement one of the most ambitious readiness exercises ever undertaken in USAFE and, indeed, in the USAF as a whole.
 

Maverick-armed Phantom taxying past the control tower at Hahn; note the
large-scale version of the 50th TFW badge on the front of the tower.
Photo: The Editor

Code-named 'Salty Rooster' - the name itself providing a foretaste of the degree to which the evaluation was going to call for a nimble-witted response from the Wing (Hahn in German means a rooster), the exercise was to be the conclusive test of a new maintenance system introduced at Hahn in January 1977. For the 50th TFW, `Salty Rooster’ was to represent a major challenge at the end of a year which had already put their 'can do' approach very much to the test. The Wing had become accustomed to being volunteered for 'Can you do... '-type assignments, and responding with a 'We can do anything!'-type attitude. So here was another chance to demonstrate the point in what was already being billed as 'the exercise of the'70s'. 

The USAF, like other allied air forces, has long recognised that its day-to-day, routine training in peacetime cannot provide an adequate measure of the full operational capability which would be required in wartime. So assessments of the readiness of units to fulfil their wartime tasks are conducted during special tests which pitch the intensity of training activity way beyond the normal peacetime level. These tests are exemplified by the USAF's no-notice Operational Readiness Inspections (ORIs) and, specifically in Europe, by the similar NATO Tactical Evaluations (Tacevals). Such inspections provide a simulated wartime scenario as the starting point for a thorough examination of the unit's preparedness to conduct fullscale operations. Also much in vogue recently have heen the so-called 'sortie surge' exercises. This latter term is airpower-speak for unit-level operations which, in the Service’s vernacular, are designed to 'generate' as many FMC ('fully mission capable') aircraft as possible; to launch, recover, refuel, re-arm and re-launch them; and to keep up the preset tempo of this activity for as long as may be directed.
 

An F-4E of the 496th TFS/50th TFW refuelling from an Imperial Iranian Air Force Boeing 747 
during the deployment to Iran for Exercise 'Nidlink `77'.
USAF Photo by 1Lt Rich Wilson

But the generally short periods over which these exercises and inspections are held - and the fact that sometimes they specialise in demonstrations of aircraft availability for tasking, and mission performance - means that they may not fully test the 'total' capability of the unit concerned, e.g. its sufficiency of manpower and equipment authorisations, and the capacity of the supply system needed to maintain a much expanded level of operation. 'Salty Rooster' was designed to achieve this more comprehensive evaluation by mounting an exercise of an increased intensity and longer duration than normal. Whereas the usual type of inspection, evaluation, or sortie surge might last for a matter of days, 'Salty Rooster' was scheduled to last for two weeks and to determine just how well the 50th TFW stood up to a thorough and very realistic simulation of its wartime capability. 

The background to 'Salty Rooster' was a period of several years during which many changes had taken place at Hahn in terms of the 50th TFW's strength, equipment, organisation and mission, these alterations reflecting the wider force improvements which USAFE has been adopting. For most of this decade, Hahn has been a two squadron base with its facilities structured accordingly, though with some extra capacity by way of accommodation, etc. to support the temporary basing of additional aircraft taking part in the 'Crested Cap' exercises which involve the deployment of units from the US to Europe. Following the re-assignment of the 81st TFS to Zweibrucken in 1971 as the first 'Wild Weasel' squadron in USAFE, the 50th TFW was left with the 10th TFS and the 496th TFS under its command. The 496th was a specialist air defence outfit which only in the previous year, 1970, had relinquished its F-102 Delta Dagger interceptors and been redesignated as a tactical fighter squadron rather than a fighter interceptor squadron. Its new equipment was the F-4E Phantom and although transformed therewith into the 496th TFS from the 496th FIS, the squadron retained its primary air defence mission. The Wing's other squadron, the 10th TFS, flew the F-4D version of the Phantom, and had been so equipped since the mid-1960s. The present shape of the 50th TFW materialised during 1976 as part of the Phantom re-shuffle in USAFE occasioned by the lead-in to the re-equipment of the 36th TFW at Bitburg with the F-15 Eagle. Instead of withdrawing the Bitburg F-4Es from Europe, USAFE distributed the aircraft to other wings and bases thus significantly upgrading the overall strength of the Command and permitting both the formation of new squadrons and the replacement of earlier Phantom variants by the F-4E. At Hahn these developments resulted in the re-activation of the 313th TFS to operate a newly available squadron of F-4Es, and the issue of F-4Es to the 10th TFS in place of their F-4Ds.

By the beginning of 1977, then, the 50th TFW was a three-squadron Wing, solely equipped with the F-4E Phantom. The presence of an improved interceptor capability at Bitburg in the form of the F-15 Eagle-equipped 36th TFW allowed USAFE to stand down the 496th TFS from its primary air defence duties so that the 50th TFW is now dedicated entirely to a tactical aviation mission. The roles of the Hahn squadrons today encompass tasks such as counter-air attack, interdiction, close air support, and interception, and the Wing maintains a capability to deliver all types of tactical weapons systems which would be needed to undertake its mission. Within USAFE, the 50th TFW forms part of the l7th Air Force, headquartered at Sembach AB, Germany, but in common with the other NATO-assigned forces of the l7th AF, command of the Wing, would be transferred to the Alliance's Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force at a time of crisis, and once a certain state of alert has been reached.
 

Two F-4Es about to lift-off on another training sortie from Hahn.
Photo: The Editor

The 50th TFW's training programmes regularly take its squadrons considerable distances from their home base, most commonly to the weapons ranges in Spain and Italy when the detachments are based at Zaragoza and Aviano respectively. Aircraft from the Wing have also operated out of Incirlik in Turkey, and have recently made two deployments to Shiraz in Iran. 

The first of the latter was a range exercise involving the 10th TFS, which took 18 F-4Es to Shiraz for a 10-day stay while the second was a CENTO exercise, 'Midlink '77' in which the 469th TFS participated with a 10-aircraft detachment based at Shiraz for a month. One of the most important advantages gained during these off-base deployments is that they take the crews away from Hahn's notorious weather and thus facilitate the completion of some uninterrupted mission practice. It is thought that the base is on the receiving end of some of the worst flying weather in Europe - a problem which is compounded by its location atop a 1,650ft-high ridge in the Hunsrück mountains, south of Germany's famous Mosel wine producing region. The airfield actually lies either side of a pre-WW2 strategic highway called the Hunsrückhohenstrasse - literally, the high road along the Hound's backbone! The construction of the base was started by the French, in what was their zone of occupation, shortly after the formation of NATO. Negotiations between the French and the US led to the transfer of the site in 1951 and the eventual completion of Hahn AB in the following year, pending the arrival of the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing (as the Wing was then designated) with F-86 Sabres in August 1953. In its current layout the base covers some 1,230 acres with almost an additional 100 acres set aside for housing and quarters. At present there are some 5,000 Service personnel in the Wing - no fewer than 920 of whom last year extended their tour of duty at Hahn, while the total US community (including family dependants) numbers approximately 12,000.

What might be described as the chicken coop for Hahn's 'Salty Rooster', ie, the new framework for the 50th TFW's maintenance organisation which was going to require a detailed evaluation at some stage in the future, first appeared in January 1977. The revised maintenance concept is called the Tactical Aircraft Maintenance System - or TAMS for short. The selection of the 50th TFW to make the first tests of the system in Europe was designed to assist USAFE in deciding whether TAMS will be implemenlcd throughout the Command. The salient difference between TAMS and the previous 'Air Force 66-1 Manual' Maintenance organisation is that it is a so-called production orientated system which lays emphasis on processes Ieading up to, and the goal of generating fully serviceable aicraft: it embodies reduced distinction between the 'static' tasks of overhaul and repair and the 'dynamic' of producing flyable aircraft. Systems and components are seen less as separate entities and more as part of the aircraft inventory which the Wing's maintenance arm has to keep at the required on-line strength. Reflecting this changed approach, the introduction of TAMS brought with it a completely new maintenance structure. Whereas the 66-1 Manual specifies a four squadron maintenance system - comprising an Organisational Maintenance Squadron (OMS), Field Maintenance Squadron (FMS), Avionics Maintenance Squadron (AMS) and Munitions Maintenance Squadron (MMS) - the TAMS system is based on a three squadron operation consisting of an Aircraft Generation Squadron (AGS), Equipment Maintenance Squadron (FMS) and Component Repairs Squadron (CRS).
 
50th TFW F-4E Phantom outside its shelter in one of the Hahn dispersal areas.
Photo: The Editor

So the key to the TAMS concept is the belief that it is a more fiexible and adaptable system providing for a better continuity of tactical fighter wing aircraft availability. It was to evaluate this principle and to determine whether the Wing had efficient personnel, equipment and supplies - in the context of an advanced state of readiness with a high intensity of aircraft utilisation over an extended duration, that the 'Salty Rooster' exercise was held in April this year.

An ancillary purpose of the exercise was to check the working of announced USAF initiatives to rapidly reinforce NATO and conduct high density flying operations as part of the Alliance's response to any future contingency. One of the objectives of 'Salty Rooster' was that the 50th TFW should receive integrate and effectively employ additional personnel needed to permit heavy wartime tasking. The majority of the augmentees, who numbered some 300 in all, were maintenance specialists from USAF Air Training Command in the US, though they were supplemented by temporary duty personnel from elsewhere in USAFE.

On Monday 3 April, a DC 8 flew in the last cadre of personnel for the augmented 50th TFW from the US, and the Wing's orientation programme for the new arrivals moved into top gear. Tuesday was spent on a series of briefings ahead of the exercise but late in the day Wing HQ distributed an instruction to its Battle Staff for the commencement of aircraft generation at 0600hr Zulu on 5 April - the 'Salty Rooster' was about to start crowing. Wednesday, the first day of the exercise was 'Generation Day' with the 50th EMS assembling and delivering ordinance and the 50th AGS conducting preflight checks and preparing the Phantoms for missile loading. FMC aircraft were in fact generated at such a pace during the morning that the Wing passed its l2hr target inside 6hr! The rest of the week was spent in enhancing still further the rcadiness of the Wing and flying a number of training sorties for range practice and combat turns (operational turn-rounds). The keynote for this phase of the exercise was the Wing Commander's reminder about the five Ps - Prior Preparations Prevent Poor Performance, a caution which was timely in ensuring that 'Salty Rooster' would be conduted with a remarkable safety record.
 
 

Quick Check Crews clearing a 'Salty Rooster' mission before the aircraft move out for take-off.
Photo: USAF

The 'Salty Rooster' flying programme started on 10 April but its wings were clipped by bad weather during the morning. Despite low cloud and poor visibility the sortie schedule got underway and the tempo of operations improved with better weather during the afternoon and into the night. By the end of the day, the Wing had flown triple its normal number of daily training sorties. The intensity of the flying was reflected by the POL refuelling operation which serviced 267 aircraft on Day One, providing almost 0.4 million galls of fuel via tankers and the 'hot pit' refuelling areas (the latter installations permitting the engine-running replenishment of the F-4Es).

The exercise built up steadily during the next three days until, by the end of Day Four, an incredible total of 1,060 sorties had been flown - with a total of 297, a new record for the Wing, on the fourth day itself. Many of the individual Phantoms had begun to assemble impressive sortie counts, meeting every scheduled take-off at utilisations in excess of six sorties per day. All this airborne activity was demanding an intensive effort from the ground support team including the Quick Check Crews accomplishing the pre-flight checks at the take-off end of the runway; the 'Cotton Pickers' at the other end who were promptly recovering the drag chutes before the wind had them off the runway into the wet grass or mud; the 50th CRS Parachute Shop which was re-packing, stacking and delivering the braking parachutes to the flight line; the engine maintenance specialists who were effecting the rapid turn-round of aircraft undergoing engine changes; and the 50th EMS munitions specialists who were accomplishing a maximum effort in loading and 'downloading' ordinance.

The bad weather returned on Day Five of 'Salty Rooster', and with snow showers and bad visibility hampering the recovery of returning sorties at Hahn, most of the l7th AF bases became transient 'roosts' for some of the 50th TFW's aircraft. The Wing's new Supervisor of Flying commented that while he had demonstrated his ability to launch the aircraft from Hahn, he needed some additional practice in recovering them there! Operation 'Blue Goose' was organised at the end of the day to get the aircrews back to base, though these were not merely return flights - they were arranged as exercise sorties by the off-base detachments. The Wing was encountering a nicely representative selection of European bad weather by Day Six as the morning started with ice fog over the airfield! This later lifted and the exercise was brought back on schedule. On Day Seven, snow showers were once again drifting across the base and making operations less than straightforward, but it added up to yet another test of the Wing's capability to conduct sorties regardless of unfavourable flying conditions.
 
 

'Rooster' recognition up-date as a pick-up truck-mounted version 
of the exercise 'mascot' drives past a disbelieving Phantom crew.  Photo: USAF

In the second week of the exercise the sortie numbers began picking up again with the weather conditions being more consistently above the peacetime minima and the cumulating experience gained during 'Salty Rooster' having an evident influence on the despatch with which things were getting done. Day Ten saw another milestone passed with the 2,000th sortie of the exercise being flown appropriately by one of the ‘high time' Phantoms which was on its 49th 'Rooster' sortie, and still going strong.

During this final phase of the exercise the 'Salty Rooster' programme tested the Wing's ability to operate under extra stress situations, and additional scenarios were incorporated to assess the flexibility of the ground operations. For example, the use of the hot pit refuelling bays was ruled out in an endeavour to see how well the fuel servicing could be accomplished using the fuel trucks only. In fact the assignments were covered with sufficient ease that the target requirements were re-set at a higher level the next day in an endeavour to provide an even more demanding test. Another complication introduced for the mission turn-rounds was the recovery of the sorties in a random sequence of combat returns which did not correspond to the order in which the take-offs had occurred.
 
 
Close-in view of a rapid operational turn-around during 'Salty Rooster'.
Photo: USAF

Meanwhile the live bomb missions on the weapons ranges were proceeding apace, and much to the satisfaction of the munitions load crews who did not have to off-load the stores as had been the case during 'freight only' practice sorties earlier in the exercise. 
During the last flying day, Day 13, the weather on the ranges interrupted the final sorties but by then the exercise Steering Committee was able to agree that all the objectives had been met, and 'Salty Rooster' was terminated with a sortie count which totalled 2,77I. Some of the aircraft had flown over 60 consecutive sorties without once failing to meet a programmed take-off, thus more than underlining the relevance of the adage mentioned at the outset of this report.

The results of the exercise reflected further distinction for the 50th TFW whose earlier performance had been recognised, for example, by the award of the C-in-C USAFE's Trophy to the Wing's 313th TFS as the 'most outstanding fighter or reconnaissance squadron' in USAFE for 1977, and by selection of the 50th TFW to provide the USAF tactical fighter element within the FOURATAF Team for TAM '78 (see pages 440-049, this issue). While it was immediately apparent at the conclusion of the exercise that the 'flying productivity' during 'Salty Rooster' exceeded anything in recent history, the contribution which has been made to USAFE planning will ensure continuing future benefit from the evaluation.
 
 

Phantom returning from a training sortie moves along the taxiway 
heading for its own parking 'lot' - a shelter in the wooded dispersal area.
Photo: The Editor

Overall, the exercise had clearly demonstrated the teamwork which was possible between operations, support and maintenance personnel, and the success of the integration into the host organisation of the augmentees brought in as reinforcements from the US and other USAFE units. The participation of the Air Training Command instructors from the US had been particularly useful for the extra experience they could impart to trainees, which would in turn improve the quality of the 'product' at the front-line in future years. 

Hard work it had certainly been (one augmentee was reported to have said he would look back on the visit to Hahn with the recollection that he 'spent a year there one month'), but 85% said they would be happy to return again to Europe and 50% reckoned they would apply for a posting to USAFE.  Hahn had certainly 'hacked' the 'Rooster’, cutting it down in size until at the end of the exercise it looked more like a spring chicken. And the final endorsement of the product? The Wing Information Office received only one complaint about the noise!
 
 

Special thanks to Henk Mulder, Oldebroek, Netherlands.

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© 1999 Marc Müller