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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.