THE BIRTHDAY OF AVIANO AIR BASE
The permanent presence of the United States Air Force in Friuli began in autumn of 1954, when the 629th Air Control & Warning Squadron, from Alexandria AFB (Louisiana) settled in Campoformido, near Udine, its headquarter. The official date is November 22, 1954. Task of the 629th AC&WS was to build and operate search radar throughout the north-east of the peninsula, such as to provide a GCA services (Ground Controlled Approach) for the aircraft flying to Aviano airport. Aviano airfield #1 was officially activated February 15, 1955. On the airport, named to Italian heroes of the 1st World War, Captain Maurizio Pagliano e Lieutenant Luigi Gori, according bilateral agreements between Italian and US Governments, would have deployed on rotational base squadrons of fighter-bombers to support the tasks assigned by the nascent Atlantic Alliance (NATO). The first batch of aircraft jets F-84F Thunderstreak, with insigna of the 390th Fighter Bomber Squadron, based at England AFB, Louisiana, landed December 19, 1955, and they started the rotational (on average every six month) program that would have resulted in the continued presence of at least one squadron of jets. The designation of Aviano AB (Air Base) is January 1, 1956. On 1st of July 1957, the 7227th Support Group, previously activated in Udine-Campoformido, moved to Aviano AB and the following de-activation of the 629th AC&WS puts an end of the American presence in Campoformido. The 7227th SG had to provide logistics, technical and administrative support to the units deployed in Aviano AB on temporary basis (TDY), ensuring the airport operations H24 and coordination with Italian Air Force. In spring and summer 1958 a new round of intensive works interested the airport. They mainly concerned the extension of the runway length to the NATO standard about 3000 meters, the adjustment of the set of taxiway, connection to the runway and the construction of the structure QRA, where fighter-bomber a/c and its crew would be stationed in conditions of immediate take-off on alarm with whole ordnance for a strike mission. On August 1958 arrived the first supersonic fighter-bomber F-100s Supersabre belonging to the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron / 31st Tactical Fighter Wing and 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron / 401st Tactical Fighter Wing. Throughout the period 1958-1966, the entire cycle of deployment was provided by the F-100 squadrons of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, 354th Tactical Fighter Wing and 474th Tactical Fighter Wing. Afterwards, the USAFE took over the TDY deployments. In 1966, the 40thTG replaced the 7227thCSG in all operational tasks, and deployments continued with progressive replacement of the Supersabre by the powerful fighter-bomber of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. In the early 70s, always with temporary presence (TDY) and involved with exercises, re-started new deployments from United States of both US Air Force and Air National Guard units. In 1976, a similar deployment was interrupted because of the disastrous earthquake that struck the evening of May 6 completely destroying dozens of small cities and towns in Friuli, and causing nearly 1000 deaths. The Italian Air Force put the Air Base available to the flow of aid, and in this context airmen of the 40th Tactical Group stationed at Aviano and those of the Air National Guard of Iowa and South Dakota, on TDY in the Dawn Patrol maneuver, were employed in the works of first aid, like to make practicable roads interrupted by landslides, to set up tents and material supply necessities. The United States commitment culminated May 14, when the Vice-President Nelson Rockfeller arrived in Aviano AB for an inspection in the earthquake zone. The report of Rockefeller brought the United States Government to allocate financial aid of $ 25 million to the reconstruction.
The eighties saw the appearance of new aircraft which, gradually replacing the ubiquitous F-4, have subsequently flown the skies over Aviano until the end of the last century, as the medium bomber F-111E/N, or instead are usual birds also today, like the fighter F-15 Eagle, the fighter-bomber F-16 Fighting Falcon and the bomber F-15E Strike Eagle. With the “fall of Berlin Wall”, look at most media impact around the breakup of the Soviet bloc, began to change the entire political landscape of the Europe, and the military structure of the US Air Force Europe could not be free of reorganizations. The role played by the Aviano AB quickly began to change, and in the “Pagliano e Gori” airfield began to be assigned progressively varied aerial components, American and NATO, intended to conduct air operations over the former Yugoslavia in progressive dissolution.
OPERATIONS OVER THE BALKAN REGION AND 31st FIGHTER WING RE-ACTIVATION
As a result of Resolution 781 of the UN Security Council (UNSCR), monitoring the airspace of Bosnia and Herzegovina beginning beginning on 16 October 1992. From Aviano AB took off the RAF AWACSs for surveillance missions, plus fighter interceptors, like 36th Fighter Wing F-15Cs and 86th Fighter Wing / 52nd Fighter Wing F-16C, when the Atlantic Alliance implemented Operation Deny Flight, acknowledging the UNSCR 816 of 31 March 1993, which banned any type of flight in those skies. Past few months, due to the failures of the conflicting parties, subsequent Resolution (UNSCR 836, 958 and 981) further extended the scope of the missions requested to the NATO, coming to allow air support, on request and under UNPROFOR control, for UN ground forces placed at protection of the safe areas in Bihac, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Srebenica, Tuzla e Zepa. The consequence was the arrival of new aerial specialized components in support, bombing, reconnaissance and radar suppression tasks, from US Marines, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Air Force Europe. Other NATO countries activated their air forces, Spain opened in Aviano AB the Detachment Icarus with F-18 Hornet. On 1 April 1994 the 31st Fighter Wing was re-activated in Aviano AB and assigned two famous squadrons, the 510th Fighter Squadron “Buzzards” and the 555th Fighter Squadron “Triple Nickel”, both flying the multi-role fighter-bomber F-16C/D. On August, 1995, the response to the second massacre at the market in Sarajevo attributed to Serbian of Bosnia forces that since 1992 were besieging the city, an air offensive (Operation Deliberate Force) was launched against targets of this faction. After 23 days the contenders were forced to return to the table of the negotiations, to resume the democratic path towards a peace keeping in the nascent Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately another front in the Balkan theater was opening in Kosovo. The situation fell in early 1999, so the Operation Allied Force started March 24 against Serbia. The 31st Air Expeditionary Wing already activated in Aviano AB on February 19 carried out carried out an air campaign for 78 nights and days, involving up to 200 a/c and 4,000 military personnel belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing and units deployed in the base. After the end of the operation and withdrawn of the deployed units at Aviano AB, flights over the Kosovo of the 31st Fighter Wing F-16s continued to support the NATO’s efforts for ensuring a “no-fly” zone over the area and giving, if it requested, necessary support to ground troops. All flights ended completely in 2005. The mission of the 31st Fighter Wing is to deliver combat air power and support anywhere the globe, to fulfill the United States and NATO objectives. The 31st Fighter Wing is composed by four units: Operations Group, Maintenance Group, Medical Group and Mission Support Group. The Operations Groups is formed by two flight units, 510th Fighter Squadron “Buzzards” and 555th Fighter Squadron “Triple Nickel”, flying the multi-role fighter-bomber Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon, and 31st Operations Support Squadron. The aircraft of the flight squadrons are identified by the color stripe at the top of the fin tail, purple for 510th Fighter Squadron and green for 555th Fighter Squadron. From re-activation in 1994, the 31st Fighter Wing has always been a front line unit with all operations carried out over the Balkan Area and North Africa, because of the strategic location of Aviano Air Base at south of the Alps. Deny Flight, Deliberate Force, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force were some of the international operations, authorized by Resolutions of the UN Security Council and in the NATO contest carried out by the 31st Fighter Wing assets. From 2000 onwards, the Aviano team began to be involved with their own components of flight and not even far from Europe, temporarily assigned to the several Air Expeditionary Wing supporting operations like Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom. Even in 2011, the 31th Fighter Wing has also played a leading role with Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, implemented to follow the UNSR Resolution 1973, and later called Unified Protector in the NATO contest. Today the 31st Fighter Wing maintains the highest level of operational readiness through continuous training and improving the capacity and methods of use of the air power, as recently proven when the team Aviano promptly answered the call, deploying a F-16 contingents and personnel in a Polish air base, demonstrating how strong are the relationships between the partners of the Atlantic Alliance.
Always the 31st Fighter Wing performs its mission and fulfills its motto “RETURN WITH HONOR”.
Renzo Del Bianco