The 11th Strategic Group 1979

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 and in
November 1978 the 11th Strategic Group was formed to host the KC-135
tanker aircraft.  The 7020th Air Base Group was also formed to run
the base and host the 11th Strat 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. 
 

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

 

 

Very occasionally the 11th SG hosted KC-10 deployments, one example
was for Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986, however KC-10s favoured
Mildenhall as their European base as did the ANG and AFRES KC-135Es
– this could have been down to Fairford’s lack of technical exposure
on these models.  The newer R model also preferred going to RAF
Mildenhall however it was rumoured that as their runway was shorter
than Fairford’s the extra engine power was more beneficial there.

 

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.
 

 

The social side of
England was loved by visiting Americans as it is today.  While some
airmen never made it further than Swindon the officers and their
wives would often travel as far as they could seeing as much of
England as time allowed.  British antiques were a very popular
collectable item back then.

In 1990 as part of the global stand down following the end of the
Cold War the 11th SG was de-activated.  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.
 

 

Photos for this page came from a local resident
and the US Government.

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