3rd Air Force, South Ruislip
3rd Air Force, South Ruislip
Third Air Force, with headquarters at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, is one of two numbered air forces in U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and responsible for all U.S. Air Force operations and support activities north of the Alps. As an integral part of America's commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Third Air Force's area of responsibility includes missions and personnel in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and portions of France.
As Headquarters European Command's "single point of contact" for representing U.S. forces in negotiations with the British government, Third Air Force oversees host nation support agreements for all American military forces based in the United Kingdom. Through the Partnership for Peace program, Third Air Force manages military contact and assistance programs for a number of countries in Eastern Europe. Third Air Force is also responsible for contingency planning and support of American security interests in Africa.
Third Air Force units bring together an impressive array of combat capability. RAF Mildenhall, England, is home of the 100th Refueling Wing, equipped with KC-135 refueling aircraft. Mildenhall serves as an aerial port for strategic and tactical airlift, and is host to several tenant organizations, including Air Force Special Operations Command's 352nd Special Operations Group, Air Combat Command's 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, Air Intelligence Agency's 488th Intelligence Squadron, and Air Mobility Command's 627th Air Mobility Support Squadron. Mildenhall is also responsible for several geographically separated units in England and Norway.
RAF Lakenheath, England, is home of the 48th Fighter Wing, equipped with two squadrons of F-15E and one squadron of F-15C aircraft. Lakenheath operates a regional medical center and oversees support services for nearby RAF Feltwell, home of Air Force Space Command's 5th Space Surveillance Squadron.
Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is home of the 86th Airlift Wing, equipped with C-130, C-9, C-20 and C-21 aircraft. Other major units at Ramstein include Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Headquarters, Allied Air Forces Central Europe. Ramstein oversees support services for the Kaiserslautern Military Community, a 43,000 strong community composed of members of every military service, and one of the largest concentrations of Americans outside the U.S.
The 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, is U.S. Air Forces in Europe's only composite wing, composed of two F-16 squadrons, one F-15 squadron and an A-10/OA-10 squadron. Spangdahlem is also responsible for several geographically separated units in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The 4th Air Support Operations Group is headquartered with U.S. Army Europe's V Corps at Heidelberg, Germany, and provides air liaison officers and enlisted terminal attack controllers to divisions and brigades of V Corps at several sites in Germany, and one in Italy.
All together, Third Air Force is composed of more than 25,000 military people, and more than 35,000 family members. Third Air Force is assigned more than 200 aircraft, while tasked to provide support servicing to thousands of other transient aircraft that visit our bases each year.
Since the Gulf War, Third Air Force people have supported numerous contingency operations across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In recent years, Third Air Force has deployed personnel and equipment to Operations Provide Comfort (Iraq), Deny Flight and Provide Promise (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Provide Hope (Russia), Restore Hope (Somalia), Southern Watch and Vigilant Warrior (southwest Asia), Support Hope (Rwanda), Uphold Democracy (Haiti), Quick Lift (Croatia), Deliberate Force (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Assured Response (Liberia), Guardian Assistance (Rwanda), Northern Watch (Iraq), and most recently, Operation Quick Lift (western Africa).
Third Air Force History
With Allied victory in Europe and the end of World War II came the demobilization and withdrawal of all U.S. Air Force units from the United Kingdom. Their absence, however, was short lived. In 1948, in response to the Berlin blockade, the U.S. deployed long-range B-29 strategic bombers to four East Anglian bases. Third Air Division was activated to receive, support and operationally control the B-29 units.
Third Air Division continued to control U.S. Air Force operations in Britain until early 1951, when the growing size and complexity of the American military presence required a larger command and organizational structure that could meet the needs of the increased operations. Two organizations were activated: one to conduct strategic operations, and one to conduct tactical, logistics and support programs.
Third Air Force was activated on May 1, 1951 to oversee tactical air operations from the United Kingdom and provide logistics and support to the Seventh Air Division. With headquarters at South Ruislip Air Station near London, Third Air Force carried out that mission basically unchanged through 1966, when Seventh Air Division was inactivated.
The first tactical unit to come to England under Third Air Force was the 81st Fighter Bomber Wing based at RAF Bentwaters on Sept. 6, 1951. The next assigned unit was the 20th Fighter Bomber Wing, going to RAF Wethersfield. These F-84 and F-86 jet fighter units worked with Royal Air Force Fighter Command providing air defense for England.
With the Korean War and the growing threat of the Soviet Union, the U.S. and UK agreed to an even greater U.S. military presence in the United Kingdom. By 1955, American military forces in Britain reached 45,900, and adding the dependents, the total U.S. military presence in the UK was over 80,000.
Throughout the 1950s, Strategic Air Command bomber units deployed on a regular rotational basis from the United States to the United Kingdom. The B-47 Stratojet was a familiar sight in the skies over RAF Mildenhall and RAF Upper Heyford at this time, as entire wings deployed on 90-day rotations, Even the massive B-36 deployed to UK bases.