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Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff"

 

All EUROFIGHTER pilots in Germany will conduct their weapon system training on this aircraft with Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff".

Tactical Air Force Wing 73 The unit is based in Laage near Rostock in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and after the MiG-29 was decommissioned, it became the first unit of the German Air Force that was equipped with the EUROFIGHTER weapon system in April 2004. The basic principles for flight operations with the most advanced weapon system of the German Air Force were developed here.

 

 

The Mission:

 

Primarily, Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" is responsible for the training of all EUROFIGHTER pilots inGermany. In addition, the Wing is responsible for securing the German airspace together with two other units, Tactical Air Force Group 71 “Richthofen” and Tactical Air Force Wing 74.

 

 
Pilot Training
 

As in the past, basic flying training for German pilots is still conducted in theUSA. Student pilots returning toGermanyas qualified jet pilots who are earmarked as future EUROFIGHTER pilots, will be trained on this modern weapon system and attend most of the additional training courses in Laage. 1st Flying Squadron of Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff", for example, is responsible for the provision of the advanced weapons training. Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" has two classrooms for theoretical training and two high-tech flight simulators for preparation and support of the practical training modules.

At 2nd Flying Squadron, theoretical skills are put into practice. After some lessons with a flight instructor on a specific two-seat trainer variant, EUROFIGHTER pilots will fly alone after seven flying hours. Upon successful completion of training, the officers are transferred to their parent units.

 

Eurofighter

 

Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) Elements

Together with two other units (TAFW 74 from Neuburg/Donau and TAFG “R“ from Wittmund/Ostfriesland), Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" is also responsible for securing the German airspace and will assume air policing tasks as required. Air policing includes the capability to provide a quick reaction alert (QRA) element which can be deployed on very short notice as directed by a NATO operations center. 

 

 
Operations and Exercises

The participation in various national and international exercises and evaluations is another task of the Wing. Military and civilian personnel of Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" are frequently employed in various Bundeswehr operations throughout the world also within the scope of the extended task spectrum of the Bundeswehr.

 

 

Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" - History

 

Today (2014) it is 19 years ago that our unit was deployed close to the Baltic Sea, and since then it has always been in the focus of public and military interest. In the beginning, large-scale construction works were required in Laage to establish the facilities required to accommodate a unit which can now celebrate its 55th anniversary. Back then, the construction of the airbase was carried out under strictest secrecy, mainly to conceal the activities as good as possible from the own population. By 1990, the National People‘s Army of the German Democratic Republic almost secretly completed the airbase in Laage, which should attract worldwide attention when it was taken over by the Bundeswehr.

On its 55th anniversary, Tactical Air Force Wing "Steinhoff", whose name was changed several times in the past due to changes in the unit’s mission, presents itself as a modern, up-to-date and open-minded unit, in the true sense of the word. The Motto of the Open Day on 23 August 2014 was dedicated to the advanced EUROFIGHTER weapon system in Laage: "Ten years of EUROFIGHTER flight operations in the German Air Force".

 

Looking back:

On 1 April 1959, the Federal Minister of Defense ordered the establishment of Fighter Wing 73 at Ahlhorn nearOldenburgand with the arrival of the first F-86 SABRE Mk 6, an aircraft that was built under license by the Canadian manufacturer Canadair, the official activation ceremony took place on 1 December. Already two years later, on 11 November 1961, the unit was relocated to its permanent base at Bad Sobernheim (with the housing area located in Dörndich and the airbase approx. 10 km away in Pferdsfeld). The relocation of personnel and equipment to the new home base was conducted in the following year until the last housing facilities were completed in October 1962. The conversion to a new aircraft, the Fiat G-91, nicknamed “GINA” started in the following year and took until 1967.

Having accomplished more than 42,000 flying hours with the SABRE, the pilots from Bad Sobernheim handed over some of these aircraft toIranin 1967. Already in 1964, the unit had been assigned a new mission and its name was changed to Fighter Bomber Wing 42 on 1 October. Along with the conversion to the “GINA“, the original fighter bomber mission of FBW 42 was extended by tactical air reconnaissance. In order to emphasize the difference to the fighter bomber units that were equipped with the new F-104 STARFIGHTER, the unit was renamed again to Light Combat Wing 42 on 1 May 1967. An Operational Test followed in 1969: In order to evaluate a “centralized maintenance system“, the maintenance elements of the LCW 42 flying group were assigned to a separate group. – This had been ordered by the then Chief of Staff, German Air Force, General Johannes Steinhoff. The intention was to enhance the predictability in the planning of flying hours and to improve the coordination with the industry for periodical inspections which had to be performed after a fixed number of flying hours. The test proved to be successful, and as a result, a Technical Group was established in addition to the Flying Group and the Air Base Group in all light combat wings. And, along the way, 100,000 hours were flown in almost 10 years.

 

With the introduction of the F-4F PHANTOM, the tactical reconnaissance mission became obsolete in 1971. Preparations for the conversion to this new, heavier weapon system began in 1974. The preparations required specific investments in infrastructure and also in the training of personnel at theAirForceWeaponsSchooland in pilot training. In fact, the allocation of the F-4F PHANTOM to Pferdsfeld was accomplished relatively quickly: The first aircraft arrived on 1 April 1975 and on the same day the unit was renamed Fighter Bomber Wing 35.

 

20 Years later

Twenty years after its activation, the Wing followed new paths in order to promote its public image in its garrison town Bad Sobernheim. The Wing Choir was founded and earned a formidable reputation with its performances. Meanwhile, FBW 35 had 200,000 flying hours, several Flight Safety Certificates and the "Prinz-Heinrich-Award" which was always awarded to the best unit of a division, on its credit side. In 1984, the Wing had two international highlights: Two Japanese F-4F PHANTOMs fromHokkaidoarrived at Pferdsfeld after a nine hour non-stop flight, and the German Chancellor Dr. Helmut Kohl, met the French President Francois Mitterand on the airbase. On 27 April 1985, FBW 35 tbecame sponsor of the maintainance of traditional values and comradeship with the members of the night fighter units of the former German Air Force. From today‘s perspective, one can say that 1989 was the fateful year in which our Wing began to assume its future integrative role in German military history.

This is also considered the most significant moment in the history of our unit, the foundation on which we stand today. At first, the popular Choir of our Wing was awarded the title "Master Choir of the Choral Association of Rhineland-Palatinate". Later in the evening, the traditional “Haxen Dinner” on 9 November ended with a highlight that nobody had expected: The Berlin Wall fell and the German citizens in East and West embraced each other in a paroxysm of joy. More and more holes were punched in the symbol for the division of the two German states and finally it was almost completely demolished. At the end of this remarkable year, FBW 35 accommodated approx. 200 GDR expatriates and emigrants in its housing area.

On 3 October of the following year, the GDR agreed to the accession to the Federal Republic of Germany in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law of the FRG (commonly known as : "reunification"). For the two German armies, this date marked the integration of soldiers and weapon systems of the East German National People’s Army into the Bundeswehr. However, the future of Fighter Bomber Wing 35 was not on the agenda at that time.

 

  • The Indoor Swimming Pool
  • The Offizier- und Unteroffizierheimgesellschaft (O/UHG)
  • Block of flats U20 und U21
  • U03 staff building
  • Site diagram airbase Laage
  • The gym
  • Military hospital
  • Commercial building
  • The former building of fire fighter service of the airfield
  • FAUN LF 16.30/45 V 4x4
  • Hardened Aircraft Shelter
  • Guard
  • E213
  • WOC
  • The gaststation
  • Halls for vehicles
  • Terminal of civil aviation
  • Hall 214
  • U41
  • Petrol depot
  • Open Hardened Aircraft Shelter
  • Overview across the living area
 

 

FW 73 "S" after 1990

From this point on, the historical review of our Wing must be extended to also consider the history of another unit. On 3 October 1990, Fighter Wing 3 "Wladimir 

Helmut Kohl in Laage

Kamarow" (a unit of the former East German Air Defense Forces), that was equipped with MiG-29 aircraft and based in Preschen/Brandenburg, was renamed Fighter Wing 3. While Fighter Bomber Wing 35 already deployed a QRA element to Faßberg in 1991 in order to assume air policing tasks over Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia, the FMOD decided that the young FW 3 should maintain their operations – which was done in a dedicated and successful manner. In 1991, the MiG-29 aircraft with serial no.29+06 was lent to the US Forces for testing for a period of 18 months, the German Air Force officially started flight operations with this weapon system, weapons tests were performed and the first air combat exercise was performed at Decimomannu/Italy, a very high aircraft availability rate of 14 to 18 aircraft could be achieved and, last but not least, FW 3 changed its name to "Test- and Evaluation Wing MiG-29". In 1993 came the official confirmation of what had only been suspected so far: the airbases in Bad Sobernheim and Preschen were closed and Test and Evaluation Wing MiG 29 was merged with Fighter Bomber Wing 35 to form Fighter Wing 73 at Laage Airbase. Twelve months later, the first MiG-29 aircraft arrived at Laage Airbase. From 1 October 1994 on, the only remaining unit was Fighter Wing 73 with its F-4F PHANTOM portion stationed in Pferdsfeld and the MiG-29 stationed in Laage. It was also in 1993, when the civilian co-use of a military airbase was realized for the first time at Laage Airbase. The Airport Rostock-Laage-Güstrow GmbH (the name of the company reflects the economic commitment of the partners) officially started its business operations and since that time the company has generated annually growing rates of passengers flying to international destinations. From the beginning of 1995, both detachments of FW 73 had operational QRA (I) elements. In Laage, the construction works for the deployment of the F-4F PHANTOM were pushed forward. Finally, the official "Fly-Out" of the F-4F PHANTOM portion at Bad Sobernheim/Pferdsfeld took place on 1 July and its deployment to Laage began.

 

  • First landing of a MiG-29 FULCRUM from Preschen on 4 October 1994.
  • 1000. landing on 29 September 1992.
  • First landing A310 on 30 November 1992.
  • MiG-23 "Flogger".
  • 350. landing.
  • 500. Aircraft.
  • Landing of MiG-29.
 

 

A New Common Start in Laage

Common flight operations were officially taken up already in September 1997. During an official ceremony held on 18 September 1997, the Federal Minister of Defense, Dr. Volker Rühe, activated Fighter Wing 73 in Laage and awarded the unit the traditional name "Steinhoff". The first common Open Day with more than 100,000 visitors took place on 4 July 1998. Until 2001, the Airbase was visited by the Federal President Roman Herzog, by Danish, American and Finnish fighters and, on the other hand, Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff" visited the USA, Sweden and Canada. In the same year, the first EUROFIGHTER performed radar experimental flights against 20 aircraft of FW 73 "S" at a time. Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff" organized another Open Day on 25 August 2001. Some 150,000 people visited Laage Airbase to learn more about this unit of the German 

MiG-29 FULCRUM 1993

Air Force which was now well known all over the world. The Open Day information booklet closed with the words: "See you soon in the overhauled FW 73 "S"". 14 March 2002 was a date that marked the future of our unit: the phase-out of the F-4F PHANTOM II weapon system and the deactivation of the 2nd Fighter Squadron in order to 

prepare for the introduction of the EUROFIGHTER. Approximately at the same time the comprehensive training of military and civilian technical personnel and administrators began. English language courses and specific weapon system courses had to be attended. In 2002, the MiG-29 participated in several exercises in Key West/Florida and in Switzerland to conduct air combat training against the Swedish Gripen. In June 2003 FW 73 "S" finished its last exercise with the MiG-29 in Eglin/Florida and once again, the signs of a new era appeared over Laage signaling both the showdown of the MiG-29 and new start: 26 September 2003, Laage. The Federal Minister of Defense, Dr. Peter Struck and his Polish counterpart ratified the transfer of the MiG-29 fighters of the German Air Force. The agreement concerning the sale of 22 MiG-29 aircraft and technical equipment from Laage and Cottbus also included the transfer of "our" MiG-29 aircraft affectionally called "Red Diva" in four tranches to Bydgoszcz/Poland – one each in September and December 2003 and another one in April 2004. Only a few weeks later, on 3 November, the former Chancellor Dr. Gerhard Schröder visited our airbase where the MiG-29 had its second last big performance in Germany, to gain more information on future Air Force weapon systems. The Chancellor entered a EUROFIGHTER from Manching and visited the simulator located in the ASTA/ATZ-building.

 

 

Conversion to the New Weapon System Completed

The first eagerly awaited two-seated EUROFIGHTERs with “98” aircraft identification numbers arrived at FW 73 “S” between26 and 30 April 2004.Flight operations and operational testing of the new EUROFIGHTER weapon system began officially on 30 April. Even nations who were not partners of the EUROFIGHTER project were interested in the new weapon system. On 20 July 2004, for instance, the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General John P. Jumper, visited Laage following an invitation of the Chief of Staff, German Air Force, Lieutenant General Klaus-Peter Stieglitz. In a realistic evacuation exercise, that was named "Baltic Jump" to honor the visitor, involving a variety of flying and ground based weapon systems, the Air Force provided the US General with a demonstration of its capabilities. A flight onboard a EUROFIGHTER convinced the General of the capabilities of this weapon system.

First EUROFIGHTER in Laage 30+02 German Twinseater

This exercise had already been conducted in Laage on several occasions, always to honor special guests. The long way leading to the discharge of the MiG-29 ended on 28 July 2004 with a deactivation ceremony hosted by the Commander, German Air Force Command, Lieutenant General Walter Jertz, and Colonel Günter Katz, then Commander Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff". The hangar party that followed was an opportunity to recall a period in the history of the German Air Force that was now inevitably coming to an end. Originally, the last operational MiG-29 aircraft should have been flown to their new home base on 3 August. Due to adverse weather conditions in Bydgoszcz, this flight was postponed to the following day.

In addition to equipment, also members of FW 73 “S“ were on board a TRANSALL. The handover of every single – now former – German fighter to the Polish Air Force was also a small step forward in the process of separation until 29+01 was the last aircraft that left its position. The members of our Wing who had come to the Polish airbase experienced a lot of emotions and enjoyed perfect hospitality. The sections of our Wing that were located in Cottbus, the Engineering Support Group and the Detached Group, were deactivated almost unnoticed by December 2004. In the past, these elements had supported the MiG-29 maintenance activities and served as liaison elements with the manufacturer in Russia. 5 August was the date that marked the turning point in the history of Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff". Today, flight operations with the EUROFIGHTER weapon system are normality.

 

Since January 2005, our Wing has been in charge for the conversion training of all EUROFIGHTER pilots of the German and the Austrian Air Force and is responsible for the recruitment of own personnel. The primary mission of our unit is the provision of conversion training and pilot training for German and Austrian pilots as well as training of fighter weapon instructors and instructor pilots on the EUROFIGHTER weapon system for German pilots.

In 2009, the German Air Force began with the provision of initial training (B-Courses) for future EUROFIGHTER fighter pilots in Laage. Since July 2006, Laage has no longer been the only EUROFIGHTER airbase: On 25 July, Tactical Air Force Wing (previously FW 74) in Neuburg celebrated the official commissioning of the new weapon system. For our Wing, this date marked the end of a 12 year "special status" if one wants to characterize the history of our unit in this way. Meanwhile, Tactical Air Force Wing 31 "Boelcke" in Nörvenich and the subordinate Tactical Air Force Group "Richthofen" are equipped with the EUROFIGHTER weapon system. Future EUROFIGHTER units will be able to exchange experiences made in all branches a lot better than this could be done in the past.

On 19 August 2006, the German Air Force celebrated its 50th Anniversary in Laage together with 120,000 visitors under the motto "50 Years on Duty - German Air Force ", a period in which Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff" (today TAFW 73 "S") had played an important role for 47 years.

 

 

Recent Past and Present

In June 2007, Laage Airbase, with the support of international military personnel, Federal and State police forces and the Flughafen Rostock-Laage GmbH, handled the arrival and departure of the international heads of state and government and their delegations who attended the G8 Summit that took place at Heiligendamm and in the Rostock region.

Today, in 2014, our Wing will celebrate its 55th Anniversary. 2009 was a remarkable milestone in the history of our Wing: For the first time, a German Air Force unit with EUROFIGHTER aircraft and GAF multirole tankers was deployed to Asia in the course of a strategic deployment in order to participate with the fighters in the international aerospace and defense exhibition "Aero India" in Bangalore/India. During this deployment, the new weapon system proved its long-range performance, and it was also a successful demonstration of the air-to-air refueling capability and the capability to deploy the required personnel and logistic resources - again a milestone in the German Air Force that could be achieved with the support of the personnel of the unit based in Laage.

 

Fighter Wing 73 Steinhoff

 

With the Grand Tattoo and a Family Day in 2009, (former) Fighter Wing 73 "Steinhoff" wanted to honor its own history and the person after whom it was named, thank its garrison town and the citizens of Laage for their peaceful cooperation, and encourage all invited guests and their families to enjoy the event. Today, the developing Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" is the pilot school of the German Air Force and may also be designated as "Initiative Wing" taking into consideration the impressive balance of suggested improvements that were provided by this unit in connection with the introduction of the new EUROFIGHTER weapon system.

Our Wing has been able to maintain its attractiveness; every year, thousands of visitors come to Laage, out of interest or for professional reasons they want to learn more about this top level unit - this includes media representatives as well as interested people from Germany, other countries and also military personnel.

Thanks to the higher headquarters, to superiors and personnel, to the veterans and friends of Tactical Air Force Wing 73 "Steinhoff" for your support and cooperation.

 

Erik Pflanz www.derkranich.de

 

Sources: Luftwaffe.de, Chronicle of TAFW 73 "S" (FW 73 "S", Chief Information NCO), Unit Newsletters of TAFW 73 "S" (JG 73 "S"): DER KRANICH" and "Schinderhannes"

Images: Cornelia Koch, TAFW 73 "S" photo production unit, TAFW 73 "S" photo archive, Helicopter Squadron of the State Police Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania