Lechfeld Airbase – 15th May 2008

A visit to the lair of the Flying Monsters!

During May, On-Target had the pleasure of visiting Lechfeld Airbase for the first time. Located in Bavaria, in south eastern Germany, this busy airfield is the home of two Luftwaffe Tornado ECR units operating with Jagdbombergeschwader (JGB) 32: 321 Sqn 'Lechfeld Tigers' & 322 Sqn 'Flying Monsters'.

Lechfeld itself has a very long and interesting history. Originally established as a training range for the Royal Bavarian Army’s artillery units, it later became one of the first airfields in the region, opening in 1912, and in the later stages of WWII the unit Erprobungskommando 262 formed during April 1944 as a test unit to introduce the first practical combat turbojet, the Me-262, into service and train a core of pilots to fly it. On 26th July 1944, Lt. Alfred Schreiber downed a RAF reconnaissance Mosquito, marking the first victory for a turbojet fighter aircraft in aviation history.  Major Walter Nowotny was assigned as Commander after the death of Werner Thierfelder in July 1944, and the unit was re-designated as Kommando Nowotny.

Kommando Nowotny was essentially a trials and development unit; however it holds the distinction of mounting the world's first jet fighter operations with operational missions against the Allies during August 1944, allegedly downing 19 Allied aircraft for the loss if six Me-262s, although these claims have never been fully verified.  

Post war the Luftwaffe was grounded, but this changed when West Germany joined NATO in 1955. Amongst the first aircraft to be flown from Lechfeld was the F-84 Thunderstreak, which entered service in 1956 and retired in 1966 with some 80,000 flying hours recorded across the fleet.

From 1965 until 1984 the F-104 Starfighter operated from Lechfeld, the type being retired in favour of the multi-national Tornado strike aircraft.

In 1991 a new version of the Tornado was introduced into Luftwaffe service: the ECR - Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance. 321 Sqn was one of the first operational units to be equipped with the new version.

The ECR is equipped with an emitter-locator system (ELS) which is designed to locate enemy radar sites. The ECR is equipped with the AGM-88 HARM. Initally the Luftwaffe ECRs were equipped with a Honeywell infra-red imaging system for reconnaissance, however operational experience lead to the removal of this system as it was considered impractical for one aircraft to be tasked with both Suppresion of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) and reconnaissance.

During 1995 the Tornado ECR was deployed to Piacenza, Italy, in support of NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb artillery and other military targets.

After thousands of flying hours supporting United Nation sponsored operations such as UNPROFOR, IFOR and SFOR, the Luftwaffe embarked upon its first direct combat operations since WWII in March 1999. As part of Operation ALLIED FORCE to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo, Tornado ECRs were employed from the outset to protect other participating NATO aircraft from surface to air missiles (SAMs). Not a single Allied aircraft was hit by a SAM during the ECR’s time on station, with a total number of 236 AGM-88 HARM missiles launched.

Preserved around the airfield are a number of veteran Luftwaffe fast jets; types noted included the T-33, F-84 and F-104.

Another veteran Luftwaffe aircraft, now in the twilight of its long career, was F-4F 38+31, captured here during a lunch stop from its nearby base of Neuberg.

On-Target Aviation Group wishes to extend its gratitude to Mr Keune of the JGB-32 Public Affairs Office for his extremely generous hospitality.

A special thank you also goes to Jörg Pfeifer of Airfighters.com for his local assistance.




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© On Target Aviation 2008