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Transport Operations in Europe; Rhein-Main AB, March 14, 2003

The Military Part of Frankfurt am Main; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The USAF airfield Rhein-Main Air Base plays an important role within the Air Mobility Command of the United States Air Force. The military part of the airport of Frankfurt is closing down at the end of the year. The tasks of Rhein-Main Air Base will be transferred to Ramstein Air Base and partly to Spangdahlem Air Base.

The U.S. airbase Rhein-Main Air Base is a part of Frankfurt International Airport. The southern side of the airport was used by the USAF and the northern side is the civilian part of the airport. The military part of the airport is used by the U.S. Air Mobility Command (AMC) of the USAF. Every day there are many transport aircraft which are arriving and departing here, such as; the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the Douglas C-9 Nightingale, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, the McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender and the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. Rhein-Main Air Base is therefore along Ramstein Air Base one of the major U.S. transportation hubs in Europe. The history of Frankfurt begins in 1909 when the German Count Zeppelin used Rhein-Main for landing his airship Dirigible S-II. The new airport at Frankfurt had to become one of the major European terminals. The airfield was opened in 1936. The first commercial terminal was built on the northern side of the airport. The southern side was used as a basis for the massive Zeppelins. The southern section of Rhein-Main was the terminal for the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin. Later on May 6, 1937, also the famous Hindenburg would be stationed at Frankfurt. On May 6, 1940, the large airships were dismantled and the Zeppelin hangars were demolished. The base was completely converted for military use by the German Luftwaffe.

The first American transport unit which started using Rhein-Main Air Base was the 466th Air Service Group. This unit was activated at the airport on November 20, 1945. The unit was equipped with the C-46 Commando, the C-47 Skytrain and C-54 Skymaster. The airbase was fully equipped as a transport base for the United States Air Force. From 1946, the 61st Troop Carrier Group was based at Rhein-Main. Also this group flew with the C-46 and C-54. The group consisted of 3 squadrons, namely; the 14th, the 15th and the 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron. The relationship between the

United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated and Berlin was cut off by the Soviets from the rest of West Germany in 1948. On June 25, a large-scale airlift was organized to provide food and medicine for the population of West Berlin. Most of the transport aircraft which had participated during these actions were of the type C-54 Skymaster. The 513th Troop Carrier Group was temporarily assigned at Rhein-Main for this airlift to take part in the dropping actions. The entire airlift operation had lasted in total more than a year before the Soviet blockade was released. As of June 2, 1950, the 60th Troop Carrier Group was stationed at Rhein-Main. From 1969, the 435th AW from the United States was primary stationed at Rhein-Main. This wing consisted of 3 squa- drons, namely; the 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron with the C-130 Hercules, the 55th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron with the C-9A Nightingale and the 58th Tactical Airlift Squadron with VIP aircraft such as the VC-140 Jetstar and the VC-135 Stratoliner.

Rhein-Main Air Base was primarily a base where the strategic airlift units were stationed. In addition to these units also a part of the Tactical Air Command (TAC) of the USAF was stationed in Frankfurt. The 7406th Operations Squadron was formed on May 10, 1955 at Rhein-Main AB; the unit was equipped with the RB-50. The unit received a specially configured C-130A-II for reconnaissance missions in 1958. The main task of the 7406th OS was tactical air reconnaissance. The unit lost a Hercules when the plane was shot down in Soviet airspace along the Turkish Armenian border. The 7406th flew dangerous missions over Israel during the Six Day War in 1967. The 7406th continued to participate actively in missions with the C-130B Hercules until it was moved to Athens in Greece on June 30, 1973. When the 7406th OS was moved to Greece, the 7th Special Operations Squadron arrived immediately which was until then stationed at Ramstein Air Base. The 7th SOS was equipped with the MC-130E Hercules for special operations. The Hercules of this unit was painted matt black and had hooks on the nose of the plane for the evacuation of people in a war zone. The 7th SOS was also equipped with the EC-130E Hercules for electronic warfare. The EC-130Es of the 7th SOS were observed in the most bizarre locations in Europe. Eventually, the 7th SOS was moved to RAF Alconbury on December 1, 1992.

As of February 1992, hundreds of tons of food and medicines were moved from Frankfurt to 12 former Soviet states in a period of two weeks during Operation Provide Hope. The cargo was flown from America to Rhein-Main Air Base and from there forwarded to the most remote areas in these countries. The 435th Tactical Airlift Wing (TAW) was stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base on April 1, 1992. The 435th TAW was soon renumbered to 435th AW. The 435th AW consisted of two squadrons namely the 37th AS and the 55th AS. At its peak Rhein-Main Air Base had over 10,000 employees in service. From 1993, half of the airbase was withdrawn from service. On July 1, 1993, the 55th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron moved to Ramstein Air Base. This unit was at that time equipped with the C-9A Nightingale. Also the 37th AS would move to Ramstein Air Base. Since October 1, 1994, the 37th AS was equipped with the C-130E Hercules. The 37th AS was the last operational unit which left Frankfurt Rhein-Main. The 435th AW was eventually disbanded on April 1, 1995. However, the base was still used extensively by the AMC which flew daily with heavy transport aircraft from the United States to Rhein-Main. Until today that is still the case. The U.S. government announced that Rhein-Main will close completely on December 23, 1999. Ramstein Air Base and Spangdahlem Air Base will take over the tasks of Rhein-Main Air Base. Mainly the heavy transport flights will increasingly be moved to Ramstein Air Base in the near future. The military part of the airport of Frankfurt will be transferred to civilian users at the airport in the future.

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