RAF LAKENHEATH — As they say at the 493rd Fighter Squadron: "It’s good to be gold."

Especially this year.

For the third time in a decade, the 493rd — also known as the "Gold Team" among the three F-15 units within the 48th Fighter Wing — has been named the Air Force’s top air-to-air/air superiority squadron. Members of the unit say the Stanley Cup-size trophy will be coveted as much for the prestige as the bragging rights.

"It’s good to be part of a team that was recognized for its skills and teamwork," said pilot Capt. Kevin Bradley.

Bearing the name of U.S. defense contracting giant Raytheon — manufacturer of the missiles on the 48th Fighter Group’s fleet of 15-Es — the trophy, established in 1953, is probably better known as the Hughes Achievement Award.

But the 493rd has an even more venerable history, dating to World War II. Flying dive-bombing missions with the P-47 Thunderbolt from RAF Ibsley in southern England, the unit was integral to the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, according to its application for the award.

Later that year, the 493rd deployed to Belgium, providing critical air support during the Battle of the Bulge and "forming part of the devastating air hammer that would finally break the back of the Nazis," the application states.

Competing for the top honor against squadrons from each major Air Force command and two from the reserves and National Guard, the 493rd shined in 2007 amid its hectic deployment schedule, said commander Lt. Col. Craig Wills.

From patrolling the skies above Latvia during April’s NATO summit and being among the first U.S. fighter units to train with the Russian MiG-21 fighter during a joint exercise in Romania, to providing presidential escorts, the 493rd was busy.

"We really just kept getting the job done," Wills said. "We deployed routinely with a record number of jets. Any time you’re recognized by your peers and among your peers, that’s great."

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