By Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian
Who would win a battle, the Griffin or the Opinicus? Maybe a more appropriate question is why does the wing have a Griffin mascot and an Opinicus as the main element of its emblem?
The Griffin is an imaginary monster of heraldry, a medieval representation of an ancient symbolic beast of Assyria and the East. It is not unlike a dragon in appearance. The Griffin embodies the head, neck, wings and talons of an eagle with the hind parts of a lion, including the long curved tail.
The Opinicus is a type of Griffin, though rare in heraldry. It is an ancient, imaginary creature found originally in Egyptian and Mesopotamian tradition. It also has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. It may have talons, or the forelimbs and back limbs of a lion. Unlike the Griffin, the Opinicus has a short tail, sometimes described as a camel’s tail, or less often as a bear’s tail.
If you’ve decided that neither of these descriptions fit the creature on the wing’s emblem, you’re right. The Opinicus depicted in the 50th Space Wing’s emblem bears the head, neck and wings of the eagle, the king of the skies; and the body of the lion, the king of the beasts. It also has the camel’s tail. What it doesn’t have, according to the definitions above, is the eagle’s talons or the lion’s claws. Quite clearly, the wing’s Opinicus has the hooves of a horse, suggesting it derived also from the Pegasus. This may have been an intentional variation in the design as the Pegasus in modern heraldry often symbolizes speed. Imagine the attributes this creature represents with the keen eyesight of an eagle, the strength and courage of the lion, the endurance of a camel and the speed of Pegasus.
If you look at the title page of the wing’s current history pamphlet (http://www.schriever.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-121218-055.pdf), you’ll see four emblems. These emblems depict the history of the wing through its coat of arms. Notice the emblem of the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The emblem bears a Griffin carrying an olive branch and a lightning bolt. In 1958, the wing was redesignated as the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing and modified its emblem to face the Griffin frontwise, still bearing the olive branch and lightning bolts. The cloud behind the Griffin symbolized the tremendous firepower at the wing’s disposal. This was the wing’s emblem until its inactivation Sept. 30, 1991, and it is the one the wing bore in combat during Operation Desert Storm.
In 1992, the wing activated under its current name, the 50th Space Wing, and returned to the historic emblem of the World War II 50th Fighter Group, which activated as the 50th Operations Group. The “Master of the Sky” became the “Master of Space.”
While the wing’s emblem returned to the historic Opinicus, the wing’s mascot remained the Griffin. This allowed the wing to stay connected to its past and traditions — important considerations for military organizations. The Opinicus ties the wing to the World War II history of our longest serving group — the 50th Operations Group, while the Griffin links us to our many achievements and combat history as the 50th Fighter-Bomber and 50th Tactical Fighter Wing.
So, who would win the grudge match? I’m going with the wing’s Opinicus.