Thursday, June 21, 2007

Air Guard retires last F-16A in service

by Capt. Gabe Johnson, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

TUCSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ariz. (AFPN) -- The last operational F-16A Fighting Falcon flew its final mission here June 15, taking off from the Air National Guard base for indefinite storage at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

The 162nd Fighter Wing, having flown the A and B models since taking on the F-16 training mission in 1985, retired its one remaining F-16A and two F-16B model aircraft, completing its conversion to the more modern F-16C and F-16D.

"As one of the world's premier F-16 training units, we must stay relevant," said Brig. Gen. Rick Moisio, 162nd Fighter Wing commander. "We constantly transition to newer, more advanced aircraft because that's what pilots will fly when they graduate from our program."

"The F-16 is currently the most popular fighter in the world," he said, "and we've trained pilots from 22 of 24 countries that fly the aircraft today."

Over the last 22 years, the wing trained 1,640 U.S. and allied pilots in the F-16A/B alone.

The retirement marks the end of an era and finalizes the Air Guard's seamless transition to the newer aircraft, said Col. Greg Stroud, 162nd Maintenance Group commander and F-16 pilot.

"Some of our maintenance crew chiefs have known these planes for more than 20 years," said the colonel. "They were built in '82 and '83. Imagine owning a car that long. It's a real testament to the expertise and hard work of countless Air Guardsmen, active and retired, who kept these planes in great condition."

"Our instructor pilots and our maintainers have undergone the necessary upgrade training for the F-16C and D and will continue to provide the best training and the safest aircraft available."

The F-16A, a single-seat model, first flew in December 1976. The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Improvement programs throughout the years led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-seat counterparts to the F-16A and F-16B, and incorporate the latest cockpit control and display technology. All active duty units and most Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units converted to the F-16C and D years ago.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the F-16 has been a major component of the combat forces committed to the war on terrorism flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations.

The last time the wing retired an aircraft model was in 1992 when the last A-7D Corsair II was delivered to AMARG.