Base bids farewell to its F-16s
By Master Sgt. Brian S. Orban, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
/ Published March 29, 2007
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- After flying here for nearly 16 years, the last of the 366th Fighter Wing's F-16CJ jet fighters left here March 29.
Pilots, maintenance troops and a handful of well wishers braved the morning chill and stood on the base's flightline to watch the base's last five F-16s launch and make a final flyby over the base.
The transfer of these fighters completes a five-month plan to move the squadron's aircraft to McEntire Air National Guard Base, S.C., and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
Meanwhile, the base continues to receive F-15E Strike Eagles from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, to create a second air-to-ground combat fighter squadron here.
The moves, outlined in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendation, are part of an ongoing Air Force initiative to transition into a smarter, leaner force by consolidating the service's F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft at selected bases. The BRAC Commission chose Mountain Home to become a core F-15E installation because of its premier training range, which is suited for a multitude of air-to-ground, low-level and air-to-air flight training.
"This is the end of an era for the Gunfighters that dates back to the early 1990s when the Vipers came to Mountain Home in the midst of significant changes for the base and the Air Force," said Col. Tony Rock, 366th FW commander. "As we bid farewell to the F-16s, we do so again in the midst of tremendous changes that are helping shape the Air Force into a rapidly deployable combat force for the 21st century."
During their time at Mountain Home, the 389th Fighter Squadron's squadron of F-16s set a flying safety record, flying 57,787 sorties without a major accident in a span of nearly 16 years.
"Our aircrews, backed by the Air Force's finest maintenance crews, were paramount to reaching that safety milestone," Colonel Rock said.
For people outside the base's gates, the aircraft transition will remain fairly transparent, according to the colonel.
"There won't be any large numbers of people leaving the base or coming here," he added. "Once the transition is complete, our total base population will see only minor changes."
In recent days, the 389th FS, commonly known as the Thunderbolts or T-Bolts for short, held two ceremonies to commemorate the "changing of the guard" within the squadron. The unit held a final flight ceremony March 16 to mark the F-16s last training flight here. Lt. Col. Richard A. Coe took command of the squadron from Lt. Col. Phillip Hoover during a chance of command ceremony March 23.
"The departure of these F-16s is just another hash mark over the lifetime of the Gunfighters," said Lt. Col. David Belz, 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, in a recent speech. "As has happened seven other times in the last 64 years of T-Bolt history, one aircraft leaves while another graces the flightline."
"As an F-16 maintenance guy, this is the end of a legacy, and it's sad to see them go," said Staff Sgt. Jared Ralphs, a dedicated crew chief with the 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. "Regardless of the weather and time of day, we were out there ... to get those jets ready to fly. It's this diehard determination to succeed that makes aircraft maintainers who they are."
Most of the base's last F-16 pilots are slated to leave the base by May. Meanwhile, about 40 of the squadron's 107 F-16 aircraft maintenance troops will remain here and retrain into F-15 jet maintenance.
"Despite the change in airframe, the nuts and bolts of how these maintainers operate won't change," Colonel Belz said. "They'll keep providing Gunfighter aircrews with safe, reliable aircraft that can be counted on to do our nation's bidding when diplomacy fails."